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Questions raised over one-time spending bill

Published: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 11:23 a.m. CDT

DES MOINES (AP) — A bill approved just before 4 a.m. last week as the Iowa House struggled to adjourn is packed with nearly $80 million in government spending, ranging from money to repair a former governor’s mausoleum to funding for a conference focused on relations with Japan.

The bill’s total spending is nearly $140 million, but $60 million goes to pay off money borrowed to fund the Vision Iowa program, which offers grants for recreational, cultural, and entertainment attractions around the state.

Paying off that debt was held up by legislative leaders as a proud accomplishment. However that debt payoff was linked in a single bill to several spending measures debated only in the final hours of the legislative session.

The bill was called up by Democratic Senate leaders in committee, moved to the Senate floor, amended and passed by the Senate 26-22 with no Republican votes all within hours last Wednesday. The bill then moved to the House at about 9 p.m. Thursday and put to a vote hours later after several delays, making it one of several measures approved by weary lawmakers.

When the bill came up, Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, chastised legislative leaders for “dumping a little bit of extra” items into a spending bill at the end of the session that they couldn’t fit into budget bills.

“I think next year, whatever it looks like as far as the makeup of the Legislature, we should work to try to do a better job of budgeting,” she said. “We’re at the last day, it’s the last minute.”

In the end, she joined in a unanimous vote to approve the bill.

Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday at his first news conference since the end of the legislative session that he was concerned about the bill.

“My concern is to protect the commitments we made last year to property tax relief and reimbursing cities and counties and to the school children and teachers of Iowa with the phase-in of our education reforms,” he said. “I want to make sure the resources are there to pay for that so we will be carefully scrutinizing the spending especially in this one-time spending bill.”

The bill allocates $50,000 to restore the grave of Samuel Merrill, Iowa’s seventh governor who served from 1868 to 1872. His mausoleum at Woodland Cemetery in Des Moines is in disrepair, with raccoons living inside, said Sen. Dennis Black, a Newton Democrat who has pushed for the repairs.

Another $90,000 is set aside to preserve the Iowa Civil War muster rolls, lists of officers from Iowa in military units.

Other spending for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs includes $300,000 for funding an oral history of civil rights and $3.8 million for renovation at the State Historical Building.

The bill allocates $100,000 for the Midwest United States-Japan Conference planned to be held in Des Moines in September. The group includes business leaders from nine Midwest states and Japan.

Other projects funded include $1.2 million for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa and $3 million for the Advanced Manufacturing Center at the University of Northern Iowa.

The bill spends $18.6 million for construction costs at the bioscience facility at Iowa State University, $8 million for construction at the Dental Science Building at the University of Iowa, and $1.9 million for the renovation of UNI’s Bartlett Hall.

The state court system gets $1.7 million for an electronic document management system.

Lawmakers approved $5 million for the Resource Enhancement and Protection program, which offers grants to expand city parks, fund historic preservation projects, and pay for a variety of soil and water conservation programs. This money combined with funding from other state sources raises the total to $25 million, the most ever budgeted for the program in a single year since its inception 25 years ago.

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