Republicans in the Iowa House have voted to give Governor Branstad the authority to shift money around in the state budget to pay the state’s overdue legal bills, but Branstad doesn’t want that authority to transfer money from one state program to another.

“This is something that’s been abused,” Branstad says.  “We need to be very, very careful. It only should be used in the event of a real emergency.”

The state hasn’t paid nearly $3 million in legal bills submitted by lawyers who’ve representing clients who cannot afford an attorney. Legislators of both political parties have engaged in finger-pointing over the past few weeks, with both the Republican-led House and the Democratically-led Senate voting on separate bills that would have provided enough money for the state’s indigent defense program.

The money also is included in another piece of legislation that has stalled as the parties feud over creation of a new taxpayer relief fund that Republicans want and Democrats have opposed. Representative Kurt Swaim, a Democrat from Bloomfield, urged House Republicans to just vote to provide the money.

“Our constituents expect us to come up here and govern and it’s not just a matter of getting elected, it’s a matter of governing once we’re here,” Swaim said this afternoon. “And this is not governing if we’re not paying our bills.”

But Republicans in the House rejected that, deciding instead to give Branstad the power to shift money into the indigent defense program and away from other programs.  Representative Steven Lukan, a Republican from New Vienna. says passions in both parties have flared during this impasse.

“What we have before us today is a way to solve this problem in a way that does not spend any more money,” Lukan said. 

The state’s indigent defense program is estimated to be more than $18 million short of what it needs to make it through the end of the state budgeting year on June 30, 2011.