A People's Budget for Iowa

Public Money in Public Hands for the Public Good - A People's Budget for Iowa

A large number of our issues require some involvement with Iowa's state budget.  From supporting the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture to cleaning up our waterways to funding the Iowa Department of Natural Resource’s conservation priorities, all arrows point at the state budget.

Budgets reflect theories of government.  Iowa’s political conversation rarely moves beyond the notion that government’s primary responsibility is to grow the economy.  Hence we give corporations tax breaks, but slash funding for health care, environmental protections and public interest research at our three state universities.

We hold a different view of government and that is government is the trustee of all the things we share - public roads and bridges, water, wildlife, air, public universities, state parks, education and public health.  These things we share, sometimes known as the commons, are the basis of the cornerstones of the well-being of our state.  There is little or no economic activity without the public goods provided by things like roads, water, and education. Therefore, protecting, enhancing and restoring our shared public wealth is the central responsibility of government.  We must tie the budget to our priorities. 

Listen to a discussion about "Reframing the discussion around why the government is important to our lives and our success as private citizens" with Pam Mackey Taylor, Director of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, and State Senator Joe Bolkcom.  View the transcript

dollar signs

There are numerous players in establishing the budget: 

  • Governor

  • Revenue estimating conference - a three-person board that estimates how much revenue is expected to be generated by the state for the general fund.  The information is used to create the budget.  The board members include a person who represents the governor’s office, the Director of the Legislative Services Agency, and a third person selected by the other two members of the Revenue Estimating Conference.  The conference meets each quarter.

  • State government departments and agencies, who draft their budgets and must follow the budget

  • Legislature, who approves the budget

  • Citizens

Oftentimes, the players in the budgeting process never hear from you, the citizens, about what you think is important.  You can contact the legislature and the government and let them know how you feel about the items that are being budgeted and those that are being short-changed.


Ask your elected officials to implement the following recommendations:

  1. Setting goals is the first step in government fulfilling its fiduciary responsibility to care for the common assets and public money. This is what governors do when they submit their budget proposals to the legislature.  We propose goals for the state of Iowa that reflect the fiduciary responsibilities of government to care for the things we share and to ensure equal access to benefits like health, clean water, roads, schools and everything else in the common wealth.  Here are 6 budget goals that reflect the true needs of Iowa and that are based on the basic recipe of keeping public funds in public hands for the public good.  By working to meet these goals, we will be able to build the foundation of a regenerative economy and a sustainable Iowa, which fosters the health and well-being of the land and people.

      • World-class public education, from kindergarten to college, with emphasis on continuing education and student-centered education, including ecological, civic, holistic education, and development of social skills and working cooperatively

      • Support physical and mental health from birth to death, including prevention and public health, for the greatest good for all people in Iowa, while creating the healthiest people and robust public health; publicly and not privately, funded and, managed

      • Re-wild Iowa to protect, preserve, expand water, air and wildlands and natural areas in Iowa, including restoration, preservation, regeneration

      • Agriculture that feeds Iowans first and cares for the land, water, community; urban agriculture; reinvent the cooperative model and transitioning from the industrial model

      • Develop and support energy for the future and a healthy environment; creating the world’s most innovative energy policy; focused on renewables, energy efficiency, distributed generation; equitable and people-centered; while avoiding, mitigating, and adapting to climate change

      • Charging research and public university institutions with a public interest research agenda rather than a private corporate research agenda

  2. Designate a legal guardian for future generations who would review regulations and the budget for their impact on the common assets such as water, state parks, transportation, public health, and public schools.

      • Have state agencies evaluate the common assets they manage and determine the costs for adequate care as a first step in setting the budget. 

      • Each agency should set measurable goals for the protection, restoration and enhancement of common assets.

      • Require the state auditor to audit the state’s common assets and the success of public expenditures in protecting the common assets, and report to the legislature.

      • Create a program to repair and restore public assets, specifically restoring prairie, woodland, and river ecosystems, modeled on the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA was a program begun in 1933 that put about 3 million people to work building or restoring public roads, buildings, theaters and airports.  An Iowa WPA would focus on restoring ecological integrity.

  3. Establish robust funding for essential government services, particularly the judicial branch of government and education, both of which have been neglected in recent years’ budgets.

      • Eliminate other financial give-aways to corporations and use those funds for environmental programs.

