The 2013 legislative session was like a Christmas morning with bicycles and PlayStation 4s and … wait, is that a pony? It was quite a haul, legislatively speaking.
The 2014 session? Socks.
Statehouse types are starting to set expectations for the next session, which starts Jan. 13. And so far, they’re not exactly high. The word “tweak” is being mentioned. “Bold” has been placed in storage. A 100-day session? How about 80 days. Eighty-five, max.
That’s not all that surprising, considering that 2013 saw massive bipartisan compromises on property taxes, health care expansion and education reform, three very big-ticket items. Those big deals, some of which came very late in the last session, might need some altering or fine-tuning. But adding any more ambitious initiatives to this two-year General Assembly’s resume seems unlikely.
It’s an election year, both for lawmakers and Gov. Terry Branstad. There’s a feeling that 2013’s haul gave them plenty to run on. That was a “think big”session. In 2014, it’s the “don’t do anything stupid and get out of town” session.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be trial balloons floating grand plans. But partisan pellet guns will be plentiful. Branstad is toying with the idea of creating a two-tiered income tax structure that allows Iowans to pick the current system with its deductions or pay a simpler flat tax. Democrats who run the Senate don’t like the idea. I wouldn’t hold my breath for a major compromise.
Democrats will pitch spending ideas that Republicans will pan. Partisan priorities will float across the rotunda where they’ll be popped in the opposite chamber. Each side will express shock and dismay at the shoddy treatment its agenda has received. To the campaign trail!
In some ways, this is a good thing. Neither side will have the power to blow the state’s sizable budget surplus on unsustainable spending initiatives or tax cuts. That’s what’s happened in the past, resulting in big trouble when tax revenues, inevitably, dip.
On the down side, legislators without grand goals to occupy their time might get creative. That’s when they overreact to any shiny problem that catches their eye.
Then there are real problems that should be addressed. The big redesign of mental health care delivery in Iowa is yielding some serious side effects that need to be fixed, ASAP. Critical programs for Iowa’s most vulnerable are taking a hit.
While the governor and lawmakers fiddle, the state’s roads and bridges are getting worse.
These issues aren’t exactly political ponies, so lawmakers might get cold feet. Luckily, they’ve got new warm socks.