Less than 12 hours after the blame game erupted in the Iowa Senate, leaders in the Senate have agreed to a state budget plan. It spends 25 million dollars more than the Republican-led Iowa House has voted to spend. It also includes a 36-cent increase in the state cigarette tax. Senate Co-Leader Stewart Iverson, a Republican from Dows, says it gives the Senate a way to move forward. Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs who is the other Senate Co-Leader, agrees.

“There are certainly areas we’d like to see things different. I know there are areas that the Republicans would like to see different, but this is the common ground,” Gronstal says. “I think this is a budget framework to get the Senate finished with our job on the state budget this year.”

Gronstal says the budget negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were “hard-fought” but the end product is something both parties can be proud of. Gronstal says it’s a budget that will meet Iowa’s needs in the critical areas of jobs, education, health care and public safety. But this is not the end of the bickering. Republican leaders in the House say the deal is too expensive and they won’t accept it. “If it’s defending the taxpayers of the state, the people paying the bills, we’re ready to accept that challenge,” says House Republican Leader Chuck Gipp, a Republican from Decorah. Republican House Speaker Christopher Rants of Sioux City says it means the legislature will be wrangling for at least another two weeks over spending issues. Rants hints at a long struggle between the House and Senate.

“It’s not just about how much money is being spent, it’s how they’re spending the money and where they’re taking the money from,” Rants says. The Senate budget plan spends seven-and-a-half percent more next year, and Gipp says that extra 25 million dollars — which amounts to a half a percent increase in spending — is unacceptable.

“It’s way beyond what the House Republicans feel comfortable doing,” Gipp says. Rants says it’s “downright insulting” for the Senate to suggest cutting the House level of state support of community colleges to spend more in other areas. Iverson, the Republican who’s Senate Co-Leader, says the deal he struck with Democrats came because the Senate is evenly-balanced with 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans.

The House Republican leaders also refuse to raise the cigarette tax.
“We’re not going to talk about this budget anymore with the Senate until they take action on four priority items that we have,” Rants says. “We’re going to start insisting on things.” One bill the Republicans seek would let businesses test their workers’ hair to determine if they’re using drugs. Iowa law already allows businesses to collect blood and urine samples from workers to test for drugs. [Photo: Statehouse reporters surround Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.]