State spending, school funding, abortion: fact-checking Iowa’s gubernatorial debate

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Margaret Kispert/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (right), a Republican, takes her turn speaking after her Democratic challenger Deidre DeJear Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, for a debate on Iowa PBS PBS studios in Johnston, Iowa

DI staff, [email protected]


PolitiFact Iowa is a project of The Daily Iowan’s Ethics & Politics Initiative and PolitiFact to help you find the truth in politics.


If Your Time is Short: 

  • Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and her Democratic challenger, Deidre DeJear, showed sharp political disagreements on several issues during their only televised debate on Monday, 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 Monday, 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, with Iowa, Idaho, and South Dakota 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 gas price increases are main talking points for Republicans who see voters who are unhappy about a 40-year high in inflation, at 8.2 percent.

DeJear: “Those funds in the surplus, rather than being used for one-time funds, those taxpayer dollars should be allocated on an annual basis so that we’re pushing the systems that are going to not only get people back to work but ensure that families all across the state have economic sustainability.”

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 on 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 percent, and other revenue from sources like state-controlled liquor sales and interest on savings increased by 5.5 percent, for an overall 6.5 percent 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 percent.

Other measures of Iowa’s fiscal position show the state ranking in the middle of the pack. U.S. News and 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.

Reynolds: “The Cato Institute just recognized Iowa for (being) the number one state in the country for fiscal responsibility. And that was, what they took into account was not only the fiscal responsibility and restraint that we practice but also the tax policies that we have put in place. We’ll go from the 6th highest with the individual income tax rate in the country to the 4th lowest.” 

Whether the predictions for Iowa’s placement in four years become true cannot be known at this time because that will depend upon whether or not other states lower their tax rates to below Iowa’s. Iowa’s current income tax rate of 8.53 percent places the state as the nation’s 6th 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 show 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.

DeJear: “The Revenue Estimating Committee has already shown us that we’re going to see a drop in revenue.”

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 percent drop in all state revenue this fiscal year, which started July 1, followed by a modest gain of less than 1 percent in fiscal 2024.

But Iowans won’t know whether or not the projections will be met until after the fiscal year ends on June 30, 2023. Projections are made monthly and previous ones, including March 2022’s 4.3 percent projected growth in total state revenue for fiscal 2022, have been on the conservative side. Total growth ended up being 11.5 percent after the last fiscal year ended on June 30, data show.

Reynolds: “They believe you can abort a baby right up until the moment it’s born.”

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.”

H.R. 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 referenced 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 nine-in-10 abortions are done in the first trimester of pregnancy. In 2019, 6 percent of abortions were done between 14 and 20 weeks of pregnancy and 1 percent were at or beyond 21 weeks, the report found.

DeJear: “When the governor had an opportunity to truly impact our schools in a positive way to get them set up for success for the next school year, rather than seeing robust legislation to invest in our schools and get the districts what they needed, the best that saw was the idea that $55 million of taxpayer money go to assist 2 percent of our students in the state.”

We’ve rated as True in a previous story the statement that only 2 percent 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 percent 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 percent in this fiscal year. Democrats, including DeJear, say that isn’t enough.

Reynolds: “We’ve increased funding year over year. I am proud of what we have been able to do for our K-12 education system and for education in general. Since Republicans took control of the legislature and the Governor’s Office, over a billion dollars of new money has gone into K-12 education.”

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 most deadly 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 percent 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 show that B number dropped 8.8 percent 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 percent 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 percent and Idaho at 30 percent.

The data being analyzed are 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.

DeJear: “We have less than 750 beds in the state and we also are 45th in the nation in mental health care worker availability.”

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 non-profit focused on promoting mental health care, ranked Iowa at 45th among the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, in their 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 point 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 while 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.

Reynolds, speaking about recovering from the coronavirus pandemic: “We were recognized as the fastest recovery in the country.”

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 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 like 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.

DeJear: “We’ve lost nearly about 40 percent of our child care providers in this state over the last couple of years.”

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 non-registered child care homes.

The current number of child care providers makes up 61.7 percent of those open in 2015, aligning with the 40 percent lost portion that DeJear mentioned. Going back to 2011, the data sheet reported 11,257 programs. Providers in 2022 make up only 41.4 percent of those open 11 years ago, meaning the state has dropped 58.6 percent 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.

Our Sources

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 Fund8.56 Cash Reserve Fund8.57 Reduction of GAAP Deficit8.57E Taxpayer Relief Fund96.9 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 percent 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

Natalie Dunlap, Liam Halawith, Eleanor Hildebrandt, Lauren White, and Lyle Muller contributed to this report.

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