Legislators return to the statehouse today (Monday) with all the major issues they’ve faced since January unresolved. Ten-member negotiating committees have been assigned to find compromises on property tax reform, education reform and a new health care plan for low-income, uninsured Iowans. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs won’t speculate on which deals may be easier to strike. “We’re working on all of them, people of good faith really are and there’s ideas being exchanged,” Gronstal said late last week.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, is also striking a positive tone. “We’re very pleased with a lot of the progress that was made,” Paulsen says, “….remain optimistic that the conference committees will be able to work out some of these differences.” The 10-member conference committee assembled to strike a deal on education reform didn’t meet last week, however. Paulsen says he’s “extremely frustrated” about that lack of action, but he’s still unwilling to declare that any of the disagreements have reached the stalemate stage.
“We’re trying to set it up for success and I’m expecting to have success,” Paulsen said late last week. “That’s what Iowans expect.” Gronstal wants to keep all 150 legislators in Des Moines this week rather than sending most home if they’re not involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations over key issues. “We’ll make that judgement as we move along,” Gronstal said late last week. “I’m not a great fan of having people leave because they’re all part of this process. Everybody has a vote. We need to share concepts and things with each other as we’re working though our differences.”
The 2011 legislative session ended on June 30th, but through most of May and June that year it was just legislative leaders who stayed at the statehouse to negotiate. Legislators receive an annual salary, plus daily expense money to cover the cost living in Des Moines during the legislative session. However, those daily expenses in even-numbered years like 2012 last just 110 days — so their daily expense allotments ended last Friday.