Iowa Politics Roundup: Governor Blames Senate Democrats for Budget Breakdown Print
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Wednesday, 01 June 2011 08:43

Governor Terry Branstad on Tuesday placed blame for a breakdown in Iowa Statehouse negotiations squarely on the shoulders of the 26-member Senate Democratic caucus, as state government officials began implementing a strategy for a possible shutdown.

“Progress was made until the Senate Democrats met last week and basically told Senator [Mike] Gronstal, ‘You don’t have the authority to negotiate,’” Branstad said. “I think he tried, in good faith, but his caucus basically said ‘no.’ So he came back and said the deal’s off.”

Branstad on Tuesday said that Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will take his place in leading a trade mission to South Korea and China next week so he can continue negotiations on the state budget in Iowa. One month remains before the end of the fiscal year – June 30. Branstad said Republicans thought Senate Democrats were going to provide a counter-proposal on the budget late this past week, but that didn’t happen.

“I think he’s lost control of his caucus,” Branstad said of Gronstal. “I think you’ve got a situation where the leader has tried but hasn’t been able to get the support of his caucus to negotiate something and get this worked out. ... They have been used to calling the shots for the last several years. But now you’ve got a Republican governor, and you have a Republican majority in the House. And that’s a different set of circumstances than they’ve dealt with for some time. They need to respect and recognize that.”

Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) said Tuesday that he stands behind the position of his caucus in insisting on more funding for education. He also asserted that Branstad personally should attend the negotiations rather than sending his staff members.

“If the governor had been personally involved in the ongoing negotiations, he would understand that Democratic senators are united in their opposition to his two-year starvation diet for Iowa schools,” Gronstal said.

Tuesday was the one-month mark of the 2011 legislative session being in overtime. Branstad’s administration is developing a contingency plan if a budget isn’t passed and signed by June 30.

Robert Bailey, communications director of the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, this past week confirmed to Iowa House Chief Clerk Charlie Smithson that discussions were underway for a plan in case of a possible government shutdown. Meetings were held to discuss scenarios.

“All have complications,” Bailey told Smithson in an e-mail this past Thursday. “We’re working to have a strategy ready by mid-week [June 1] that can be communicated to agencies and the legislature. Included in these deliberations will be identifying critical employees” in public safety and correctional facilities.

But Branstad on Tuesday downplayed the contingency planning.

“The governor has emergency powers whenever there’s an emergency. I am not anticipating an emergency,” Branstad said. “I will deal with it if I have to. But I think they [Senate Democrats] need to get serious about doing the job. I’ve canceled my trip, so I’ll be available to do whatever I have to do.”

The governor said he’s taken numerous issues off the table as part of the negotiations to get to a $5.99-billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2012. He said it’s too late this year to change the state-funded preschool program into a needs-based scholarship program. He also said his proposal to cut the corporate-income-tax rate in half to a flat 6 percent, at a cost to the state of $200 million, likely will not happen this year.


Opponents of Nuclear-Power-Plant Bill Release New Survey

Opponents of a bill that would pave the way for MidAmerican Energy Company to construct an additional nuclear power plant in Iowa on Tuesday brought new ammunition to the fight: new survey results showing opposition to the plan and a new newspaper advertisement.

AARP’s Iowa state office released new survey results showing that 72 percent of likely voters age 50 and older oppose a bill currently before the Iowa legislature that would allow energy companies to raise rates and collect from customers in advance of building a nuclear power plant in the state.

In addition, 57 percent of likely voters age 50 and older said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate for state office who supports this legislation. The survey of 400 likely voters was taken May 23 through 25 by Selzer & Company and had a margin of error of 4.9 percent.

“Let me make one thing clear: AARP is not opposing nuclear power or any other electrical-generation type here in Iowa,” said Tony Vola, AARP Iowa state president. “Our opposition has been and continues to be the language of the proposal that shifts risk from the utility companies and their shareholders to the ratepayers.”

Three environmental groups that also oppose the nuclear-power-plant bill on Tuesday ran a Des Moines newspaper ad challenging state senators to protect the public from MidAmerican Energy’s plan to raise electricity rates for new nuclear reactors that won’t provide power to Iowans for many years.

Those sponsoring the ad were Friends of the Earth, a national not-for-profit environmental advocacy group; Green State Solutions, an Iowa-based consulting firm that contracts with not-for-profits to advocate on environmental issues; and the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, the national grassroots environmental organization that’s tax-exempt under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code.

The latest efforts against the nuclear-power-plant bill come on the heels of Iowa Senate Majority Leader Gronstal saying Friday on Iowa Press that the issue remains alive in the 2011 legislative session.

“I think there’s still people working on that,” Gronstal said. “It’s a possibility.”

MidAmerican Energy is proposing a nuclear power plant that would sit on about 700 acres – on land about the same size as Iowa’s only nuclear power plant, the Duane Arnold Energy Center near Palo. MidAmerican hasn’t increased its rates since 1995.

MidAmerican President William Fehrman has said customers would see a rate increase of up to 10 percent during the next decade should the company proceed with the construction of a new $1-billion to $2-billion nuclear power plant. Such a plant wouldn’t come online until 2020. The Iowa Utilities Board estimates that rates would increase about $7 a month, roughly 10 percent on an average bill of $70.

The bill paving the way for the nuclear power plant, House File 561, was one of the more controversial proposals of the 2011 legislative session. The legislation cleared the Iowa House with a 68-30 vote on April 26. However, the companion bill, Senate File 390, has yet to be debated in the Senate.

Branstad has been among those advocating for the legislation. He told reporters at an energy forum last week that Iowa should not be ruling out any prospective source of reliable, low-cost energy that can be done in an environmentally safe way.

Similar legislation calling for “advanced ratemaking” was defeated earlier this year in North Carolina and Missouri, said Anthony Carroll, AARP Iowa’s associate state director for advocacy.

The AARP survey shows that at least three-fourths of respondents believe House File 561 could be improved if it allowed customers to get refunds if the nuclear power project were canceled or not finished, if it required cost comparisons of electric options before building a nuclear power plant, or if it set a limit on how much the utility could charge customers.

This article was produced by IowaPolitics.com. For more stories on Iowa politics, visit RCReader.com/y/iapolitics.