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Big goals this week before session can end

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

Gov. Terry Branstad and legislative leaders believe they are on the verge of historic change this week.

Here’s some of what lawmakers hope to accomplish in the 16th week of the 2012 session:

— Produce the first step in several decades toward equalizing tax rates for commercial and industrial property owners.

— Put in place a transition for moving Iowa’s mental health system from a county-based approach to a regional focus that brings more uniformity to services administered locally.

— Resolve differences between Republicans and Democrats, who share split control of the Legislature, on a fiscal 2013 spending plan that tops $6.2 billion.

Branstad said he has reached a tentative accord with Senate Democrats that is being studied by House Republicans. It would implement over multiple years a hybrid approach with three goals: accomplishing property tax reforms for commercial and industrial classes, limiting growth for residential and agricultural classes, and providing at least $250 million in state reimbursements for local governments.

Likewise, the governor forged a $6.2 billion budget plan with House Republicans that is being considered by Senate Democrats that could lead to adjourning the 2012 session later this week.

“There are still a lot of details to be worked out. It’s going to be a lot of work, but hopefully it can be accomplished,” Branstad said in an interview. “We see a genuine bipartisan commitment to try to resolve these issues and get this done hopefully before the end of (this) week.”

Negotiators say the comprehensive property tax package doesn’t phase down all commercial rates to 60 percent over eight years, as Branstad-led Republicans originally envisioned, but it benefits all property classes.

“I think everybody understands that we’re not all going to get exactly what we want and it may not be as large as what some people want,” said Jeff Boeyink, Branstad’s chief of staff, who has been part of the House-Senate negotiations.

Rep. Tom Sands, R-Wapello, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said House Republicans are analyzing the various components of the property-tax package to make certain they are achieving significant relief this session.

His caucus “will continue to do everything we can to advance the ball down the field,” he said. “There’s a difference in taking a step forward, as small as it may be, and taking a step sideways or backwards.”

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said he’s sought property tax reform since being elected in 2002.

“That would be something I’m excited about,” Paulsen said of an agreement. “I’ve worked on property taxes for years and years.”

Boeyink said the first piece that must fall into place, hopefully today, is final agreement among lawmakers and the governor on the big-picture fiscal 2013 spending number. That will clear the way for negotiating details for the various budget pieces, the tax issues, the mental-health redesign and the education reform measures.

Top lawmakers held out hope they could adjourn by the middle of the week but Boeyink was skeptical: “We’re looking at Friday as a best case.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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