What to watch for in the Iowa Legislature during 2018

What to watch for in the Iowa Legislature during 2018
The Iowa Legislature (The Associated Press)

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa lawmakers return to the State Capitol today with a to-do list ranging from overhauling state taxes to possibly addressing issues with the privatized Medicaid program. Republicans, entering a second year of complete Statehouse control, will work amid another budget crunch and a looming election year. Here’s a look at key issues:

Taxes

Gov. Kim Reynolds and Republicans have long said overhauling Iowa’s tax system is a priority. They have enough votes to make it happen without Democrats.

Few details have been shared publicly, though Reynolds has indicated wanting to cut taxes for individuals and corporations. She’ll give more information in Tuesday’s Condition of the State address.

Water quality

Reynolds wants to sign legislation early this year that addresses pollution in Iowa’s waterways.

But Republicans are at odds over water quality legislation that passed in the Senate last session.

Pollution from industrial facilities and farm runoff is linked to high levels of nutrients in Iowa’s waterways and the Gulf of Mexico. A Des Moines water utility elevated the matter with a 2015 lawsuit claiming that drainage districts in three counties didn’t properly regulate the release of nitrate pollution into rivers. The Iowa Supreme Court determined that the drainage districts have immunity from such lawsuits.

Budget

Lawmakers are expected to soon address a shortfall in Iowa’s $7.2 billion budget, and a possible deficit in the next spending plan.

In 2017, lawmakers addressed previous shortfalls by cutting agency spending and borrowing about $144 million from emergency reserves. Legislators expect to pay back that borrowed money by the next budget year.

A nonpartisan agency estimates that the budget is expected to be below projections by about $37 million. The state has an expected shortfall of about $65 million for the budget going into effect July 1, the agency says.

Medicaid

Medicaid, the health care program for poor and disabled Iowans, has been under scrutiny since it was privatized in 2016 without legislative approval. It’s expected to be debated this year because of complaints from health care providers and patients about reduced services. Reynolds maintains problems can be addressed without legislative action.

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