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Iowa Politics Roundup: Legislature Swiftly Approves New Political Map - Page 2 PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 15 April 2011 10:24

Legislative Leaders Says Agreement Must Be Reached Next Week for April 29 Adjournment

Legislative leaders said Thursday they’re close to an agreement on a bill that would create a Taxpayer Relief Fund, provide supplemental appropriations for indigent defense, and supply money to eliminate the waiting list across the state for mental-health services.

However, they would also need to reach agreement on several other key areas of the budget and on tax relief if they hope to adjourn by April 29 as scheduled.

“There’s some pieces that have to fall into place before the middle of next week,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha). “If that can happen, we still have a shot of getting out of here on April 29. But if we don’t have those things resolved pretty early next week, then I think probably that starts to slip away a little bit.”

Paulsen said it takes about 10 days after decisions are made to move the paperwork necessary in the legislature to get it all done.

An agreement is expected to be announced early next week on Senate File 209, which has been in a House-Senate conference committee since early March. The final bill is expected to create a Taxpayer Relief Fund that’s been a priority of House Republicans.

“I think you’ll see us shortly reach resolution on a couple of those issues, and I think that will kind of become the model for the rest of the session; then we’ll be able to move fairly quickly,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs). “I think it’s still quite possible we can get done on time.”

Paulsen said that under the proposed agreement, state money beyond what was estimated by the Revenue Estimating Conference would go first to the cash-reserve fund and economic-emergency fund, then $60 million would go to a Taxpayer Relief Fund. That’s significantly less than the more than $300 million that would have initially gone to the fund as advocated by Republicans.

“We agreed to a limit on it,” Paulsen said. “It goes towards making sure that those dollars, those ending balances, aren’t just automatically turned around and built into following budgets. That’s addressing the concern that we were trying to address.”

It has not yet been determined how the money would be used. But Democrats, who have criticized the Taxpayer Relief Fund as a “slush fund,” now acknowledge that the legislature probably will create the fund this year.

“I think that’s likely,” Gronstal said.

Commercial-property-tax relief is expected to be part of the end game as lawmakers work to wind down the 2011 session. The Democratic-controlled Senate on Wednesday approved its version of the plan.

“It’s too small,” Paulsen said. “I think we can do better than that.”

But Gronstal maintained Thursday that the Senate Democratic plan, which would start at $50 million and grow incrementally to $200 million if revenue growth is at least 4 percent, is superior to the more expensive plans proposed by House Republicans and Governor Branstad.

“We like the House approach, but that’s $500 million that we don’t have,” said Gronstal.

Another issue is school funding for the 2011-12 school year. School officials have repeatedly called for the legislature to make a decision on allowable budget growth for schools. Districts are required to certify their budgets by Friday.

However, House Republicans and the governor still appeared set at no growth as of Thursday, while Senate Democrats were still insisting on a 2-percent increase in per-pupil spending for schools.

“We continue to be at two; they continue to be at zero,” Gronstal said. “But clearly, we have enough resources to do better than zero for our kids in Iowa.”

Other controversial bills still hang in the balance as the session winds to a close: one that would allow MidAmerican Energy Company to charge customers up-front for a proposed nuclear power plant; one that would ban abortions from 20 weeks of pregnancy; and one that would ban Iowa farm workers from taking undercover pictures, video, or audio of animal agriculture operations.

Gronstal said there are many people continuing to work on those issues. It remains to be seen whether those bills, all of which have generated plenty of controversy and comments, will ultimately be approved this year. In the past, some of these sorts of policy pieces get placed into budget bills that go to conference committee.

This summary was compiled from reports by IowaPolitics.com.

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