Leaders are sending the rank-and-file members of the Iowa Legislature home because there’s nothing to do without a state budget deal, and they’ve been unable to negotiate with the governor because he’s been out of the country visiting soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, says leaders get to sit down with Governor Vilsack tomorrow (Thursday). “We’re going to talk with the governor — yada yada yada — the members will be back next week,” Rants says, using the verbal shorthand popularized by the television comedy “Seinfeld.”
Keeping just the legislative leaders and appropriations committee leaders around is both good and bad, according to Rants. “It stops this process of everyday, some member coming up to the appropriations chair with one more thing they think they can’t live without — ‘Can you appropriate $5000 for this or $10,000 for that?’ Well, that all adds up and we don’t have that money…so getting them out of the capital is probably a good thing if you’re a fiscal conservative,” Rants says. “The problem is sometimes when you send all the (rank-and-file) members home they come back…with new ideas, new pieces of policy they want to introduce and a new bill they want to start. That makes that challenging because, you know, we’re trying to shut this place down.”
Rants says the only “must-do” items left on his agenda are budget bills and there’s no need for all 150 legislators to stick around waiting for private negotiations with the governor to yield a budget. “We are a citizen legislature. All of those (legislators) upstairs have jobs to do,” Rants says. “They have real world jobs with employers saying ‘When are you going to return to work?’ We need to be cognizant of that.”
Senate Co-Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, says he’s ready to make a budget deal. “I said in the governor’s office two weeks ago that we all had our cards on the table. We all knew what each other wanted, what our sticking points were and we could either spend two weeks being stubborn and trying to prove how stubborn we are or we could cut a deal,” Gronstal says. “I think it’s time to cut a deal.”
Gronstal says the main sticking point is how much to commit to raise teacher salaries, and whether to base teacher pay raises on performance. “We want to make sure the message to graduating (students in teacher training courses) this year in Iowa is that Iowa is, in short order…moving to the national average on teacher salaries,” Gronstal says.
Republican are also holding out for a bill that would gradually eliminate state taxes on Social Security income. Gronstal, the Democrat leader, says it’s time for the GOP to decide what they can get in a legislature that’s nearly-evenly-split with 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats, and save the rest for the campaign trail. “We’re prepared and ready and able to cut a deal,” Gronstal says. “Most of the piece of this are imminently negotiable or they’re not, and in that case it’s time to figure out…what do we do in the interim before the next election and get done with this session.” Tuesday was the last day that legislators received daily expense money.