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- Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and her Democratic challenger, Deidre DeJear, showed sharp political disagreements on several issues during their only televised debate Oct. 17.
- Topics that demonstrated the disagreements included how to spend taxpayers’ money, school funding and abortion.
- The candidates frequently used reliable data to make their points, although voters will disagree, too, on what to make of that data
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds had reason to bring up Iowa’s budget surplus when she and her 2022 election opponent, Deidre DeJear, debated this week. After all, she could report accurately, as she did in a late September news release, that the state ended fiscal 2022 under her watch with a $1.91 billion surplus.
Reynolds said in the Oct. 17, debate on PBS Iowa public television that the surplus, sending $830 million to the state’s reserve and $1.06 billion to its Taxpayer Relief Fund, shows that her administration and Republicans who control the Statehouse have done a good job of managing spending while cutting income taxes.
Reynolds said: "We have the most sound and resilient budget in the country, according to KPMG."
A PolitiFact Iowa fact-check showed that the well-recognized national accounting firm rated Iowa and Utah the strongest for the combination of high budget resiliency and low risk. Iowa was among five states in the 2020 KPMG report with the top scores for budget resiliency. Oregon and Georgia led with a score of 6; Iowa, Idaho, and South Dakota were next with 5.
Reynolds’ claim is one of several fact-checks we made after the debate, the only debate DeJear, a Des Moines businesswoman and Democrat, and Reynolds, a St. Charles Republican whose political career started in Osceola, will have this election cycle.
Other debate topics included abortion, school choice and school funding. First, though, we have a few more points on Iowa’s spending and income.
Reynolds said sound budgeting has allowed the state to cut personal and business taxes.
DeJear countered that Republicans have hoarded money that could have been spent on important state programs that aren’t getting enough money to meet public needs, such as education and accessible health care. The cuts amount to what DeJear called a small amount –– $50 to $55 a month four years down the road –– that won’t add value for the vast majority of Iowans.
"What does add value are the systems that help around them, like strong education; access to special services, mental health care services; things that mitigate them having to respond to emergencies; access to housing," DeJear said.
"Talk to the working families, $55, $25, that matters to them," Reynolds responded. "It makes a difference, especially as they’re seeing grocery prices skyrocket, what it costs to fill up your car."
Food and gasoline price increases are main talking points for Republicans who see voters who are unhappy about a 40-year high in inflation, at 8.2%.
We’ve written about this after DeJear said in August at the Iowa State Fair that the surplus could be used for more spending on state programs. We ruled that statement to be Mostly False because taking money from Iowa’s Cash Reserve Fund and Taxpayer Relief Fund would require, by law, legislative approval that must follow strict criteria. The projected surplus for fiscal 2022 was smaller when we wrote that story, pending a full accounting for the year at the end of September.
The governor has no authority over how the surplus is spent under state law. However, a governor can influence more spending by the Legislature on the front end of budgeting to spend more on programs and, thus, reduce the amount left in a given year for the relief fund.
Iowa has had some good fortune when it comes to its finances. Democrats have pointed out correctly that the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan passed in 2021 gave the state a $1.48 billion financial boost. The most recent infusion of cash was revealed Oct. 11, when the U.S. Treasury Department announced that Iowa will receive up to $96.1 million in America Rescue Plan money for small-business development, especially new businesses. Another example: Iowa pumped into its unemployment insurance benefits fund $237 million from the American Rescue Plan in 2021 and $490 million from the Trump administration’s CARES Act in 2020.
But, state tax revenue also increased in fiscal 2022, which ended June 30, by 6.6%, and other revenue from sources such as state-controlled liquor sales and interest on savings increased by 5.5%, for an overall 6.6% gross revenue growth rate, the state Department of Revenue reported Oct. 13. Accounting adjustments for transfers and refunds boosted the overall increase in Iowa’s general fund revenue to 11.4%.
Other measures of Iowa’s fiscal position show the state ranking in the middle of the pack. U.S. News & World Report ranked Iowa’s fiscal stability as 23rd among the states in 2021. Pew Charitable Trusts ranked Iowa as 24th among the states and District of Columbia with enough reserve funding for 37.4 days in fiscal 2021. Pew also reported earlier this year that Iowa’s revenue growth from the pre-pandemic first quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2022 did not keep up with inflation.
