Casualties of Iowa’s budget priorities emerge

Six weeks ago, Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference said the ongoing impact of the state’s tax reform bill (SF 2417) “bears watching. It is expected to cut taxes by more than $2 billion during the coming years. Since Iowa’s annual budget is now about $7.5 billion, a key question is whether the tax cuts will allow for adequate revenues for public education, Medicaid, public safety, a strong safety net and other acts of government essential to the common good.”

The casualties are beginning to emerge. For starters, the University of Iowa plans to close seven of its centers within the next year and reduce funding for five others. Iowans living on the margins will be hurt most by the closures, which are the result of state funding reductions to the U of I in recent years.

One center to be closed is the Iowa Labor Center, which provides direct education for more than 2,500 Iowa workers annually, according to the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, a beneficiary of the Labor Center’s expertise. Established in 1951, the Labor Center offers “an invaluable lineup in terms of education,” said Father Rudolph Juarez, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. “Workers are offered classes at an hour accessible to them, they are provided with materials that are language and user friendly, and they learn about their legal rights in the workplace as well as about health and safety standards.” His comments came during a July 11 event in Iowa City to support the Iowa Labor Center, which helped get the Center for Worker Justice off the ground.

Other centers to be closed are Center on Aging, Confucius Center, Iowa Center for Assistive Technology Education and Research, Iowa Center for Higher Education, Mobile Museum and Office of Iowa Practice Opportunities in the College of Dentistry. That office “has helped place 173 dentists since 2006” (Des Moines Register, July 11, 2018).

The University of Iowa Dental School, meanwhile, announced it will no longer take new Medicaid patients. The State Legislature privatized Medicaid in 2016 to save taxpayers’ money. But low payments to health care providers and confusing rules have repercussions. Iowa’s only dental school will continue to serve its 8,000 Medicaid patients, but won’t accept new ones. What about other Iowans with limited income searching for dental care? Wouldn’t it be more merciful (and cost effective long term) to forgo generous tax cuts so that Iowans living on low or no income can be protected from gum disease and tooth decay like the rest of us?

State budget cuts also mean tuition hikes for students planning to attend the state’s three public universities next year: the University of Iowa (3. 8 percent), Iowa State University (3.8 percent) and University of Northern Iowa (2.8 percent). Are we pricing higher education out of reach for students whose families earn modest or lower incomes?

A proposal this year to raise the minimum wage failed in the Iowa Legislature, which last year passed a bill prohibiting cities and counties from raising the local minimum wage. The impact of that decision hits home, literally. A new report from the Iowa Policy Project states that nearly 100,000 Iowa working households (17 percent) don’t earn enough to support a basic standard of living without public supports beyond health insurance. These are families with one or more full-time wage earners. Among the report’s findings, the “basic needs gap” — the difference between after-tax income and self-sufficiency — averages $20,000 for single-parent households (iowapolicyproject.org).

Iowa’s bishops have stated that all people have the same basic right to the spiritual and material things that make for a decent life, what they refer to as the “common goods.” These begin with the right to life, freedom to follow the moral law, access to healthy food, shelter, clean air to breathe and water to drink, education and health care; and spiritual goods such as freedom of religion and freedom of association.

Iowa Senate File2417 bears watching, and we need to let our legislators know this coming election season that we support a budget that ensures that the least among us have their basic needs met first.

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor
(arland-fye@davenportdiocese.org)

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