DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — After struggling with cost cutting during several lean budget years, Iowa lawmakers are now facing a financial surplus, and while that's undoubtedly good news, it also can be as politically complicated as being cash-poor.
"It's no prettier," said Department of Management Director Dave Roederer, the governor's top budget aide.
The Iowa legislature convenes Monday, with Gov. Terry Branstad set to release his budget proposal Tuesday. Fueled by a nearly $1 billion budget surplus, Branstad is expected to announce plans to invest in education and cut commercial property taxes as part of his $6 billion budget plan — both initiatives he has unsuccessfully pursued in the past.
Roederer credited the surplus to spending cuts and conservative budgeting, as well as healthy tax revenues. The governor has expressed hope that the funding and a commitment to work cooperatively with legislators will help him achieve his policy goals. Still, it will likely be a struggle, even with more money in play, given that the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have their own agendas.
Some Republicans, for example, want to focus on reductions to the income tax as part of any tax package. Roederer said commercial property tax cuts were the governor's priority, but he would consider income tax reductions.
"We believe we are in a position to do some tax relief and do some of those things," said House Speaker Kraig Paulson, R-Hiawatha. "We are in a position to leave more money in Iowans' pockets."
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said his colleagues would support some tax cuts, but they also wanted to see investment in programs such as adult education and job training. Some Democrats have also said they support an expansion of Medicaid, which the governor has not signed on to.
DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa man has been reunited with his sister 65 years after the siblings were separated in foster care thanks to a 7-year-old friend who searched Facebook.
Sixty-six-year-old Clifford Boyson of Davenport met his 70-year-old sister, Betty Billadeau, in person on Saturday. Billadeau drove up from her home in Florissant, Mo., with her daughter and granddaughter for the reunion.
Boyson and Billadeau both tried to find each other for years without success.
Then 7-year-old Eddie Hanzelin, who is the son of Boyson's landlord, got involved.
Eddie managed to find Billadeau by searching Facebook with her maiden name. He recognized the family resemblance when he saw her picture.
Near the end of their tearful reunion Boyson and Billadeau presented Eddie with a $125 check in appreciation of his detective work.
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) — Counterintuitive as it may seem, farm fields with the best tile drainage systems generally produced the highest yields during last year's drought, area farmers and other experts say.
"I saw that right away in the first field I harvested this fall," said Marion-area farmer Curt Zingula.
Zingula said he became "100 percent convinced" of the benefits of tile in a dry year when he observed a disappointing harvest of soybeans on his traditionally wettest field.
"My conclusion is that you have a better soil structure yielding better root growth in well-drained fields," he said.
Tracy Franck of Quasqueton said dips in his combine yield monitor data showed him exactly which of his Buchanan County fields were most in need of more tile.
Iowa State University Extension field agronomists reported similar findings at a meeting in October, according to drainage tile expert Matt Helmers, an associate professor of agricultural and biosciences engineering at ISU.
Better yields on better-drained soil "was common this year," Helmers said.
SPENCER, Iowa (AP) — Megan Hess will head to the Iowa Legislature as a 26-year-old freshman lawmaker, but she's no newbie.
In fact, Hess has experience working for two legislative bodies since she was in high school.
"This will actually be my ninth legislative session," Hess said, adding that she'll have no problem knowing the ins and outs of the Capitol in Des Moines.
"I was a page my senior year in high school and I caught the bug," Hess said.
After being sworn in Jan. 14, the Republican will be the third youngest lawmaker in Des Moines in 2013. She said wants young Iowans to know about the positive things that can come from living in the Iowa Great Lakes area, including solid business and educational opportunities and fantastic tourism.
"Only being 26, I think I provide a little bit of a different voice, certainly to young people. We are being saddled with a lot of debt these days. But then I'm also seeing what my parents and grandparents are going through," she said.
Hess has tax reform and support of education as her two top issues for the year.
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Miss Iowa managed to finish fifth at this year's Miss America pageant, but she may be remembered more for her answer to a question about marijuana.
Near the end of the night Mariah Cary of Burlington was asked whether marijuana should be legalized for recreational use.
Initially, Cary seemed to say that she supported marijuana use only for medical purposes.
But at the end of her answer, Cary said she thinks marijuana should not be used for anything but recreational use and health care.
Cary is a junior at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids.
Miss New York Mallory Hagan won the Miss America title.