Gov. Terry Branstad said Friday he wants to see House and Senate budget negotiators “get serious” and resolve their differences over fiscal 2013 spending levels and proposed reforms for property taxes, education and mental health next week.
“We’re not that far apart and we need to get this resolved,” Branstad said in an interview. “I think it’s important for them to come back on Monday, get serious and get it done next week. We want to work with them to get it resolved.”
The governor said leaders of the GOP majority in the House and Democratic majority in the Senate have agreed to an overall $6.244 billion level for general fund spending beginning July 1, but details of how those funds will be dispersed in individual budget areas still need to be worked out. House leaders say they’ve agreed to spend significantly more than their initial fiscal 2013 target and won’t go higher, while Senate negotiators say they want to provide adequate resources for education, job training and retraining and other priority areas that are underfunded by Republicans.
Both sides say they continue to advance, but the progress has slowed as they work to close a remaining gap of “tens of millions” of dollars between their competing approaches.
“I don’t think laying down ultimatums is helpful, so I don’t really want to lay down an ultimatum,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha. “But I would say we have moved a long, long ways. We’ve tried to be respectful of Senate Democrats’ priorities, the governor’s priorities, but we have largely given everything. We have nothing left to give I guess.”
For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said there is $60 million slated to flow into a taxpayer relief fund in fiscal 2013 that could be used to address a GOP demand to provide an extra $27.5 million for property tax credits to local governments – an idea that Republicans say would be using one-time money to finance an ongoing expense in violation of their budget-making principles to avoid past practices that led to state imbalances.
“We’re trying to get a budget that we think reflects what Iowans need,” Gronstal said. “There are strong feelings about the issues that confront our state. We strongly believe we need a world-class community college system that’s there to train workers for the jobs of today and to retrain workers for the jobs of tomorrow. We think that’s very important. We think the House significantly underfunds that effort. We think they’re driving tuitions too high at regent institutions.
“We’re trying to provide additional job-growth opportunities in the state of Iowa. All of the studies indicate that Iowa has a skill shortage more than a job shortage. We have a lot of jobs that go unfilled because we have workers who don’t have the skills,” he added. “So, that’s what we’re fighting for here, and we’re not just going to roll over and play dead. We’re going to keep fighting for those things that we think are important for the future of Iowa.”
On Friday, Branstad said he is concerned this year could become a repeat of last session when the split-control Legislature went 172 days and “drug on and on” before resolving their differences on June 30 to avert the threat of a state government shutdown when the current fiscal year began July 1.
“When you get to the end of the session, there are sometimes compromises that have to be worked out. It’s time to get that done. We’ve already gone a couple weeks over. It should not be delayed further,” the governor said Friday. “They’re not that far apart. They just need to get serious about resolving those things. It’s never easy. That’s the reason why the tough decisions end up getting left to the last. It’s important now that they come back next week, get the job done and stay until they’ve got it done. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be done next week.”
Branstad said he has set aside time in his daily schedules next week to meet with House and Senate leaders if that will help facilitate a resolution on the budget and the other remaining priority issues and end a session that will be 13 days beyond the adjournment target when lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday.