Iowa House and Senate disagree on state budget cuts as end of fiscal year looms

Chambers still about $11M apart

The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House chamber on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — Iowa House and Senate Republicans are inching closer but have yet to reach agreement on how much they’ll cut from the state budget for the remaining four-and-a-half months of the fiscal year.

On a party-line vote Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee amended Senate File 2117 to cut nearly $33 million from the current spending plan despite Democratic protests the reductions continue Republican mismanagement of state finances.

The Senate plan started at about $52 million, but last week was pared back to $44 million when a transfer from a jobs incentive program was included. Still, the House and Senate are more than $11 million apart.

“There is no deal at this point” with the Senate, said Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, chair of the committee. House Republicans “feel very strongly in the position we have taken that we’ve fulfilled the requirements to make sure we meet the shortfall.”

Senate Appropriations Chairman Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, also feels strongly that the Senate plan “left us is a good place … (and) we’re still not convinced the House bill will enable us to do that.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds, also a Republican, projected a $34.5 million shortfall for the fiscal year ending June 30.

However, last week, revenue forecasters increased a projected windfall to the state from the federal tax rewrite from $11 million to $33 million — nearly erasing the estimated shortfall.

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Still, Schneider said Senate Republicans believe an adjustment needs to be large enough “to make sure we can get through the rest of the year without making another deappropriation or transferring money from the cash reserve.”

House Republicans are taking a similar “better safe than sorry” approach, Grassley said.

That made no sense to Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who called the cuts unnecessary “because the state has more than $600 million in our rainy day funds” and Reynolds proposed adding $72 million to reserve accounts.

Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the cuts continue a GOP pattern of balancing the budget on the backs of children, senior citizens and public employees. The fact that Republicans need to make cuts when the state economy is booming and revenues are growing should raise “many red flags.”

“I don’t see any signals that a long-range vision for state budget management is coming to bear,” Hall said. “I don’t get a whole lot of confidence out of the ways these decisions are being made and don’t have any confidence in how I’ve seen them unfold over the last year.”

The failure of Republicans to reach an agreement makes him question their ability to lead, Hall said.

“Family members have spats now and then,” Schneider countered about the differences between the House, Senate and governor. “If the other party wanted to offer some reasonable suggestion, they’re welcome to do that. I haven’t see that. I’ve only heard complaints.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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