DES MOINES — If it’s true that close counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and dancing, then there is progress in Iowa legislative leaders’ slow waltz toward reaching deals on state income tax cuts and a budget.
“I had a great meeting with the speaker. I had a great meeting with the governor,” Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said Tuesday after coming out of a closed-door meeting with fellow GOP senators.
However, he had no agreement on a tax relief package to announce, which Whitver described as one of the “big items we’re still waiting on.”
The biggest of those big items is the tax package and “we’re getting very close to some resolution there,” he insisted on day 108 of a scheduled 100-day session.
Even if there is a breakthrough, Whitver acknowledged conventional wisdom at the Capitol that it still will take at least a couple of weeks to complete the session.
The lengthening session, which began Jan. 9 with Republicans in control of both chambers and the governor’s office, appeared to concern other senators more.
“We’re in overtime. I would hope that when bills go on the calendar there is some desire to do them,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said after the House adjourned without any floor action and senators halted debate after passing two minor bills — but without taking up major issues dealing with opioid abuse and expanding the medical cannabis law.
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“It seems to me this afternoon is kind of a snapshot at this point of this session — there’s work to be done, we’re here to do it, there’s bills on the calendar to be debated, this is your debate calendar and we’re fumbling around trying to find a path forward to fix those issues,” he said during a floor speech in a chamber missing five of its 50 members. “It’s time to, like, get it together and move ahead here. People are ready to get back to their lives at home.”
Added Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids: “The clock still is ticking — tick, tick, tick, tick, the taxpayers are paying.”
He said that Republicans in 2018 will set the record for “futility in the management of a legislative session” by a single party in control if they can’t adjourn by May 5.
Whitver seemed to concede that’s unlikely, telling reporters “that would be the goal in a perfect world.”
Whitver suggested there is broad agreement on the concepts that Gov. Kim Reynolds, the House and the Senate are pursuing in rewriting the state tax code. The varying plans call for tax relief ranging from $1.3 billion to $2 billion over five years. There also are differences over ending federal deductibility and the timetable for implementation so Iowans get the full benefit of federal income tax cuts.
“How they fit together is the big thing,” Whitver said. “All of the parts are similar. It’s a matter of putting it together in a way that makes sense to accomplish the goals.”
Whitver wouldn’t discuss details such as whether the package will include corporate tax cuts in addition to individual tax cuts, or new taxes on credit unions.
He hopes to begin committee work Wednesday on the state budget, and there were indications the House will begin floor debate on budget bills that have come out of committee. The fiscal 2019 budget starts July 1.
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However, that could be complicated by non-budgetary issues. For example, House members speculated senators might include legislation to ban abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
“I don’t know that yet,” Whitver said.
He had a similar answer to the prospects for Senate legislation to ban automated traffic enforcement cameras.
“That one has had quite the history around here and I don’t know if it has any life left in it,” he said.
Advising the majority leader to “get the budget done and walk away from other stuff,” Hogg said that “here you are wasting the taxpayers’ money just letting this session grind on.”
Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, said what counts is the quality of the legislative work.
“I believe the last two years in this chamber and at the Capitol have been historic,” he said. “I think the legislation that we tackled and the work that we have done for the people of Iowa has been incredible. It has been probably the best session in the history of Iowa and I, for one, am willing to stay as long as it takes to make sure we make history again if necessary.”
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