Legislators control the “purse strings” of state government, but the partisan bickering over how big next year’s state budget should be is nowhere near resolution. Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, says it’s frustrating.”Perhaps my approach has been wrong to try and find common ground with them in our meetings with Republican leaders…perhaps that was a mistake,” Gronstal says. “Regardless of whether that was a mistake, it is now time for us to start to move.” That means the Senate will now start to debate bills that outline state spending plans, but with 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans in the Senate, nothing may be accomplished since it takes 26 votes to pass a bill. “I don’t know how we get out of this session,” Gronstal says. “But I do know what our priorities are and we’re going to fight hard.” Republican lawmakers like Senate Co-Leader Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Dows, are just as adamant. Iverson says Republicans have agreed to spend seven-and-a-half percent more next year on the state budget, but Democrats are asking for 10 percent. “Somebody has to look out for the people paying the bills, and that’s the taxpayers of Iowa,” Iverson said as he pounded the lectern during a Thursday afternoon news conference. “The disappointment is all we keep hearing is ‘more money’ and that’s the part that concerns me,” Iverson says. “I’m kind of at a loss to tell you what’s going to happen from here on out because I honestly don’t know.” Legislators’ daily expense money runs out tomorrow, a deadline of sorts for concluding the legislative session, but Gronstal says there’s nothing in law that prevents the legislature from meeting more than one-hundred-10 days.”Just as when I worked at a warehouse in Council Bluffs, if there was still work to be done after five o’clock, we got the work done,” Gronstal says. “I’m more than willing to stay here as long as it takes to get this job done.” Over the past two weeks, the spending impasse between the two political parties has gotten worse. Governor Tom Vilsack who is a Democrat says it’s time for legislators to get the budget written.”I think people have to work just a little bit harder to get there,” Vilsack says. “I think people need to be just a little bit more flexible to get there.” One big, unresolved issue: the cigarette tax. Senate Democrats and Governor Vilsack back the tax increase; some Senate Republicans say they’ll vote for it but a vote has never been scheduled. House Republican leaders refuse to consider a cigarette tax hike. House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, has said repeatedly the state doesn’t need to raise more taxes.
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