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Major issues yet to be resolved as Iowa Legislature eyes adjournment

This news story was published on April 16, 2012.
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James Q. Lynch, CR Gazette –

DES MOINES — Iowa legislators are likely to have one eye on the calendar and the other on their pocketbooks as they go back to work today, the 99th day of their scheduled 100-day session.

With the session scheduled to end April 17, lawmakers are trying to wrap up work on major priorities – commercial property tax reform, education reform and mental health services. If they can’t reach resolution by Tuesday, they’ll be paying their own way.

That’s because April 17 marks the last day they can collect daily expense money — $135 a day for out-state legislators and $101 for Polk County lawmakers.

Lawmakers paying for their own meals and lodging is “one of those things that sends a powerful signal” that it’s time to complete their work, said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha.

In addition to House-Senate conference committee on all of the budgets other than transportation, which has been signed by the governor, lawmakers are looking at floor debate. The House debate calendar includes the $1.6 billion health and human services budget, the redesign of mental health services, lowering the state tax on in-state sales between Iowa companies to strengthen the supply chain with manufacturers and creation of a seven‐member Iowa Public Information Board to handle complaints about violations of open meetings and public records laws.

Much of the activity will be in House-Senate conference committees to resolve budget differences – some of which are sizable.

“You need to at least get to the point where you can compare apples to apples,” Dvorsky said after the conference committee on the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund met and found the House and Senate budgets differed by $10 million.

Paulsen hopes conference committees have a “global” budget number today. That would tell them the total size of the budget pie and how big a slice they get.

Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg said he was encouraged that the parties were negotiation budget numbers Friday.

House Republicans have proposed spending $6.06 billion, Gov. Terry Branstad’s budget is $6.24 billion and Senate Democrats proposed spending $6.3 billion.

“We have closed that gap, I believe,” Paulsen said, adding that it’s not one thing that’s holding up resolution.

“It’s like the budget is every year,” he said. “It’s a whole mess of different issues coming together. It’s a whole mess of line items. It’s regents or line items in (Health and Human Services) budget or the total standings bill or the total number on top. All those numbers have to come together.”

One hold-up for Kibbie is the governor’s budget for community colleges.

He added $4 million, but nothing for skilled worker training.

“So their total number is $6 million or $7 million less than last year,” Kibbie said. “We’re not going to close this place down until we do something about that line item.”

On another priority — commercial property tax relief, Branstad said there have been “fruitful discussions.”

“That’s a high priority for us,” he said. “It would be tragic to have another year go by without resolving that.”

Kibbie also sees possibilities for a compromise.

“We’ve been saying all year that there’s $250 million on the table for commercial property tax,” he said. “That’s one-sixth of the total. Why would we not get together and take advantage of that?”

Basically, the GOP plan gives the most relief to property owners with the highest tax bills while the Democratic plan would provide relief to every property owners with more than $30,000 assessed valuation, Kibbie said.

“Our prerogative is for Main Street and we won’t go along with any property tax plan unless we get all or part of that,” he said.

Paulsen said lawmakers have had the easy part of that discussion.

“The hard part is that last little bit whether it’s 5 percent, 10 percent or 20 percent,” he said. “You can put whatever number you want there, but it’s the last bit that often becomes the hardest.

“But we’re to that point where we are talking about the final pieces,” Paulsen said.

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