Whether the predictions for Iowa’s placement in four years become true cannot be known at this time because that will depend upon whether other states lower their tax rates to below Iowa’s. Iowa’s current income tax rate of 8.53% places the state as the nation’s sixth-highest, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to better inform the public and lawmakers on tax policy. Eight states do not have a personal income tax.
Tax Foundation data shows that, in 2026, when a new flat tax rate in Iowa is fully implemented, the state would have the fourth lowest individual income tax rate in the country if no other states reduce their tax rates. If we include the states without an income tax, Iowa would rank 12th, so which ranking is cited depends on how many states are included.
Reynolds was accurate when describing the Cato Institute’s ranking for her. "Reynolds says that her politics are based on the ideas of limited government, personal responsibility, and individual initiative. As governor, she has translated those beliefs into lean budgeting and major tax reforms, earning her the highest score on this report," states the libertarian-leaning public policy think tank that favors individual liberty, civil society and limited government.
This statement of money available for state spending accurately portrays Iowa’s most recent Revenue Estimating Conference in October. The report showed a projected 2.7% drop in all state revenue this fiscal year, which started July 1, followed by a modest gain of less than 1% in fiscal 2024.
But Iowans won’t know whether the projections will be met until after the fiscal year ends June 30, 2023. Projections are made monthly and previous ones, including March 2022’s 4.3% projected growth in total state revenue for fiscal 2022, have been on the conservative side. Total growth ended up being 11.5% after the last fiscal year ended June 30, data shows.
PolitiFact Iowa rated this claim to be Mostly False when U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, claimed that congressional Democrats’ Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 "would permit abortion up until delivery."
Currently, abortion is legal in Iowa for up to 20 weeks. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson overturned the right to abortion earlier this year, Reynolds has challenged Iowa court rulings that struck down state abortion restrictions she had signed into law, like a six-week abortion ban and a 24-hour wait period.
Reynolds asked DeJear in the debate, "Well, do you believe then that a woman can abort a baby right up until it’s born? Do you believe in late-term abortion?"
DeJear declined to say, but said pregnancy has infinite variables and that she wants to codify Roe v. Wade. She said the government should not intervene in decisions between a woman and her doctor. "When she goes into that doctor to make a decision that is within her best interest, that is her decision, and my personal belief should not be in that room. And, no other politician’s opinion should be in that room."
HR 8296, "Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022," which passed in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House in July but has not moved further, would allow abortion until a fetus is viable and can live outside of the uterus. The bill would allow for exceptions that allow abortion past viability but only if a patient’s health is in danger.
According to the National Library of Medicine, viability typically occurs around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Reynolds correctly referred to state laws in Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and New Jersey as Democratic-led states where no limit exists for how far into a pregnancy a patient can get an abortion.
DeJear was correct, too, when she responded, "the vast majority of abortion care is not late-term abortion."
Data from the Pew Research Center in June 2022 found that 9 in 10 abortions are done in the first trimester of pregnancy. In 2019, 6% of abortions were done between 14 and 20 weeks of pregnancy and 1% were at or beyond 21 weeks, the report found.
We’ve rated as True in a previous story the statement that only 2% of K-12 students in Iowa would benefit from a Republican-led Putting Students First Act that would send about $5,500 in vouchers to 10,000 students to attend a school of their choice. The bill passed the state Senate but did not move beyond that this year.
The 2% figure comes from giving vouchers to 10,000 of Iowa’s 485,000 school children. The vouchers would cost the state $55.2 million.
Saying Reynolds did nothing else distorts the governor’s support for increasing per-pupil state spending by 2.5% in this fiscal year. Democrats, including DeJear, say that isn’t enough.
It’s close to $1 billion, but not quite, when counting state money only. Adding local and federal support achieves that mark.
The Iowa Legislature appropriated $3.5 billion for K-12 education in fiscal 2018, the first year the current run of Republican control of the governor’s office, House and Senate was responsible for appropriating state funds. Additional funding from sources such as receipts for school services from other government agencies allowed the state to spend $4.1 billion, state budget records show.
Reynolds recommended a $3.9 billion appropriation for the current fiscal year. That, plus additional revenue that includes almost $1 billion in receipts from other agencies, would give Iowa $5 billion to spend on K-12 education, this year’s budget shows. The state Department of Management reports that adding local and federal dollars to the full picture brings the amount Iowa spends on K-12 education to $8 billion annually.
