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Op-Ed: Improving Iowa’s future with conservative budgeting and tax cuts

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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led Legislature have emphasized conservative budgeting as a central priority. Such prudence in budgeting is the cornerstone of fiscal conservatism, and the recent passage of the FY 2025 budget in Iowa highlights a commitment to fiscal restraint, albeit less stringent than in previous sessions. The newly approved $8.9 billion FY 2025 General Fund budget marks a 4.7 percent increase from the previous fiscal year’s $8.5 billion, demonstrating moderate fiscal growth.

Historically, spending has been recommended to align with the combined rates of population growth and inflation. Based on this formula, the FY 2024 budget of $8.5 billion should ideally have capped the FY 2025 spending at $8.8 billion. Adhering to such metrics ensures that the budget reflects the average taxpayer’s ability to fund it, a fundamental principle that should guide all budgetary decisions. This year, however, the legislature has ventured slightly beyond this benchmark, underscoring the careful balance between fiscal responsibility and the needs of a growing state.

To provide substantial relief to individual taxpayers, the legislature has implemented a significant income tax cut, which accelerates the implementation of a 3.8 percent flat tax in 2025. This measure is projected to save taxpayers over $1 billion. The tax relief directly benefits Iowans, putting more money back into their pockets and supporting more economic growth.

Despite concerns from critics who argue that such fiscal strategies could undermine public services, the FY 2025 budget demonstrates that the government is not retrenching but rather growing at a deliberate pace.

Education remains a top priority, accounting for 56 percent of the budget. When combined with the allocations to the Department of Human Health Services (DHHS), these two areas consume a significant 81 percent of the General Fund. While this concentration of funds reflects the importance placed on these sectors, it also highlights the challenges of allocating resources to other critical areas, such as public safety and the judicial system, which have only seen modest increases.

The practice of conservative budgeting is further evidenced by the state’s adherence to its legal spending cap, which allows up to 99 percent of projected revenue to be used. In contrast, the FY 2025 budget only commits 92 percent of these projections, reinforcing Iowa’s fiscal discipline. This cautious approach is proving effective, as evidenced by the substantial budget surpluses recorded in recent years, including a $1.8 billion surplus in FY 2023, with similar surpluses anticipated for FY 2024 and FY 2025.

Looking ahead, legislators must remain vigilant to ensure that conservative budgeting principles continue to guide fiscal policy. State Sen. Jason Schultz rightly points out the interdependence of tax policy and spending, “Both Republicans and Democrats need to realize that tax policy is affected by spending. And when you start seeing spending creeping up for annual, year after year, new good ideas, you can’t have good tax policy.”

Strengthening Iowa’s 99 percent spending limitation would provide a robust mechanism to curb future expenditure desires. This could be done by changing the law and enshrining it in the Constitution to bind spending increases to no more than the rate of population growth plus inflation.

Iowa’s fiscal approach starkly contrasts the situations unfolding in neighboring states like Minnesota and Illinois or others such as New York and California. Higher spending and taxes in these progressive states contribute to economic challenges and drive more people away.

The message is clear: unsustainable increases in spending can lead to severe consequences. Iowa’s success in maintaining fiscal discipline through conservative budgeting and responsible tax policies is a testament to the effectiveness of this approach.

Iowa’s unwavering commitment to conservative budgeting and responsible tax policies is the cornerstone of its fiscal strategy, ensuring the state remains a model of stability and prosperity. By striking a balance between providing essential services and fostering economic growth, Iowa sets a commendable example of how sustainable fiscal policies can safeguard a state’s financial health and support the well-being of its citizens.

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