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Iowa Politics Roundup: Legislature Moves Into Shutdown Mode PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 05 March 2010 14:55

With hundreds of bills dying this week in the Iowa legislature's self-imposed second "funnel deadline," lawmakers will now move into shutdown mode with the goal of adjourning in three weeks after an 80-day session.

"Several hundred bills are dying today," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Des Moines) said Thursday. "Next week, the legislative leaders will meet and start to map out shutdown strategy."

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate will work on floor debate in the week ahead, finishing up policy bills in the next week and a half before diving into budget bills.

House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) called it an unusual funnel week in which some bills simply disappeared. He pointed to how there were 25 bills on the debate calendar Wednesday, but only two were debated. Legislation considered "dead" for the year can resurface in a number of ways, whether it be through amendments or as leadership bills.

"We have some concerns about ... different policy pieces, how many of them are going to end up in appropriations and become funnel-proof bills, and how many of those ideas are going to actually end up in appropriations bills, particularly standings, where we don't even get an opportunity to really debate the matter," Paulsen said. "If we stay disciplined and we don't start dumping a whole bunch of policy into the appropriations bills, I think they have a shot of actually hitting the 80 days."

A key event as lawmakers wind down this session is a meeting Thursday of the three-person Revenue Estimating Conference, which could revise estimates of state revenues either upward or downward. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) said the event won't change the state budget unless it's bad news.

"If it generates a little more revenue, we do not expect at this point to use that revenue to add anywhere," Gronstal said. "We're going to manage through this budget, to the best of our ability, without using any new revenues that are identified in the March revenue estimate. If they take revenues away, we'll have to deal with that, we'll have to adjust our budget."

Surveys Show Economy May Be on the Mend

Two new surveys indicate the economy is improving in and around Iowa.

Increased levels in Iowa sales, capital spending, and employment projected for the coming six months has moved the first-quarter 2010 Iowa Business Council's Overall Economic Outlook Survey Index to 54.3 -- its first time in positive-sentiment territory since the third quarter of 2008.

The overall index is more than six points higher than three months ago (47.7), and 19 points higher than one year ago (35.3). The survey was completed by the 20 corporate members of the Iowa Business Council during the second half of February.

"The survey results are encouraging. We are beginning to see a broader base of confidence amongst Iowa's largest employers," said Tom Aller, president of Interstate Power & Light and chair of the Iowa Business Council.

Aller said issues remain about the strength of a recovery, and there's deep concern about the messages lawmakers are sending to companies that have an interest in locating or expanding operations in Iowa. "But positive outlooks for both sales and capital spending indicate expectations of improving business prospects for at least the next six months," he said.

Meanwhile, the Business Conditions Index for the Mid-America region in February soared to its highest level since April 2007, pointing to improving economic growth in the months ahead, according to a survey released by Creighton University.

The index, a leading economic indicator from a survey of supply managers in a nine-state area including Iowa, rose for a third straight month to 61.0 in February, up from 54.7 in January and 50.3 in December. Job gains were reported for two straight months for the first time since July 2007

"Readings over the past several months indicate that the regional economic rebound that is underway will pick up steam in the months ahead," said Creighton University Economics Professor Ernie Goss. "Even so, I am concerned that the economic problems in Europe, which are pushing the value of the dollar higher, will negatively influence regional growth."

For the fifth time in the past seven months, Iowa's Business Conditions Index was above growth-neutral. The index, a leading economic indicator from a survey of supply managers, jumped to 58.2 from January's 52.1.

"Over the past year, Iowa has lost more than 17,000 manufacturing jobs, or more than 8 percent of its manufacturing-job base," Goss said. "Almost 90 percent of the producer job losses were in durable-goods manufacturing. Based on our surveys, I expect no more manufacturing job losses, and minimal overall job gains for the state in the second quarter of 2010."

Culver Expected to Sign Reorganization Bill Soon

With a 98-1 vote, the Iowa House gave final legislative approval to a government-reorganization bill estimated to save state and local governments an estimated $126 million. The bill now goes to Governor Chet Culver, who is expected to be sign it into law on Thursday.

Senate File 2088 consolidates agencies, eliminates 14 different boards and commissions, reduces energy costs, combines state purchasing, requires a span of control of one manager per 15 employees by 2011 to cut down on middle management, and consolidates information technology.

Representative Christopher Rants (R-Sioux City) was the lone "no" vote on the bill. He said the $70 million in general-fund savings is not enough considering budget cuts coming in the Department of Human Services and other areas. "Pat yourselves on the back, say 'We've done a great job reorganizing state government,'" he said. "You all will be here to sort it out next year. I'm actually glad for the first time that I won't be."

House Democrats said total savings are about $265 million when the government-reorganization and early-retirement bills, as well as an executive order from Culver, are combined. "By eliminating waste and saving millions of dollars for Iowa taxpayers, our reorganization efforts will help balance the budget while keeping our commitment to education and job-creation," said Representative Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City).

Final passage came after the House accepted changes made by the Senate to the 350-page bil.