Responsible Budgeting Prevents a Repeat of History

twainAnkeny residents received a surprise in the mail last week from the Polk County Assessor. Many people have contacted me about the drastic increase to their assessment and property taxes. On a seemingly different note, the largest issue left facing the legislature is setting the funding level for K-12 education. While on the surface these two topics seem unrelated—the fact is they are very much intertwined.

Currently a bi-partisan Conference Committee composed of House and Senate members is negotiating a final number between the House passed 1.25% increase and the Senate passed 4% increase. While this amount was supposed to be set months ago, we are now past the deadline of when schools must set their budget. It is frustrating and disappointing that we have not been able to agree on the funding level.

Mark Twain famously said, “History doesn’t repeat itself…but it rhymes”. A simple look back at what transpired between 2002 and 2011 proves that we neither want to repeat or rhyme with the events of those years. It is a story of the Legislature over promising on education funding and under-delivering when it came time to write the check. Here are the facts:

-  Since 2002 the Legislature has failed to keep its promise to school districts six times, shorting them a total sum of $600 million.

-  Of the six times that the schools did not receive the funds they were guaranteed, four of these involved the state making, then breaking, a promise of 4% growth.

-  Setting the level for the next two years at 4%, which is the Senate Democrats proposal, results in the state spending our entire accumulated surplus, plus an additional $75 million in 2016. Even worse, we would go in debt an unthinkable $515 million in 2017.

-  In 2010, during the Culver administration, the passing of a 4% increase led to a devastating 10% across-the-board cut—which led to a destructive net shortfall of $269.7 million.

The takeaway here is that a line item in a budget is not merely a statement of wishful thinking—it is a real commitment that must be met. Not delivering on this promise leaves schools with two terrible choices to fill in the funds they were promised but never received—raise property taxes through the School Levy which doesn’t provide on-time funding or fire teachers in the middle of the school year.

The residents of Ankeny felt the drastic consequences of the 10% across-the-board cut in 2010. Because the state did not fund the amount that was promised, it led to a property tax increase of $2.10 per $1000 valuation. In fact, with the budget approved by the Ankeny school board last week, the property tax rate in Ankeny will finally return to below the pre-2010 level.

Instead of heeding these warnings of our own recent past, Democrats seem intent on reliving them. It is the legislature’s responsibility to remember the reality that making empty promises creates terrible consequences—in this case school districts scrambling mid-year for funds and increased property taxes. Our prior missteps need to be used as lessons learned. It is bad enough when government makes mistakes—it is even worse when they are repeated.

The reality is that our state’s aggressive commitment to funding education is absolutely unquestionable; 55% of every dollar collected in Iowa is spent on education.  From 2005 to 2015 we have increased education funding by 66%. And, just two years ago, we passed an additional new program that spends another $150 million per year. These numbers speak for themselves.

The idea that we should knowingly ignore negative consequences and repeat past mistakes is wrong, and the notion that Iowans have a choice between $600 million in deficit spending or “not valuing our young people” is a false one. The fact is we don’t have to choose—we can educate our kids while budgeting responsibly.

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