A key legislator says all the “tweaking” that can be done has been done and state budget negotiations are nearing an impasse. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs is among the handful of legislative leaders who’ve been meeting privately for weeks, trying to bridge the differences between Democrats and Republicans. “I would say we have significantly closed the gap,” Gronstal told reporters this morning. “We closed it a little more yesterday, but I would say there’s still a significant gap.”
Gronstal, who is the top-ranking Democrat in the legislature, says that spending gap is less than 100-million dollars and the “biggest sticking points” remain. Democrats want to spend more on public schools than do Republicans and Democrats are pressing for more spending on government health care programs. “To the extent we underfund, don’t provide enough resources for health care, we raise all the rest of Iowans health care plans because of uncompensated care in hospitals and doctor’s offices and other health care providers across the state,” Gronstal says.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha, the legislature’s top Republican, says negotiators have “made progress,” but it’s difficult to bridge the gap. “Iowans picked a Democratically-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House. That’s not necessarily a recipe for a quick resolution,” Paulsen says. “It doesn’t mean we’re not committed to finding it.” Republicans are insisting on a seven-point-one BILLION dollar overall spending plan for the state budgeting year that begins July 1st.
Democrats and Republican Governor Terry Branstad favor an overall spending level that’s about 200 million dollars higher. Paulsen says Republicans in the House have proposed a budget that fits with the amount of taxes the state is expected to collect next year. “Let’s remember that the ongoing revenue is $180 million, roughly, more than we had last year,” Paulsen says. “I mean, only in government is $180 million of new spending a cut.” For the past several weeks, the discussion among legislative leaders has centered on ways to use some of the state’s billion dollar surplus on some one-time projects or programs.
Paulsen says Republicans are willing to do some of that, but Gronstal suggests that well has been tapped out. “We are nearing the end of our ability to tweak things any further,” Gronstal says. The next state budgeting year starts July 1st and Gronstal gave this answer when asked how this budget dilemma might get resolved: “I’m not making any predictions on that, but in a timely way. We will not engage in a game of shutdown.” Gronstal, Paulsen and a handful of other legislators plan to meet late this morning (Wednesday) to resume budget negotiations.
There are a few policy matters involved as well. Senate Democrats, for instance, stuck anti-bullying policies for schools into a catch-all budget bill. Paulsen gave this answer when asked if House Republicans might accept that approach to making those policies state law: “I didn’t show up this morning prepared to say no to a whole host of things, so we’ll just roll with it,” Paulsen told reporters. It’s unlikely either the full House or Senate will meet for votes on Thursday or Friday.