Senate Democrats have accepted a plan from House Republicans for paying the state’s past-due legal bills, but Republican Governor Branstad is still opposed to the idea.
“I was elected to solve a financial mess that was created by bad budgeting practices,” Branstad said Monday.
House Republicans want to give the governor authority to shift state spending from other programs to pay attorneys who’ve been representing clients who can’t afford an attorney and late this afternoon Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa Senate gave up their alternative and decided to go along with that plan. Branstad’s spokesman issued a statement this afternoon, after that Senate action, saying Branstad still believes the proposal would “perpetuate” bad budgeting practices of the past. On Monday, Branstad told reporters there wasn’t extra money in the state budget to shift around anyway.
“Now, I know the legislative process is a difficult process…but it is our responsibility as elected officials and it’s the legislative responsibility to work these things out,” Branstad said. “And we need to work long and hard and get that job done.”
Interest is now being charged on about half a million dollars in unpaid legal bills because they’re more than a month past due. While much of the unpaid bills are from lawyers, court reporters and investors who work on cases involving indigent clients are going unpaid, too. Senator Tom Rielly, a Democrat from Oskaloosa, knows a court reporter who is struggling because she’s not being paid.
“She’s a pawn in a political game. I can’t tell you how wrong this is,” Rielly said, his voice rising. “She’s a bargaining chip! That’s unconscionable.”
Rielly said it was wrong to take from Paul to pay Peter, as House Republicans propose, but he voted for the plan anyway in hopes it would resolve the impasse. But with Branstad’s likely veto, this situation is far from resolved.
(This story was updated with additional information at 5:23 p.m.)