Legislative session shutdown remains uncertain
April 28, 2011, 1:05 pm
By Rod Boshart/SourceMedia Group News
DES MOINES – Top lawmakers expressed optimism Thursday that progress is being made in reaching agreements that will end the 2011 session, but they conceded some non-budget issues may fall by the wayside and major stumbling blocks remain as they head into May.
"I’m actually encouraged with some of the discussions that are going on," said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha. "I don’t have a guess as to when we’re going to be done for the year. Is it possible to be done next week? Yes. I actually think it is possible. Is it probable? I wouldn’t call it probable."
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, was equally guarded, saying Democrats who control the Senate and majority House Republicans are moving closer on some fiscal 2012 budget fronts but he cited differences on education funding as "the biggest sticking point" and added that the two sides are not close to compromise on a property tax relief package as they head into overtime.
Friday marked the last day that legislators received daily expense money – about $134 per day for each lawmakers, except those in Polk County who collect about $100 in daily per diem. Some legislators doubted the end of those payments would build the pressure needed to adjourn but Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, who time at the Statehouse dates back to 1961, "not getting paid – that’s going to be a new experience for a lot of people."
The shrinking list of legislative priorities include finalizing a budget for up to two fiscal years and providing relief for commercial property owners. Within those issues were subsets of nagging disagreement over funding for K-12 schools and preschool programs which stand at stalemate because – given the complicated nature of the school aid formula — Republicans are better positioned to insist on no K-12 allowable growth for the next two years while Democrats have the upper hand on keeping the voluntary preschool program for 4-year-olds at status quo.
Other issues still awaiting legislative action deal with nuclear power regulation as it pertains to MidAmerican Energy’s plans to construct a new facility using modular technology, providing protections for livestock operations against secret videotaping by animal-rights advocates, making gambling changes that address countywide referenda, horse purses and a report on illegal online poker activities in Iowa, addressing flood mitigation for Cedar Rapids and other communities, and revamping and reforming the county-based mental health system.
Gronstal said agreement has been elusive on some of those issues which may doom them for this session.
"As a practical matter, we’re going to focus on education and job creation," he told reporters. "If other issues can get worked out, we will take them up. If they can’t, they will go by the wayside."
House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, said she expected the House to debate the gambling package on Monday, while the mental health reform and flood-mitigation bill could get the attention of representatives as well. House-passed version of the nuclear energy and agricultural trespassing bills are awaiting Senate action.
Paulsen said he expected the House to pass its version of the commercial property tax package next week, but he doubted Republicans would go along with a Democratic approach to provide relief via tax credits because the Legislature has a track record of underfunding such breaks in future years. Gronstal said the GOP solution to ease tax burdens for commercial property is to shift the cost to residential property classes in the form of a $350 million to $500 million change that would be the biggest residential property tax increase in state history.
"That would be a rather significant overstatement," Paulsen said in response, noting that change could be made to the House GOP plan to guard against unintended consequences. "We’re trying to find a way to lower property taxes. We’re not looking for a way to raise them," he said.
Upmeyer said it will fall to legislative Democrats and Gov. Terry Branstad to resolve their stalemate over the governor’s demand for a two-year budget since Republicans are willing to comply with his demand.
"I’ve offered some middle ground on that front and we’ve been stonewalled by the governor’s office," Gronstal said. "I’m not going to continue to bargain against myself. I’ve made a good-faith effort to find common ground."
Monday will mark the 113th calendar day since the 84th General Assembly convened on Jan. 11 and the 65th day that the 2011 Legislature will have been in session.
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