LEADERS: BUDGET BILLS STAND IN WAY OF ADJOURNMENT
By ANDREW DUFFELMEYER
9:10 AM CDT, April 10, 2011
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Legislative leaders said they're hopeful of completing their work by the end of April but acknowledged they don't have a plan for settling the major budget differences that stand in the way of adjourning.
The Republican-controlled House, Democratic-controlled Senate and Gov. Terry Branstad have all set different spending targets and have sometimes opposing views on proposals to change the state's universal preschool program, fund primary education and cut taxes.
The House could approve all its budget bills this week, but reaching agreement on those matters with the Senate and Branstad, a Republican, could take considerably longer. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn April 29.
"Right now it doesn't appear that there's a road map to adjournment," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines.
McCarthy said House passage of the budget bills is only the start of the process.
"All these budgets are not real because the Senate is not on the same page as the House Republicans, but here's the kicker: the House Republicans are not on the same page as the governor," McCarthy said.
Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, agreed it would take more work before budgets bills reach final approval. He blamed Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, arguing the Democrat was trying to blunt Republican initiatives by delaying legislation since he had only a small Democratic majority and was limited in his influence.
"If there is a road map, no one has shared it with me," McKinley said. "It just depends on how Mike Gronstal wants to play this out. If he wants to continue to stall and obstruct and try to leverage what little leverage he has, we could be here a long time."
House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, said the divided control of government has slowed the passage of bills, but legislators would eventually reach agreement.
"In the end I think we're going to work them out just like we always do," she said.
Some issues will need to be resolved in conference committees, where members of each chamber meet to work out compromises, Upmeyer said.
A conference committee has been meeting for weeks to resolve a measure calling for extra money for higher education, prisons, public safety and human services. It also would increase some tax credits and create a taxpayer relief fund.
Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he expects a quicker pace in other negotiations.
"I think as we get that one worked out, which should happen fairly soon, the rest of them kind of fall into place," Gronstal said.
Although Republicans have called for replacing Iowa's preschool program with a need-based scholarship program and Democrats have sought to increase school funding, Gronstal said it's likely neither effort will prevail.
Gronstal said one of the biggest questions is whether the Legislature approves an annual or biennial budget. Branstad has threatened to veto any one-year budgets that reach his desk.
"The governor has been pretty hardcore about his view on two-year budgets," Gronstal said. "He's not provided much rationale for why that is key."
Branstad has said two-year budgets allow for more efficient planning, but Democrats have said it's difficult to forecast tax revenue so far in advance and that biennial budgets would give the Legislature less oversight over spending.
The governor also wants legislators to significantly cut corporate income taxes and commercial property taxes. Branstad said the tax cuts are needed to meet his campaign promise of creating 200,000 new jobs over five years.
"I think as long as those parameters are met there's a lot of room for negotiation in other areas," said Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht. "If we're going to create the 200,000 new jobs, then the governor is going to need the tools to go out there and really sell Iowa."
Fresh off a November election that gave them a 20-seat majority, Upmeyer said House Republicans will push for Branstad's tax cuts and then may seek deeper reductions.
"We'll probably want to spend less than the Senate will want to spend, perhaps than what the governor will want to spend," Upmeyer said. "We told people when we were elected, we're not going to spend more money than we're taking in and that's what we're going to stay true to."