Reynolds also touted at the debate her orders to open schools for hybrid learning when the coronavirus pandemic moved past its deadliest months. And, she said, Iowa’s use of dual enrollment in high schools and colleges provides a good education in a cost-efficient manner. "We’re the number one state in the country for dual enrollment," she said.
About that ranking: It is for the percent of community college students who also are finishing high school. It comes from an Iowa Department of Education analysis, the Reynolds campaign wrote in an email to PolitiFact Iowa. It matches a Community Colleges Research Center report on 2019 dual enrollment that showed Iowa leading the nation with 37% of its community college enrollment coming from high school students.
A state record 51,809 Iowa students enrolled in community colleges last year while also in high school. Initial data from community colleges shows that B number dropped 8.8% this year to 47,262, the Department of Education reported in October. A pending education department report will show different numbers, but two of every five community college students still are high school students, Jeremy Varner, the department’s community college division administrator said in a PolitiFact Iowa interview.
Iowa education department analysts are preparing a report for the 2020-21 school year that needs more work before it is released, Varner said. It will show Iowa as first in the nation and growing enrollment. The figures will show 37% of Iowa’s community college students still in high school, Varner said. That is higher than those with the next best rates: Colorado at 32% and Idaho at 30%.
The data being analyzed is from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System that is run by the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative, he said.
Iowa accepts any academically qualified student for dual enrollment. "We don’t just focus on top tier students," Varner said.
That is accurate. A March 2021 report by the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services counted 712 inpatient psychiatric hospital beds in the state of Iowa.
Mental Health America, a nonprofit focused on promoting mental health care, ranked Iowa at 45th among the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, in its 2022 ranking for access to mental health professionals. The ranking used national provider identification data to calculate the number of mental health providers.
Another report from Healthcareinsider.com showed Iowa ranking 42nd in access to mental health care. Those rankings used a points system that accounted for the number of mental health care workers, the number of mental health care offices, amount of substance abuse facilities and how many people could access mental health care through Medicaid or private insurance.
There has been a steady decline in the number of Iowa’s inpatient psychiatric hospital beds since 2019 as health care delivery in Iowa has shifted during that time to outpatient services, mobile crisis intervention teams and crisis hotlines.
But mental health care advocates, including those from the National Alliance for Mental Illness, supported a 2021 law Reynolds signed that changed how Iowa funds mental health treatment. The changes include shifting funding from local property taxes to Iowa’s general fund.
The Center Square and others in 2021 have reported that WalletHub ranked Iowa first in pandemic recovery in measures of health, economy and social activity. But in an updated version this year, Iowa ranked third using the same measures of COVID-19 health; leisure and travel; and economy and labor market. With a possible score of 100, WalletHub gave Iowa 72 points.
Rankings differ and each has its own measure. For example, a Politico scoreboard placed Iowa near the middle of the pack at 18th using measures of health, economy, social well-being and education. With a possible high score of 100, Politico gave Iowa 57 points.
Politico found that Republican-led states such as Iowa did well in economic and educational recovery but poorly in health-related recovery because of policies set in place that limit restrictions and opened up schools. Politico measured health factors through death rate, hospitalizations, vaccine administration and testing.
In 2021, Newsweek did a report, "States where the economy has recovered the most," on a mash-up of recovery measures by Credible that included unemployment rates, housing costs, job growth and gross domestic product. That analysis put Iowa in 44th place among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral, a program advocating for quality care and pushing state regulation that supports child care providers, reported in a 2022 data sheet 4,661 programs registered with the program. In 2015, 7,560 total programs were listed. These programs include Department of Human Services registered child development homes, licensed centers and licensed preschools; centers, preschools and before- and after-school programs operated by the state Department of Education; and nonregistered child care homes.
The current number of child care providers makes up 61.7% of those open in 2015, aligning with the 40% lost portion that DeJear mentioned. Going back to 2011, the data sheet reported 11,257 programs. Providers in 2022 make up only 41.4% of those open 11 years ago, meaning the state has dropped 58.6% in the past decade.
