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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 15, 2018

Governor hears more spending requests

State parks, transportation needs among the talking points
By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau | Nov 21, 2017

DES MOINES — More money for state park maintenance, environmental upgrades, highway traffic and weight enforcement and legal services were among the state agency wish lists Monday as Gov. Kim Reynolds continued to solicit recommendations as she assembles her fiscal 2019 state budget plan.

Chuck Gipp, director of the state Department of Natural Resources, proposed a status-quo general fund budget of nearly $13.7 million, but he sought an extra $1 million each for park infrastructure and low-head river dam improvements and a boost of $4 million for the resource enhancement and protection (REAP) program from other funding sources for the fiscal 2019 year that begins next July 1.

“We know it’s going to be tough,” said Gipp, who also made a pitch for bills pending before the Legislature to raise fishing and hunting fees for the first time since 2003 to help fund programs popular among Iowans. He noted his agency’s general fund allotment is about “half of what it used to be” in fiscal 2008 and he said a lot of the things DNR officials fund are aimed at heading off environmental concerns.

“Preventing is a heck of a lot cheaper than cleaning up after the fact,” he told the governor and a panel of administration managers conducting budget hearings in advance of next month’s Revenue Estimating Conference and the start of the 2018 legislative session on Jan. 8. The governor plans to unveil her budget plan to lawmakers in January. Mark Lowe, director of the state Department of Transportation, said his agency’s general fund request is similar to the current level but he is seeking to make strategic staffing adjustments that would keep the D.O.T. workforce at 2,722 full-time positions but would realign 106 positions within the motor vehicle enforcement staff.

Lowe said his agency is embarking on a major Mississippi River bridge project in the Quad-Cites area and hopes to complete the Highway 20 widening project in western Iowa in 2018

He also discussed other DOT initiatives that included the testing of driver-less cars on an eastern Iowa interstate between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City that still has humans inside the vehicles are doing the navigating during the project’s first phase.

"The Iowa 380 corridor was designated as one of the 10 autonomous vehicle proving grounds in the nation," Lowe said in discussing efforts to eventually make Iowa an "Autonomous Vehicle Ready” state.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller noted that Iowa is short on money for lawyers providing civil legal services for indigent Iowans and aiding county attorneys in prosecuting major criminal cases as well as funds to protect consumers but he told the governor “we recognize the situation with the budget and revenue” in seeking less than $700,000 in increased funding next fiscal year.

Likewise, Mike Cormack, head of the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, said his agency has seen a spike in legal cases and adjudications as well as an explosion of union recertification elections since the GOP-led Legislature revamped Iowa’s Chapter 20 collective bargaining law last February.

“Our world has changed,” said Cormack, who requested a status-quo budget but appealed to the governor if any extra money would materialize he would hope some new funding could make its way to his board.


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