Legislators appear to have reached a standstill at the statehouse, with deep divisions over taxing and spending issues, plus the much-vaunted education reform effort is in jeopardy. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen says the 10 lawmakers who’ve been trying to hammer out that education plan are “obviously struggling” to find common ground between the two parties.
“I don’t know if they’re able to bridge that gap or get over those hurdles,” Paulsen says.
Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames who is involved in the negotiations, admits the impasse may not be resolved.
“I would be disappointed at that outcome,” Quirmbach says. “But there are some places that we will not go.”
Some Republican lawmakers question whether it is necessary to pass a state spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, since legislators approved a partial two-year budget last year. That two-year plan would provide most state agencies with half as much as they’ve gotten this year. Senator Bill Dix of Shell Rock is the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I believe that there are sufficient resources that were allocated a year ago to get to January 1,” Dix says, “in which case the next legislature, after this November election, could make a determination at that point of how to supplementally approve resources for the balance of that year.”
Dix says walking away now without a budget agreement may be the best way to “protect the taxpayers.”
“That’s why I ran,” Dix says. “That’s why I’m here and that’s why I believe I have the support of people in my district.”
But Representative Scott Raecker of Urbandale — the Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee — has not signed onto the idea.
“If there’s no further action on the budget, then there would be areas of state government that I believe would run out of their cash flow prior to the legislature convening next January,” Raecker says.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says state agencies would have to make tough choices if legislators don’t come to some agreement soon on the budget.
“They cannot presume that next January we would come back and do anything — they cannot presume that — and therefore one-quarter of all people in nursing homes would be thrown out of nursing homes,” Gronstal says. “Schools would lose thousands of teachers. I mean, it’s not really a plan that works.”
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, the top Republican in the legislature, says the budget problems will be solved before July.
“We’ll get it sorted out and it’ll all be fine,” Paulsen told reporters late last week.
Legislators are still grappling with the issue of property tax reform, too — but no one involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiations is yet willing to declare that issue dead.