The Iowa Legislature has passed several bills in recent years, including three in 2021-22 session in attempts to alleviate some of the child care issues plaguing the state.
Iowa PBS, Iowa gubernatorial debate, Oct. 17, 2022
Kim Reynolds campaign page
Deidre DeJear campaign page
Kim Reynolds press release, Aug. 24, 2022
Iowa Code, 8.55 Iowa Economic Emergency Fund, 8.56 Cash Reserve Fund, 8.57 Reduction of GAAP Deficit, 8.57E Taxpayer Relief Fund, 96.9 Unemployment Compensation Fund
H.R.1319 – American Rescue Plan Act of 2021
H.R.748 – CARES Act
H.R.8296 – Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022
Cato Institute, "Fiscal Policy Report Card on Governors: Kim Reynolds," Oct. 12, 2022; and about page
Iowa Department of Management, Revenue Estimating Conference, Oct. 13, 2022 report and March 10, 2022 report
U.S. Department of Treasury news release, Oct. 11, 2022
Iowa Official Register, 2022-23; Chapter 7, pages 22-33
Iowa Budget Report fiscals 2020-21 and 2023
Des Moines Register, "$53 million in federal funds steered to Iowa startups," Oct. 17, 2022
Associated Press, "Iowa to get $1.48B in federal coronavirus assistance money," May 10, 2021
The Daily Iowan, "Dobbs decision prompts GOP leadership to cut down abortion access in Iowa," Aug. 23, 2021
The Daily Iowan, "Gov. Reynolds signs public education funding bill into law," Feb. 17, 2022
The Daily Iowan, "Gov. Kim Reynolds signs flat tax rate into law," March 1, 2022
PolitiFact, "Differences exist in how to spend it, but state budget surplus has cash," Aug. 29, 2022
PolitiFact, "The Democrats’ Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 ‘would permit abortion up until delivery’," Aug. 1, 2022
PolitiFact, "Iowa’s Student First voucher bill would benefit 2% of Iowa school children," April 7, 2022
National Library of Medicine, "Limits of fetal viability and its enhancement"
NPR, "The right to abortion in Colorado is now guaranteed under state law," April 5, 2022
Abortion Finder, State-by-State Guide
Center for Reproductive Rights, Abortion laws by state: Vermont
Planned Parenthood, New Jersey
Pew Research Center, "What the data says about abortion in the U.S.," June 24, 2022
Iowa Legislature, S.F. 2369
Iowa Legislature, S.F. 619
The Gazette, "Iowa mental health care advocates hail shift in funding," June 16, 2021
Tax Foundation, "State Individual Income Tax Rates and Brackets for 2022," Feb. 15, 2022
KCCI, "Child care crisis: Iowa losing care providers at alarming rate," Feb. 20, 2019
The Iowa Child Care Resource and Referral, data sheets from 2022, 2015, and 2011
Iowa Capital Dispatch, "Iowa child care crisis continues despite legislative pushes," Aug. 4, 2021
Iowa Capital Dispatch, "Your guide to Iowa’s new laws," July 1, 2022
Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, Iowa psychiatric hospital beds report, March 2021
Mental Health America, "Ranking the states 2022" and about web page
Healthcareinsider.com, "Best and Worst States for Mental Healthcare"
WalletHub, "States that are recovering the quickest from COVID-19." Sept. 8, 2021
Politico, "Covid’s deadly trade-offs by the numbers: How each state has fared in the pandemic," Dec. 15, 2021
Politico, "Get ready for a food fight: High grocery costs are here to stay," Sept. 13, 2022
New York Times, "Inflation Remains Voters’ Top Concern. Can Republicans Keep Their Focus?," Sept. 19, 2022
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Consumer Price Index: September 2022; Oct. 13, 2022
Email exchange with Pat Garrett, Kim Reynolds campaign spokesman, Oct. 19, 2022
Email exchange with Heather Roe, Iowa Department of Education communications director, Oct. 19, 2022
PolitiFact phone interview with a Jeremy Varner, community college division director at the Iowa Department of Education, Oct. 18, 2022
Iowa Department of Education, Joint Enrollment in Iowa Report 2020-2021, Oct. 17, 2022
Community College Research Center, "From ‘Random Acts’ and ‘Programs of Privilege’ to Dual Enrollment Equity Pathways," April 4, 2022