      • Establish the environment and public health as key state budget goals, prioritizing clean water.

      • The Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Public Health should develop ways to measure the health impacts of Iowa’s contaminated water.

  4. Establish the corporate tax rate at an appropriate level to fund the key state budget goals.  A start would be to return them to pre-2018 levels. 

  5. Eliminate corporate tax incentives such as the research tax credit and re-allocate the refunds from the research credit to the public universities. The research tax credit creates refunds when tax credit exceeds a company's or individual's state tax liability and no state income tax is owed. 

  6. Hold public meetings around the state after state agencies have made their budget proposals.  Solicit public input on the condition of the local commons and the finances needed to protect or restore them.

  7.  Provide the public with clear information about where money comes from and how it is spent.   At present, it is almost impossible to understand what money comes from the federal government, excise taxes, or special funds, or to understand where the money goes.  Data is not up to date and the budget numbers are not all in one place.

  8.  Establish a state bank, as North Dakota has done. At present, a large percentage of Iowa’s public money is housed at Wells Fargo, a private bank that has been sanctioned for fraud.  Creating a state bank would provide financial mechanisms for ensuring that Iowa’s money could be leveraged for Iowa goals.  Finally, it would guarantee Iowa could fulfill its fiduciary duty to manage the public’s money for the public good.


Policy Document on the Peoples Budget

The Budget Calendar

To learn about "Taxes!  How Is Our Public Money Being Used", see the presentation by State Senator Joe Bolkcom and Iowa Chapter Director Pam Mackey-Taylor, March, 2021.  The presentation discusses the role of taxes, how the budget reflects our values, and why the state budget doesn't have enough money to pay for the things we care about such as clear water, public health, public research, education, parks and recreation

Public Interest Research Agenda

The Peoples Budget Is Not Socialism

A Look at Privatization of Public Resources

Fact sheet from Physicians for Social Responsibility

Public Money in Public Hands for the Public Good, Power Point presentation and PDF of the presentation, from Womens International League for Peace and Freedom

View slides from presentation by Carolyn Raffensperger, from the Science and Environmental Health Network, on Public Money in Public Hands for the Public Good

Where is your county treasurer depositing taxpayer money?

People's Budget Resources

Why Sierra Club cares about tax credits

Corporate welfare pact

A Bold Vision for Iowa’s Economy of the Future

Listen to a discussion about "Reframing the discussion around why the government is important to our lives and our success as private citizens" with Pam Mackey Taylor, Director of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, and State Senator Joe Bolkcom.  View the transcript


To locate contact information for your state legislators

To find your state senator’s contact information, see Email, addresses, and phone numbers for Senators

To find your state representative’s contact information, see Email, address, and phone number for House Members

To find your legislator, see Find your legislator 

Be sure to include the governor in your messages.  Send a letter to the governor at 1007 E. Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50319.  To electronically send a letter to the governor, you must use the governor's website GovernorsWebSiteForMail 


Iowa Budget Facts, collected by Carolyn Raffensperger

"Forecaring: A Constellation of Ideas to Fulfill Our Responsibilities to Our Neighbors and Future Generations" by Carolyn Raffensperger, November, 2017

Ballotpedia gives a good (short!) overview of where Iowa's money comes from and where it goes

Program and Budget Brief for fiscal year 2024

The Governor’s proposed 2018 budget

Larry Kramer, "Beyond Neoliberalism: Rethinking Political Economy", William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, April 26, 2018

Iowa’s constitution 

List of state agencies

Iowa Policy Project provides an analysis on several budget and tax policies and Sensible Improvements for Iowa Tax Policy

Carolyn Raffensperger, "Analyzing and Shaping Public Budgets: Activist Tips for Change Makers", Tips for Activists, Volume 3, Science and Environmental Health Network and the Women’s Congress for Future Generations, September 11, 2019.  See www.sehn.org/sehn/2019/9/11/tips-for-activists-analyzing-and-shaping-public-budgets

Carolyn Raffensperger, "Public Money in Public Hands for the Public Good: The Public Trust Doctrine, Public Well-Being and Government Budgets”, Science and Environmental Health Network May 17, 2019.  See www.sehn.org/sehn/2019/5/17/public-money-in-public-hands-for-the-public-good-the-public-trust-doctrine-public-well-being-and-government-budget