DES MOINES — Having a projected $822 million surplus this fiscal year doesn’t make state budgeting any easier.
In fact, said Senate budget architect Bob Dvorsky, it may make it more challenging because the myriad Iowa groups, individuals and interests seeking state funding have bigger expectations.
Members of joint House-Senate appropriations subcommittees officially launched their work Thursday aimed at hammering out a fiscal 2014 spending plan by the session’s May 3 adjournment target.
“All the machinery is now running,” said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha.
The budget panels commenced their work by getting Legislative Services Agency staff overviews of their spending areas that were covered in Gov. Terry Branstad’s $6.54 billion proposal, which projected a 4.3 percent growth in the general fund for the next 12 months, beginning July 1.
However, the governor’s plan included no new money for supplemental state aid to K-12 schools for base budgeting or for state salary or benefit changes, which currently are subject to closed-door negotiations with two state employee collective-bargaining units.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said he was taking a hopeful view that the split-control Legislature and governor could evaluate where they agree and disagree and focus on “what’s doable.”
Even though the governor did not include K-12 supplemental state aid in his budget plan, Gronstal doubted that meant the governor would not agree to boost state aid to schools beyond what he has earmarked for education reforms.
“We are not trying to focus on how far apart we are,” he said. “I’m sure there will be some differences, and I’m sure that there will be a lot of common ground. We are going to try to focus on what brings us together, not what takes us apart.”
Paulsen said he is more encouraged as House Republicans start to formulate their spending targets.
Paulsen said the GOP targets would not spend more than 99 percent of the available revenue and would not use one-time sources to fund ongoing expenses.
“It’s going to be very interesting to see what the House Republicans come up with,” said Dvorsky, D-Coralville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats voted Thursday to move bills out of committee that would provide about $135 million more supplemental state aid to K-12 schools for the school year beginning July 1, a 4 percent increase in “allowable growth” that they also proposed to cover with $38.9 million in state money to absorb any property tax increases associated with their 4 percent growth rate. Leaders indicated the full Senate would vote on the measure next week.
Senate GOP Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said Republicans prefer the governor’s approach of first addressing education reforms — expected to cost $187 million over the next five years — before the Legislature takes up the allowable growth issue.
“Clearly, we are concerned about moving forward with providing funding ahead of any reforms that will be done for the benefit of students in the future. That simply just makes good common sense,” he said.
Gronstal said he believed the proposed education reforms and base funding measures could advance on a parallel track with work in both areas planned for next week, while Dix expected that if Democrats proceed with an allowable growth vote next Wednesday that Republicans “are probably going to vote no.”