Without debate, the Iowa Senate passed three bills in about 15-minutes earlier this afternoon — a speed that illustrates a new reality at the statehouse.
Legislators are making final decisions on a state budget plan and the overtime work of the 2012 session may come to an end soon. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal isn’t predicting when the shut-down may occur, however.
“My view isn’t on the clock,” Gronstal told reporters. “It’s on the job to be done.”
Late Monday afternoon the House passed six bills in about half an hour, with little discussion. After months of squabbling over whether the public universities deserved more state support, Republicans and Democrats now have agreed to forward $23 million more to Iowa, Iowa State and UNI for the budget year that begins July 1.
“Our target that we ended up on was something that funded the priorities to the level that we could, to stay within our existing budget and the framework of not spending more revenue than we took in,” Representative Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mount Ayr, said during House debate.
The state’s 15 area community colleges also get an additional $15 million to finance high-skill training programs.
“I think everyone with a community college in their district can take credit for a job well done so we can have a skilled and trained workforce for the jobs that are awaiting those, with the skills, in Iowa,” Senator Brian Schoenjahn, a Democrat from Arlington, said during Senate debate.
Iowa business owners say they have openings for welders, computer technicians and other high-skilled positions, but cannot find applicants who have the right training.
Another bill that cleared both the Senate and the House Monday outlines how state gambling taxes will be spent. The money is used for “infrastructure” projects, from fixing the hot water system at the Newton prison to adding a new, $2 million visitors center onto the State Historical Building.
“If there’s a bill that has something for everyone, this is it,” Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, said during Senate debate.
The bill sets aside $5 million in state gambling taxes over the next two years to help finance reconstruction of the dam at Lake Delhi. The dam collapsed in the summer of 2010 when flood waters cascaded down the Maquoketa River valley and the nine-acre lake drained away. Rebuilding the dam — and re-establishing the lake — will cost an estimated $12 million.
Legislators in the House and Senate endorsed final agreements on bills that outline next year’s spending for the state’s court system and the Iowa Economic Development Authority today, as well as the bill that outlines state spending on higher education. The House and Senate will return Tuesday, with final action pending on other budget matters, plus continuing discussions about property tax reform and education reform.