The 2002 Iowa Legislature convenes today, with the shadow of a tight budget looming over the 150 lawmakers. Here’s the dilemma: the state’s politicians have promised to spend 500-million more dollars next year on a variety of programs — but because of the economic slow-down, they only have a tenth of that in new money to spend. Over the weekend, Governor Tom Vilsack said he wants education to be a top priority. The Governor’s budget ideas, though, won’t be released ’til Friday. He says the most significant challenge is to preserve priorities and build on them.Despite the budget crunch, Senate Democrat Leader Michael Gronstal of Council Bluffs says democrats will press to put a bit more money in the teacher pay initiative the legislature embarked on last year.Republicans, who hold a majority of seats in the House and Senate, control the Legislature’s debate agenda. House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City says lawmakers will first focus on economic development ideas, like the creation of “Renaissance Zones” where city or county leaders could decide all taxes would be suspended for up to 15 years.House Democrat Leader Dick Myers of Iowa City says democrats like many of those ideas, and will advance on of their own: raising the minimum wage.The House and Senate will convene at 10 o’clock this morning, and both plan patriotic events. The House will pay tribute to Iowans who helped out at the World Trade Center, while the Senate will have a children’s’ chorus sing patriotic songs and there’ll be a display of children’s’ essays on “What Freedom Means to Me”.
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