Branstad may veto part of budget compromise, open to special session on school funding

Governor Terry Branstad does not feel bound by spending compromises Iowa Senate Democrats and House Republicans made to end the 2015 legislative session, he told reporters yesterday. Democrats reluctantly agreed to most of the GOP budget targets in exchange for extra funding for education and other key programs in a $125 million supplemental spending bill. But last year, Branstad vetoed one supplemental spending bill in its entirety and item vetoed from other legislation some hard-fought increases in conservation funding. Similar action in the coming weeks would make an already disappointing session for Democrats even worse.

In more surprising comments yesterday, Branstad indicated that he hasn't ruled out calling lawmakers back to Des Moines for a special session to set K-12 school funding for the 2016/2017 academic year. Under a 20-year-old state law, the Iowa House and Senate should have acted on that issue months ago, but in recent years House Republicans have refused to follow the timetable for giving school districts a year's warning on state aid levels. As a result, administrators and school board members were forced to fly blind when adopting budgets for the 2015/2016 academic year. While I'm glad Branstad is back on board with following the law on school funding (he wasn't always so inclined), I have trouble seeing how a special session could overcome House Republicans' intransigence.

Follow me after the jump for more details from Branstad's press conference.

O.Kay Henderson posted the audio from Branstad's June 8 press conference and some highlights at Radio Iowa. The governor wasn't happy legislators allocated so much "one-time money" to fund ongoing expenses. A $55.7 million appropriation for K-12 education made up the biggest chunk of the $125 million supplemental spending bill. House Republicans insisted on structuring the extra school funding that way rather than spending the same amount through regular budgeting, as Senate Democrats had advocated.

The governor has 30 days to review spending bills before deciding what to sign and veto, and it sounds like at least part of the supplemental spending will not survive the process. Specifically, Branstad said yesterday that he doesn't like pushing school funding into a supplemental bill:

"I don't like the idea of one-time money," he said Monday. "My problem with one-time money is you really can't use it for [teacher] salaries because it's not going to be there the next year.

Throughout the 2015 legislative session, Iowa House Republicans stuck to their guns on raising "allowable growth" for K-12 school district budgets by no more than 1.25 percent--the same level Branstad sought in his draft budget for the coming year. I would not be surprised to see him veto the extra $55.7 million for K-12 education, whether or not he axes the entire supplemental spending bill as he did in 2014.

The prospect of a special legislative session to address school funding never crossed my mind until I read Henderson's write-up of yesterday's press conference.

Branstad says just because the legislature has gone home doesn't mean he should stop thinking about new approaches and compromises that might be passed in a special legislative session this summer or fall.

"I've heard from schools and I've heard from Iowans that they don't like this constant fight, that they want us to come together and they want us to work to do within what's fiscally possible, what's financially responsible under the economic conditions that exist, but they want us to resolve these things in a way that provides stability and predictability," Branstad said. "And that's what I'm going to try to do is review everything and determine what's the best course of action under the circumstances."

The governor complained a few weeks ago,

"Schools this year had to wait way beyond what was a reasonable time to know what they were going to receive," Branstad said. "We think (legislators) need to approve both fiscal year 2016 and '17 before they adjourn so we don't have to have schools go through this next year as well."

Senate Democrats approved 2016/2017 funding levels for K-12 schools way back in February of this year, but House Republicans refused to act.

Asked yesterday about convening a special session on school funding, Branstad responded, "I'm not ruling anything out; I'm not ruling anything in."

It's been more than a decade since the Iowa House and Senate convened between regularly scheduled legislative sessions, which begin in January and usually end sometime during the spring. A special session would generate huge media coverage. Democrats might welcome the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the fruits of Republican obstruction. Failure to abide by state law on setting school funding causes real hardship for school districts.

On the other hand, Iowa House Republicans weren't swayed by hearing from hundreds of educators, school board members, and superintendents this year about why they needed more state funding, or at least some certainty about the level of state funding. I can't imagine a special legislative session would make House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and his caucus more sensitive to those concerns.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- Branstad didn't say so explicitly yesterday but I expect him to veto a legislative compromise that would keep the state-run mental health institution in Clarinda open until December 15 and the facility in Mount Pleasant funded through the coming fiscal year. Without seeking input from state legislators, Branstad moved earlier this year to wind down operations at both Mental Health Institutes. At this week's press conference he told reporters,

"We're going to review everything in light of what makes sense and how we can provide the best services to the people of Iowa," Branstad said. "We intend to move forward, not move backwards. We don't want to go back to the way we delivered mental health services back in the 19th century, when we built these big institutions and we warehoused thousands of people. That's not the way you want to deliver services today."

  • I remember the last special session

    It was held down in the auditorium at the Historical Museum. (I don't remember the exact construction issue that required that.)  Utility legislation that hadn't quite gotten finished during the regular session.  But it was just a matter of putting on the finishing touches.

    This would be an entirely different story.

    I think I read a quote from Paulsen saying something about not even having revenue projections for FY17 yet, which certainly sounds like he would be unwilling to set an education budget like the Governor wants.  Could be interesting.

    I'm not sure what the Governor gets by making threats of calling them back.  It's not like it changes anything.  Unless he just likes playing mind games more than we realized. (So no one can really relax and enjoy their summer vacation.)

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