To quote Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in her recent Condition of the State speech, “It’s been a year.”
Reynolds said Iowans could fill in their own adjectives to describe a year that brought COVID-19, civil unrest, a drought and a derecho to the state. “We’ve been beaten and battered in about every way imaginable and some unimaginable,” Reynolds said.
True. And the difficulty continues, particularly as it pertains to COVID-19, both from a health care and economic standpoint. Though the vaccines provide hope for dramatic improvement in the fight against the virus in the coming months, there is no shot in the arm for the economic havoc that has been wrought.
But there could be.
Financial projections say Iowa will have a $1.2 billion surplus by June — a combination of the state’s ending balance, cash reserve fund and economic emergency funds. The Legislature can move to spend up to $290 million (or more with three-fifths legislative approval) of the state’s cash reserve fund for one-time emergency expenses.
Given all that Iowans have faced in the past year, this feels like an emergency.
State Auditor Rob Sand last month called on the governor and Legislature to tap into that “rainy day” fund to help Iowans. “On our rainiest day, let’s not hoard the umbrellas,” he said.
The auditor said the state could provide small-business relief grants and still be fiscally responsible.
Reynolds seems content to let the federal government do the heavy lifting when it comes to help for average citizens. “Unfortunately, there’s just not enough state funding to make everybody whole, and that’s just a reality of what we’re dealing with,” she said last month.
But just because state government is unable to make everybody whole doesn’t mean it should do nothing.
In her Condition of the State speech, Reynolds talked about the importance of expanding rural broadband and mental health services, two areas worthy of state attention and taxpayer dollars.
Regarding economic recovery from the most devastating year in decades for the state’s businesses, Reynolds pointed to the Economic Recovery Advisory Board formed this summer and said Iowans can expect to hear a report from that group soon.
How about a plan to use some of the fat surplus to support struggling Iowa businesses? A pathway that would allow businesses to survive and eventually thrive would be a tremendous use of those dollars that would benefit all Iowans.
Small businesses are the backbone of Iowa communities, and they have borne the brunt of restrictions and closures brought about by the pandemic. Even after some restrictions have been lifted, with Iowans still drastically limiting their public outings — and poised to continue doing so until vaccinations are widespread — the impact has been devastating for restaurants, retail shops, hair salons, gyms and entertainment venues.
Additionally, long-term-care centers and child-care facilities have dealt with myriad challenges throughout the pandemic. Keeping these centers staffed, equipped and protected is a critical piece of community life.
Our community small businesses are fighting for their lives. That calls for the use of emergency funds to provide support — and Iowa just happens to be sitting on more than $1 billion that could bring that relief.
“I’m done taking small steps and hoping for big change,” Reynolds said in her speech. “This is the time for bold action and leadership.”
Iowa agrees with you, Governor. Let’s spend some of our surplus dollars to help small businesses, the lifeblood of our state.