The Iowa House, where Republicans hold a 53-47 edge, and the Iowa Senate — a chamber with a 26-24 split that favors Democrats — face the prospects of producing some significant policy accomplishments and seeing efforts at compromise go bust on several fronts.
Now that lawmakers’ second “funnel” deadline has passed, here are some of the major issues facing the Legislature and Republican Gov. Terry Branstad in the coming weeks.
• WHERE IT IS: Majority House Republicans have a fiscal 2014 spending target of $6.414 billion; majority Senate Democrats are slightly below $6.9 billion; and Gov. Terry Branstad is at $6.538 billion heading into negotiations aimed at forging a compromise state budget.
• WHAT MAY BE NEXT: Most budget bills will go to House-Senate conference committees to close a gap currently projected at $300 million, with Democrats wanting to use some surplus dollars to spend more on education, job creation and other priorities, while Republicans want to limit spending growth to 3 percent and return the state’s tax over-collection, now approaching $1 billion, to taxpayers.
• WHERE IT IS: Two competing plans have emerged — Senate Democrats want to expand Medicaid to cover at least 100,000 more needy Iowans versus Branstad-led GOP support for a Healthy Iowa Plan that focuses on improving patient outcome and decreasing Iowa’s uninsured.
• WHAT MAY BE NEXT: Both approaches are in the House Appropriations Committee with expectations that the concepts eventually will get merged.
• WHERE IT IS: The GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate each passed a version of education reform. Key differences remain in the amount of state aid for school districts, minimum starting pay for teachers, program oversight and new career pathways for educators.
• WHAT MAY BE NEXT: Top lawmakers say this has to go to a conference committee to get worked out. House and Senate leadership choose five members each. The House team will have three Republicans and two Democrats and the Senate team will have three Democrats and two Republicans. The final bill goes to the governor.
PROPERTY TAX REFORM
• WHERE IT IS: House Republicans’ want to roll back property valuations to 80 percent and limit local government property tax increases to no more than 2 percent a year. The state would backfill local government revenue losses during the transition. The Senate Democratic plan targets smaller, Iowa-owned businesses through property tax credits the state would fund when annual revenues grow by 4 percent. The governor has proposed reducing property taxes by having the state take over a larger portion of K-12 funding.
• WHAT MAY BE NEXT: These plans are likely to meet in a House-Senate conference committee. Lawmakers have been unable to reach agreement on similar plans in previous years.
• WHERE IT IS: The Senate and House appear likely to agree on a variety of driver license-related issues, but the 800-pound gorilla in the legislative chambers is a three-year phase-in of a 10-cent-a-gallon increase in the motor fuel tax. A broad range of transportation interests support the increase. Iowans for Tax Relief opposes it. The governor has indicated he will support it if property tax relief is approved.
• WHAT MAY BE NEXT: A gas tax hike could be a late-breaking development if the parties reach agreement on property tax relief. Leaders have indicated at least half the members of each party must vote for an increase to limit incumbents’ political liability on the campaign trail.
Curated by James Lynch, Rob Boshart, Mike Wiser, Laurie Harker, Jim Riley/The Gazette