Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

December 31, 2013

Legislators looking for infrastructure funding

Steve Woodhouse

Knoxville — Rep. Greg Heartsill says that legislators will be looking for ways to fund infrastructure improvements without raising the gas tax when the session begins on Jan. 13, 2014. However, Medicaid expenses continue to increase and record revenue to the government is not expected to continue. 

"I think one of the big items is definitely alternatives to raising the gas tax," Heartsill said when asked what legislators will focus on. He and his fellow Republicans are in the majority in the House will try to find ways to put more money into the Road Use Tax Fund, as well as work to retire more state debt in 2014. 

Heartsill said everyone is concerned about the condition of the state's roads and bridges, but the Republicans do not want to further burden Iowans with higher taxes. He is unaware of any upcoming proposals, similar to former Gov. Chet Culver's I-Jobs initiative, which was supposed to pay for "shovel-ready" projects at a cost of approximately $1 billion. 

With grain prices down, Heartsill is concerned for the future. Household incomes are also falling, which will mean less revenue to the government.

"I think we need to be cognizant of our revenue projections," Heartsill said. He hopes the Legislature will continue to exercise fiscal discipline and find more ways to reduce spending. 

Though revenues may go down, the costs to the State for Medicaid continue to increase. State revenue grew by 2.8 percent last year, while Medicaid growth was at 7.5 percent. This means that approximately 40 cents of every new dollar received by the State was taken by Medicaid. Medicaid's percentage of the overall state budget has also grown from 9.3 percent to 17.5 percent. Meanwhile, since 2000, federal reimbursements to the State for Medicaid have decreased from 63 percent to 56. Medicaid's growth outpaces the growth of Iowa's economy, which concerns Heartsill. 

Heartsill has also heard from employers that they are reluctant to add positions or otherwise grow their businesses, due to the uncertainty of regulations from the 2010 federal health care law. This unease in the private sector can hinder economic growth. 

As has been reported, Heartsill has rolled out a new agenda to try to improve the state. When asked if he has many legislators backing his proposal, Heartsill said most legislators are remaining quiet about what they will and will not support. Meanwhile, he is collecting necessary research, to support his proposals, before pushing them much further. 

This is Heartsill's second session in the House, and he will be up for reelection in November 2014. When one looks at the bills he sponsored in his freshman year, 2013 ( the conservatism he espoused during the 2012 campaign can be seen. 

Heartsill said he intends to continue to support respect for life, gun rights and other conservative principles, but he also recognizes that the Legislature is split, with Democrats narrowly controlling the Senate. He will continue to try to find common ground when he can, to advance legislation and keep working with his Democratic colleagues to get things accomplished in the House.