I’ve been skeptical that Iowa House Republicans and Iowa Senate Democrats would agree on comprehensive education or property tax reform in an election year. Until today, though, it never occurred to me that anyone would propose adjourning the 2012 legislative session without passing a budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
Then State Senator Bill Dix floated one of the worst ideas I’ve heard lately.
Dix’s idea stems from a compromise struck during the 2011 legislative session. Governor Terry Branstad demanded that lawmakers pass a biennial budget, which, he claimed, would be more stable and fiscally responsible. The Republican-controlled Iowa House went along with the two-year budget, but Democrats in control of the Iowa Senate opposed the move. They argued that annual budgeting allows for better planning and more flexibility, since state revenue estimates are less accurate the farther they are projected into the future. Some also feared that a biennial budget would give the governor too much power to shift money around.
A face-saving compromise was found: legislators approved a two-year budget for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, but set the 2013 appropriations at only half the level needed to run the government. That guaranteed House and Senate members to review and vote again on spending for fiscal year 2013 during this year’s legislative session.
Now leaders in both chambers are haggling over spending targets for the next fiscal year. House Republicans and Senate Democrats were far apart at the beginning of this month. Two weeks ago a compromise appeared within reach, but the two sides still can’t agree on how much to spend on higher education and other priorities.
Speaking to Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson, first term GOP Senator Dix argued that Republicans should walk rather than move further toward the Democratic spending targets.
Some Republican lawmakers question whether it is necessary to pass a state spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, since legislators approved a partial two-year budget last year. That two-year plan would provide most state agencies with half as much as they’ve gotten this year. Senator Bill Dix of Shell Rock is the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“I believe that there are sufficient resources that were allocated a year ago to get to January 1,” Dix says, “in which case the next legislature, after this November election, could make a determination at that point of how to supplementally approve resources for the balance of that year.”
Dix says walking away now without a budget agreement may be the best way to “protect the taxpayers.”
“That’s why I ran,” Dix says. “That’s why I’m here and that’s why I believe I have the support of people in my district.”
It’s not clear whom Henderson had in mind besides Dix when she mentioned “some Republican lawmakers.” She goes on to quote House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and House Appropriations Committee Chair Scott Raecker as saying legislators will work out a new budget before going home for the year.
I sought clarification today from Iowa Senate Minority Leader Jerry Behn on Dix’s idea, but communications staff Don McDowell relayed that the Senate GOP leader had no comments at this time.
Last fall Dix tried to become Senate minority leader. He retreated after demonstrating that he’s not a good vote-counter. The 24-member Senate caucus elected Behn to replace retiring Paul McKinley in November.
If I were Behn, I’d have seized the opportunity to distance myself from Dix’s proposal today. I see why Dix likes the GOP’s chances of winning control of the Iowa Senate this November, but adjourning with only half a year’s spending in place would be irresponsible. Even if the lame-duck legislature met during the holiday season to approve supplemental appropriations, some government agencies might run out of money by January 1 according to Raecker.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal warned today that state government cuts would be inevitable under Dix’s plan:
“They cannot presume that next January we would come back and do anything – they cannot presume that – and therefore one-quarter of all people in nursing homes would be thrown out of nursing homes,” Gronstal says. “Schools would lose thousands of teachers.”
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Joe Bolkcom released a statement calling on the governor to help resolve the impasse.
“Governor Branstad, your reckless rhetoric has helped bring Iowa to the point of fiscal crisis. This weekend, Senator Bill Dix of Shell Rock, the top Senate Republican on budget issues, suggested that Republicans should simply give up on budget negotiations. […]
“Governor, we need you to help stop a politically-driven Iowa government shutdown would devastate investor confidence in the Iowa economy, create turmoil at Iowa’s schools and universities, and create needless panic among Iowa’s seniors and families.”
At his weekly press conference today, Branstad sounded dismissive about Dix’s idea.
“I think it’s better for the legislature to complete its work and get it done this week,” Branstad says. […]
“We’re very close,” Branstad says. “I think progress was made last week in narrowing the differences, so the differences are very small and I think it needs to be resolved.”
To my surprise, Branstad added that “he has reached an agreement on property tax reform with legislative leaders,” which will be made public soon.
Dix’s trial balloon reflects poorly on the GOP Senate caucus. The ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee should understand what failing to pass a new budget would do to state services and government operations.
Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.