A legislator who is also a lawyer suggests there will be a “constitutional crisis” in Iowa if the legislature doesn’t approve a new state budget by June 30.
Governor Branstad has said he has a plan in his head to keep state government operating past that date, but House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy says Branstad appears to be claiming executive powers that don’t exist.
“The governor only has his so-called ‘broad powers’ that he’s been advocating for natural disasters such as floods or fires…or for civil unrest such as looting and rioting,” McCarthy says.
Branstad disagrees. He says not having a state budget in place by the first day of the next fiscal year is an emergency.
“I certainly don’t think you should just be closing everything down,” Branstad says. “And I think also you need to determine what are essential services and I think state government is here to provide essential services and we want to make sure that goes on uninterrupted if the legislature fails to meet its responsibility to pass a budget in a timely way.”
Branstad might be transferring money out of the state’s economic emergency fund to keep state government operating if the legislature doesn’t strike a budget deal, but according to McCarthy, the state constitution does not give Iowa’s governor the authority to transfer state money around while the legislature’s still in session.
“What would be left is I think we’d have a constitutional crisis,” McCarthy says. “I don’t know that the legislative branch or the attorney general’s office, which is part of the executive branch, is going to want to see a chief executive wield broad powers with no constraint.”
Branstad says he has a responsibility to Iowans to keep state government running in times of emergency.
“Sometimes when you have an emergency situation, and I would say not having a budget is an emergency situation, you have to take extraordinary action to make sure that the obligations of the executive branch are met,” Branstad says. “I intend to do that.”
McCarthy says this debate about the governor’s emergency powers is likely to be moot soon.
“Nobody’s going to want the governor to have these so-called broad powers. I’m not sure that the governor would want to have the broad powers. I don’t think they exist. That’s a very scary can of soup there if you move in that direction,” McCarthy says. “I don’t think the Republicans (in the legislature) would want the governor to have those powers so, because of that, I think we’ll reach resolution.”
Branstad is also optimistic an emergency situation can be avoided.
“I think it’s looking more and more likely the legislature will meet its responsibilities and will pass a budget,” Branstad says.
Legislators meeting in small groups have struck agreements on some parts of the state budget, like how much to spend on economic development initiatives and public safety programs. Agreements are still elusive on education spending and legislators haven’t agreed on which bricks-and-mortar projects will be financed with state gambling taxes.