DES MOINES – The Iowa Legislature’s upcoming election-year session likely will be short but not necessarily politically sweet.
Leaders of majority House Republicans and legislative Democrats that held closed-door caucuses Wednesday sounded similar tones of optimism for fulfilling past commitments they have made, but displayed little common ground on new efforts to cut income taxes, raise the state’s minimum wage or expand preschool opportunities.
“It is an election year. There probably will be a few more political tensions inside this building,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, D-Council Bluffs, said in an interview.
One area of agreement between Republicans who control the House 53-47 and Democrats who hold a 26-24 Senate advantage appears to be an accelerated timetable that would complete the 2014 work in 93 days rather than the normal 100-day session.
“We certainly wouldn’t mind getting done earlier than that, but that’s how we’re going to change the joint rules,” Gronstal said.
Senate Democrats emerged from their caucus discussions with talk of raising the state’s $7.25 hourly minimum wage to $10.10 in steps and pegging it to inflation, bolstering worker skills, expanding access to preschool, and proposing targeted tax cuts for middle-class families in areas like the child-care tax credit.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said Republicans prefer their approach to flattening and simplifying income taxes for individuals and corporations and likely will not take up a minimum-wage bill when the split-control Legislature convenes Jan. 13.
“We’re interested in focusing on jobs and the economy,” Paulsen said. “We want to find ways to encourage employers to invest in the state, invest in our workforce. We don’t think making it harder to be an employer is the right direction right now. Clearly, raising the minimum wage makes it harder to be an employer.”
Paulsen said Republicans’ focus will be growing state’s economy, strengthening education, and balancing a state budget without spending more money than the state takes in.
“I think it’s going to be a fairly efficient and effective session,” the House speaker said. “Obviously, they’re going to propose more spending.”
Gronstal said “the time is right” to raise the state’s minimum wage for the first time since 2007, noting that Gov. Terry Branstad signed an increase in 1990.
Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, said he was having a minimum-wage increase bill drafted but he conceded it faced an uphill battle in the upcoming session.
“I can get it through the Senate but I don’t know if the House will accept it and the governor probably won’t sign it. But I think it’s where we ought to be,” said Courtney. “There’s not much sense in getting it through the Senate if it’s going to go anywhere else. That’s not my call, that’s leadership’s call so we’ll see what happens there.”
Courtney noted it took him four years to win approval when he last proposed a minimum wage increase in 2003.
House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown said his caucus would support the issue as part of an overall goal of strengthening Iowa’s middle class during the 2014 legislative session.
“We need to provide more economic security to middle-class families through initiatives like raising the minimum wage, freezing tuition, and expanding job-training efforts so Iowans can get the skills they need to land a good-paying job,” Smith said in a statement.
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