Balancing budget is paramount

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The end of session countdown has started. On Capitol Hill countdowns are different in that they go into holding patterns, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days. Political parties polarize on some issues and compromise on others. However, when they reach an agreement on the important issues, adjournment is at hand. The computers are unplugged and the desks are cleared off. At this time, that seems like a long way off for there are many loose ends flapping in the legislative breeze.

One such "loose end" is a workable solution to finding $128 million in savings in order to balance the state budget. The Governor hired a national consulting firm based in Minnesota, to help identify potential savings in state government. The firm, Public Strategies Group was looking to find new and better ways to deliver government programs and services while saving money. Unfortunately not all the consultant suggestions are working out thus forcing lawmakers to make more tough decisions to find the savings. Savings is stretching the truth. Much of what is being suggested is nothing more than withholding state moneys from local governments. This causes an additional burden at the local level and will impact services. However, this $128 million was built into the budget at the beginning of the process. If we are to exit this session this painful problem has to be addressed. Difficult choices are never fun. Paramount in any session is balancing the budget.

The Environmental Protection Commission recently adopted rules governing outdoor (ambient) air quality. These rules restrict the amount of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide that can exist in the outdoor air. These rules are in contrast to the rules that regulate "indoor air" which is the air within a confined space such as a factory or an office. Previously legislators passed major livestock confinement legislation that addressed air quality monitoring systems and outdoor air standards. These rules have been aimed at emissions from large livestock confinements but affect all sources of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, including those emitted by many other industries such as production of refrigeration devices, certain chemicals, rubber and certain ag milling processes. Even municipal wastewater facilities will be affected. Any company that generates wastewater, which releases ammonia and hydrogen sulfide into the air, will be affected. The concern is that the standards set by the Environmental Protection Commission are low. The "ambient" air for ammonia is 300 times more restrictive than the indoor air standard required by OSHA. The "ambient" air standard for hydrogen sulfide is 1,333 times more restrictive than the OSHA indoor air standard. These regulations violate the intent of the Legislature and would be detrimental to many of Iowa's manufacturing firms.

Comprehensive regulatory reform and tax reform - both precursors to economic growth - seem largely out of reach for this legislative session.

Perhaps we should heed the Hippocratic oath and first cause no harm or more appropriately in legislative matters cause no further harm.

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