A panel of lawmakers has voted to trim the budget for the legislative branch of state government by 10 percent. The $4 million reduction is for the budgeting year that starts July 1.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal says there’ll be a pay freeze for legislative branch employees for at least a year.
"We’re fully aware things are very tight and we will deal as things happen," Gronstal says. "We will deal with whatever requires to balance the budget."
Gronstal and other Democratic leader control the legislative agenda and they plan to save more money by shortening the 2010 legislative session by 10 days. Travel restrictions are in place, too. Republicans back the plan, but some argue broader cuts are needed across all of state government.
Senator Jerry Behn, a Republican from Boone, says legislators should hold a special legislative session to get a handle on the budget.
"If we don’t cut any spending now, if we just continue to say, ‘Well, yeah, there’s more spending here and we’re just going to have to make it up next year,’ if we don’t have a huge turnaround in the economy, we’re going to be really tight next year," Behn says.
Democrats say it would be wiser to wait until after September when there’s a clearer picture of state tax collections before discussing the idea of a special legislative session.
"Of course we’re concerned about the overall economy of the state of Iowa and we’ll deal just as we dealt, you know, just about eight years ago with very, very tight budget years where, in fact, we had to come back in a special session and make adjustments," Gronstal says, "so we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it."
But Behn and other Republicans want to cross that bridge now.
"I think we ought to come back and we ought to talk about it and see exactly what’s going on. I really do," Behn says. "This is kind of scary. We’re digging ourselves a huge hole."
The legislative branch is the smallest of the three branches in state government. The state ombudsman’s office and the Legislative Services Agency are among the legislative branch agencies that will see a 10 percent cut in their operating budget. The staff of the Legislative Services Agency draft the bills which are passed by lawmakers and conduct financial reviews of the entire state budget. In addition, each legislator employs a clerks during the legislative session and there’s a partisan support staff of more than 50 people for Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.