The State of Iowa is about a month behind on its payments to lawyers defending Iowans in court who can’t afford their own attorney. That money for so-called “indigent defense” is tied up in a complex legislative package that includes both stop gap spending for the current year as well as tax ideas for the future.
Republicans and Democrats can’t come to an agreement on taxes, so Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says he’ll draft a stand-alone bill to provide the money for indigent defense.
“Those services are being provided out there by private attorneys across the state of Iowa and we’re not paying our bills,” Gronstal says. “They’re caught in our disagreements and we think it’s time to set that piece aside…about $18-19 million and provide that money.”
But House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha — the top-ranking Republican in the House — says the House will stand firm and require Democrats in the Senate to embrace a new “taxpayers relief fund” before the G-O-P would vote to provide the money for indigent defense.
“The Senate’s holding hostage the taxpayers and the taxpayer relief fund,” Paulsen says. “I mean, you can just turn that answer around.” Republicans are pressing to create a new “taxpayer relief fund” for all the unspent tax money that’s left over at the end of the state budgeting year. The creation of that new fund is included in a bill that not only provides the money for indigent defense, but it would also plug the red ink in the state’s prison budget.
And Paulsen’s unwilling to separate the spending and tax proposals into separate pieces of legislation. “There will not be a supplemental appropriations bill without a taxpayer relief fund,” Paulsen says. Democrats call it a “slush fund” for corporate tax give-aways and they’re pushing for tax relief for low-income Iowans instead.
Republicans say over $300-million would be deposited in the taxpayer relief fund by July 1st of this year — money they intend to return to taxpayers.