Iowans push for pet funding projects

DES MOINES ? Two new ideas to help Gov. Kim Reynolds deal with the state?s constrained budget emerged from a public hearing Tuesday: Raise the state?s cigarette tax by $1.50 a pack or consider legalizing sports betting at state-licensed casinos if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees in a case it?s considering.

Reynolds and top administration officials heard pitches for about an hour from two dozen individuals and representatives of groups seeking assistance for various health-related programs, renewable fuels and workforce development, as well as making appeals to control spending and cut state tax burdens.

?We understand there may not be many increases but at least status quo budgets,? said Mike Sinclair, who represented insurance interests in discussing the fiscal 2019 spending plan that Reynolds will begin to assemble and propose to the Iowa Legislature.

A day earlier, a state panel estimated Iowa will collect about $7.4 billion in state taxes for the budgeting period ? less than initially forecast.

A law enforcement advocate pushed for more funding for Division of Criminal Investigation labs and probes, as well as crisis stabilization centers to keep people dealing with mental-health issues out of higher-cost hospitals, jails and prisons. Others sought long-term funding to improve water quality statewide through voluntary methods.

Stacy Frelund of the American Heart Association decried that Iowa?s tobacco control programs took a $1 million cut, and urged Reynolds to consider raising Iowa?s current $1.36-per-pack cigarette tax by $1.50 to generate more than $106 million for health and tobacco cessation efforts.

?I know that it is sometimes daunting to think about tax increases,? Frelund told the governor, but noted other states had taken similar measures. She said a tobacco tax increase supported by a coalition of 19 anti-tobacco groups could keep 19,000 youths from becoming smokers, assist 22,000 adults in quitting, and helping address the $1.2 billion Iowa spends yearly on smoking-related health issues and $1.21 billion in lost productivity.

Another solution on the revenue side, said Wes Ehrecke of the Iowa Gaming Association, might come down the road if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of New Jersey?s legal challenge to allow all the states to offer betting on sports events under certain conditions, if the state approves it.

?We don?t know how much revenue, but we know there will be some down the road if this was authorized this session for two, three, four years or beyond,? he said.

Reynolds said after the hearing she was not ready to comment on any of the suggestions, noting that her administration is in the beginning stages of analyzing the state?s fiscal position and assembling priorities to present to the Legislature next month.