The 2012 Iowa legislative session is history. The House and Senate approved the final piece of the state budget plan this afternoon, tabling a fight over abortion policy that proved too difficult to resolve. Legislators also walked away without striking a deal on property tax reform.
Senator Brad Zaun, a Republican from Urbandale, isn’t thrilled with the way the legislature operates.
“It just seems to me that it’s frustrating every year we come down here — at least the last eight years that I’ve been here — we try to cram through all this legislation in the last minute, and all these compromises that are made,” Zaun said during Senate debate this week.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs suggests it “always takes a while” for the legislature to complete its work.
“It’s very easy for one person to make up their mind. It’s kind of a challenge for 150 people to reach consensus, especially when one chamber is controlled by one party and one chamber is controlled by the other party,” Gronstal told reporters Wednesday. “We certainly think, ‘We’re right, They’re wrong.’ They certainly think, ‘They’re right. we’re wrong.’”
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, suggests the failure to pass a property tax deal is not the fault of House Republicans.
“All Iowans deserve to see tax relief. It helps Iowa’s economy and puts people back to work,” Paulsen says. “House Republicans will not be deterred or distracted from this goal. We will be back next year continuing our fight for the hard-working taxpayers of Iowa.”
Republican Governor Branstad was even more explicit, suggesting in a written statement that the 2012 session would be remembered as much for its failures as for its successes. Legislators passed a state budget that is about three percent larger than the current year’s. Representative Nick Wagner, a Republican from Marion, said he’s “very proud” of the budget plan.
“We’ve achieved good things,” Wagner said this week. “You know, we (Republicans) came in and one-time sources of money for on-going expense.”
Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, said the two parties — in the end — were able to forge a compromise on the state budget.
“We didn’t get everything, They didn’t get everything they wanted,” Courtney said. “But I think Iowans did pretty well on this and I think everybody’s going to be pretty happy.”
But Representative Tyler Olson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, faulted Republicans for refusing to set the level of general state support for public schools — for the academic year that begins in the fall of 2013.
“It helps them ensure a continuity of staff and gives them, really, the certainty they need in order to make sure our kids get the best education possible,” Olson said.
Wagner countered that he and his fellow Republicans had to make up for the 10 percent across-the-board cut Democratic Governor Chet Culver ordered in 2009.
“In the last two years, the legislature has appropriated approximate $225 million more state dollars in the K-12 education,” Wagner said Tuesday. “That is one of if not the highest two-year increase in K-12 education in the history of Iowa.”
Hundreds of new laws are either in place already or soon to be as a result of the legislature’s four months of work.
If you run a car wash, for example, you will no longer be required to calculate and charge the state sales tax on each individual component used in the process — like the water, the soap and the wax. Instead, the sales tax can just be charged on the car wash itself. Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, says when you buy a sandwich, you don’t pay sales tax on the meat, the cheese, the bread and the mayo — you pay it on the entire sandwich.
“In the car wash industry, under current law, it becomes, practically for that industry, imposssible because you have to item out each expense on the bill to the customer. Well, you go in and buy a car wash, right? You don’t want a bill that itemized out the expense on each input,” Hogg says. “In my mind, this is sort of a clean-up thing.”
If you’re an Iowan who rides a snowmobile, you’ll pay a new fee to help upgrade snowmobile trails in the state. If you’re a farmer, a new law gives prosecutors another way to charge farm critics with a crime if they take pictures of your farm operation. If you live in a city that’s been hit by flooding, your community may qualify for up to $15 million in state money to help finance projects to prevent future flooding. If you’re a bartender, it’s no longer against the law to soak candy or fruit in vodka so you can use that “infused” alcohol in fancy martinis. If you buy a pre-paid cell phone or a pre-paid card for phone calls, you’ll pay a new 33-cents-per-month fee for emergency 911 service. And, if you have trouble getting a city or county official to give you a public document, a new state agency will open on July 1st to take complaints about violations of the state’s open meetings and open records law.
Dozens of proposals that were aired at the statehouse this year failed to become law, however. A bill that would have banned traffic enforcement cameras passed the Iowa House but died in the Senate. The House also passed a series of proposals that would have expanded the rights of gun owners, all of which stalled in the Senate. A group of legislators pushed for an increase in the state gas tax, but neither the House nor the Senate ever voted on the plan. Gambling interests lobbied hard for a bill that would have legalized internet poker in Iowa, but the effort failed.
And, finally, the much-discussed, debated and dissected issue of property tax reform failed to produce any results. Senate President Jack Kibbie asked for, and got, a private meeting with the governor on Wednesday afternoon to make one last try.
“I was hopin’ and disappointed that by today at sundown we can’t get a compromise,” Kibbie said this afternoon during remarks on the Senate floor.
The Senate concluded for the year at 5:23 p.m. “The session is over!” Kibbie yelled, before senators and staff began applauding.
Governor Branstad issued a written statement shortly after the House adjourned at 6:13 p.m. Read it below.
In January, the lieutenant governor and I brought forward a bold agenda focused on the dual goals of job creation and transformational education reform. I want to thank the General Assembly for considering our priorities and for adopting a significant number of them to help move our state forward. [See list below.]
Legislation passed by this General Assembly will provide our Iowa Economic Development Authority with additional tools to help meet our administration’s ambitious goal to create 200,000 new jobs. We have made significant progress on that goal during this first year and a half and the High Quality Jobs Incentive Fund and Employee Stock Option Plan legislation will help accelerate those efforts.
I am also pleased that this General Assembly took a first important step toward our goal of transformational education reform. While these initial steps may be considered by some as small, our new early childhood literacy initiative, in particular, will have lasting effects on the lives of thousands of Iowa children and significantly improve their chances of future academic and career success. We also enhance teacher accountability by requiring annual reviews.
However, the 2012 session may be remembered as much for what failed to be accomplished as for what actually was accomplished. Despite the best efforts of my office and a bipartisan majority in the Iowa House, the inability of Senate Democrats to adopt serious property tax reform has put Iowa taxpayers in jeopardy of seeing significant property tax increases in the coming year.
The Senate failed to support legislation based on the framework I believe was agreed to as a roadmap to finding a compromise between my office, the House, and the Senate. They failed to pass a meaningful step forward in our goal to make Iowa’s tax system more competitive or assist with our critically needed job creation goals.
As a result, Iowa taxpayers face yet another year with property taxes that are scheduled to grow nearly $2 billion over the next eight years. This is absolutely unacceptable and Iowa voters will have an opportunity to resolve this impasse in November.
Lt. Governor Reynolds and I are proud to work with all members of the Iowa General Assembly and proud to serve our citizens each and every day. We will continue over the next seven and a half months of 2012 to travel the state, promote our ambitious agenda, and work aggressively toward the achievement of our four goals:
1. 200,000 new jobs for Iowans;
2. 25% increase in personal incomes;
3. Reduce the cost of government by 15%; and
4. Provide our children with the nation’s finest education.