It’s week 14 of the 2012 Iowa legislative session, with major decisions yet to be made on a host of issues. Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat from Emmetsburg, is frustrated by the lack of progress in finding bipartisan agreement.
“At this point in the session, it seems to me…we’re in low gear,” Kibbie told reporters last Thursday. “…Everybody’s got to look in the mirror and step up to the plate in this next week and move this process along.” Leaders in the Senate and House moved series of legislative deadlines up this year, aiming to get everything resolved, and the 2012 session adjourned, by mid-April.
Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha is the top-ranking Republican in the House. “I think April 17th — we could still hit that or beat it,” Paulsen says. “We’ve got to have some pieces fall into place here, obviously.” The two men who head the budget-writing committees in the House and Senate say the G.O.P. spending plan is about two-hundred million less than the Republican governor’s and three-hundred million below the plan Democrats in the legislature have drafted.
Representative Scott Raecker, a Republican from Urbandale, is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “Yes, we’re still a ways apart and we’ve acknowledged that,” Raecker says. “And we’ve got some significant differences that we’re going to have to resolve.”
Senator Bob Dvorsky, a Democrat from Coralville, is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He says all three budget plans — the one developed by House Republicans, the Senate Democrats’ plan and the governor’s — spend about 97% of expected state tax revenue.
“We’re clearly not overspending,” Dvorsky says. “We’re fiscally-sound in all three budgets, but I think the House Republican budget is way too low in a number of areas.” For example, House Republicans propose a level of spending for the three public universities that’s 61 million dollars less than Senate Democrats have suggested.
Dvorsky and Raecker made their comments during a weekend appearance on Iowa Public Television. Besides key budget decisions, the list of unresolved issues includes the scope of education reform and property tax reform as well as a bill that creates a new, regional system to deliver mental health services to needy Iowans. Legislators have spent the past two years trying to lay out the state take over the system.
Counties now use property taxes to pay to provide mental health care to Iowans who cannot afford it themselves.