Lawmakers spent most of Wednesday grinding away on just a couple of issues, delaying the final adjournment of the 2011 legislative session until sometime today.
They’re close to the deadline for approving a state budget plan, as the new state budget year begins Friday. The six-month-long effort to strike a deal between the two parties on property tax reform was abandoned Wednesday and legislators focused solely on the final details of the state budget.
Senator Bob Dvorsky, a Democrat from Coralville, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “We have a good group of senators and house members who really worked at it,” Dvorsky says. “And once people of good faith sat down, we were able to move some things forward.”
Representative Scott Raecker, a Republican from Urbandale, is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “It has taken a long time this year,” Raecker says. “But I believe the end result will be something that people will walk out of the capitol knowing that they did an exceptional job and Iowans will be very proud of the budget that’s been delivered.”
A huge budget bill cleared both the Senate and House last night before lawmakers adjourned for the evening. But property tax reform has fallen off their to-do list. Republicans like Senate GOP Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton blame Democrats for failing to pass the property tax cut Republican Governor Terry Branstad has been pushing.
“I know we’re at a tremendously competitive disadvantage because of our high commercial property tax rates and residential rates,” McKinley says. “All classes are too high.”
And Democrats like Senator Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City fault Republicans for failing to embrace the significantly different property tax relief plan Democrats devised. “I just don’t understand at this point why those facts just didn’t get through to the governor and House Republcians,” Bolkcom says. “I’m disappointed.”
The two parties did strike an agreement on education spending, approving a status quo spending plan for K-12 schools for the next academic year and a two percent increase in the following year. Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, suggested the last eight weeks of wrangling between the parties over education spending had been worth it for Democrats.
“We didn’t decimate our educational system the way we would have decimated it if this had been all Republican control,” Hogg says. “Colleagues, we should be proud of the fact that we’ve been fighting here for education.”
Republicans, meanwhile, insisted on a state budget plan that spends a little less than $6 billion and Democrats finally agreed. “We came in. We did what we said we were going to do,” says Representative Nick Wagner, a Republican from Marion. “We were fiscally responsible and we put the taxpayers first.”
The crux of Wednesday’s delay was the issue of abortion, however. The Family Leader, a group representing conservative activists, emailed its members Wednesday morning, urging them to call House Republicans and urge them to stand firm. Danny Carroll, a lobbyist for The Family, says there’s some frustration among conservatives that there’s been no action on the issues like gay marriage and abortion that they’d hoped to see lawmakers address.
“Republicans took control of the governor’s office and they have a 60-seat majority in the House and they have been unable to put a strong, pro-life bill on the governor’s desk,” Carroll says. “But it’s still a split General Assembly, too, and you have to recognize that.”
While Republicans hold a 60-to-40 seat margin in the House, Democrats hold a 26-to-24 seat margin in the Senate and therefore control the debate agenda in the Senate.
The House and Senate are scheduled to return to the statehouse this morning to take action on two final bills, including the legislation that has been at the center of this latest abortion fight.
Lawmakers faced a looming deadline for final approval of the budget, as the new state fiscal year begins Friday, July 1. One of the two bills scheduled to approval todaywould ensure the governor has the authority to keep state government operating before he gives his formal approval to each of the budget bills. The governor will have 30 days to review the bills, and he could use his item veto authority on some individual spending items.