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April 1, 2016  |  Week 12 Summary

Budget Time.

The paychecks for our state legislators are cut off on April 19.  In legislative time, that leaves about 8 work days to pass a $7 billion budget.  There are 10 budget bills for the various state departments and agencies and to date not one of them has been debated.

The process for putting together the state budget, in very simple terms, is that the legislature waits for the revenue estimates to be provided to them in mid-March.  They cannot exceed that estimate.  The next step....the various committees that are responsible for the 10 budgets are given a "target" or total amount for each respective department or agency and from there the committee begins to budget for the various line items within those budgets.  Targets have yet to be given for any of the 10 budgets.
Up until this week, adjournment by the April 19 deadline was looking pretty positive. However, both the House and Senate did not work last Friday and only the House worked on Monday. Unless major work is done very quickly we could well be in session beyond April 19.

What Policy Issues are Yet to be Addressed?

The list of policy issues yet to be addressed are few and far between.  Legalization of fireworks and fantasy sports continue to be alive, but appear to be losing momentum day by day.  

Other Updates From the Capitol.

Water Quality
One issue the legislature may yet address is water quality.  Before the session started Governor Branstad and US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack appeared in a joint press conference calling for the legislature to address water quality in Iowa.  The funding mechanism supported by the Governor called for shifting future growth in the sales tax currently earmarked for school infrastructure to a new water quality fund. The legislators on both sides of the aisle were not receptive to the idea.
There had been a proposal to remove the sales tax on drinking water citing the fact that Iowa is one of the few states to tax drinking water.  The tax generates approximately $28 million to the general fund.  The proposal to remove that tax has fallen by the wayside, but now is being looked at again as a possible source of revenue to fund improvements in our drinking water infrastructure.
This week the Iowa House Ways and Means Committee passed HSB654 out of committee which would earmark the sales tax on water for municipalities to obtain grants to upgrade drinking water facilities.  The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee where changes are expected on how the moneys are appropriated.  Certainly $28 million of ongoing funding is a good start, however even proponents of the bill quickly point out needed improvements in Iowa's drinking water facilities are estimated as high as $10 billion.
The future of the legislation in the Senate is uncertain.  Opponents of the legislation agree there is a huge need, but believe there is a fairness issue when only Iowa citizens who use metered water should carry the burden of funding the problem often tied to nutrient reduction issues.
Municipal Utility Access to Private Property
At least one of IMTA's members received a letter from their hometown water utility stating the utility would be contacting the company to set up a "visit" to the facility to "compile a list of potential contaminants" of all bulk liquid chemicals in quantities of 20 gallons or more and dry chemicals stored in quantities of 50 pounds or more.
The letter seems to infer this is based on Iowa legislation.  IMTA has reached out to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources asking how this utility has the authority to come on to private property.  We have heard back from several people at IDNR who are not aware of any state legislation providing a local utility with that authority.  However, IDNR did provide IMTA with an example of local ordinances which may allow a utility access to your property.
The example provided comes from the city of Guttenberg, and its states:

Right OF ENTRY. The Superintendent and other duly authorized employee of the City bearing proper credentials and identification shall be permitted to enter all properties for the purpose of inspection, observation, measurement, sampling and testing, in accordance with the provisions of these Water Service System chapters.
At this point, it is our recommendation if you receive such a request to come on your property to ask for a copy of federal, state, or local law or ordinance providing them with that authority.

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