Governor Tom Vilsack will release his state budget plan this afternoon. It’s expected to outline more than five billion dollars in state spending, and Vilsack has indicated it will include a cigarette tax increase, though he has not revealed how much of an increase. Legislators control the state’s purse strings as any budget must be approved by the House and Senate. Senate Co-Leader Stewart Iverson, a republican from Dows, says legislators have been in a holding pattern, waiting for Vilsack’s proposals. Iverson describes the governor’s budget presentation as a “new beginning” for the 2005 Iowa Legislature. House Speaker Christopher Rants, a republican from Sioux City, says legislators now will begin their budgeting process in earnest. “We are anxious to see what he lays out in there,” Rants says. Democrats say they want to see money in Vilsack’s budget plan to extend more health insurance coverage to more uninsured Iowans. Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a democrat from Council Bluffs, says it’ll help Iowans who have private insurance. Gronstal says one reason insurance premiums are skyrocketing is because hospitals and doctors pass along the costs of caring for people who don’t have insurance by raising charges for people who do have insurance. Gronstal proposes allowing parents who have their kids enrolled in the state’s HAWK-I, government-paid health insurance to sign up themselves for coverage.Gronstal says it’s allowed under federal law. It’s a great deal for the state, according to Gronstal, because for every one dollar the state spends the federal government will spend three for providing health care insurance to poor adults. “I think it would be a mistake not to expand availability of health insurance for Iowans…both for those people (who) need it and all the rest of us (who) end up paying for it through higher insurance premiums,” Gronstal says.
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