Government

Passage of 'non-con' budget bills signals end of Iowa legislative session is near

Senate committee likely to see dollar details Thursday

Charles Schneider
Charles Schneider
/

DES MOINES — After days and weeks of legislative leaders saying they were close to agreeing on a spending plan for the fiscal 2019 budget, the Iowa House started down the path to adjournment by passing a pair of budget bills Wednesday afternoon.

“This is pretty non-con compared to ones we’ve had over the years,” Rep. Dennis Cohoon, D-Burlington, said about the lack of controversy on House File 2494 before the House voted 95-0 to approve a $381 million transportation budget for the budget year beginning July 1.

The House kept up the momentum, passing House File 2491, the agriculture and natural resources budget, 57-37. It includes $39 million from the general fund and more from various other funds.

The key to passage was agreement with both Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and the GOP-controlled Senate.

However, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, said budget agreement was not universal.

“We’re close on some others,” he said. “But we still have different targets. For those areas where there’s still some daylight between us, we’re trying to get closer together and come up with the final numbers.”

The lack of agreement is not contentious, he said, but “just a conversation you have to have and figure out what you can do and can’t do.”

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For Sen. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City, the ranking Democrat on Schneider’s Appropriations Committee, the movement on budgets was a mixed bag.

“We’re happy there’s finally some action on the budget,” Bolkcom said. “We’ve been waiting to see these budget bills for a couple of months.”

However, he was critical of the GOP budget process that Bolkcom said has provided little opportunity for input from the public, “much less members of the Legislature.”

“We’ve struggled to keep up with the bills we’ll be voting on, whether it’s the tax bill or the collective bargaining bill or these bills right in front of us,” he said. “We haven’t had opportunity to go through them like we would under normal conditions.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee should get a look at the budget when the committee meets Thursday, but Schneider could not say if the budget bills would be available to senators before its meetings at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

He said budget subcommittee chairs have been “working together to figure out their priorities,” but nine days after the Legislature’s scheduled adjournment, he wasn’t planning to send the bills through the budget committee process.

That’s not good news for anyone trying to understand the budget, Bolkcom said.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, rejected the complaint about a lack of transparency.

The components of the budget bills and tax relief plan Republicans have been negotiating in serial meetings are not new, Upmeyer said.

“We’ve had lots of conversations about all these things,” she said.

Still, Bolkcom said the budget process used by Republicans “has grown almost impossible for people to understand — even the majority party.”

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He attributed that to GOP leaders’ lack of discipline and failure to keep policy issues out of budget bills. They need to tell their members “to quit monkeying around, and it’s time to go home.”

“If you haven’t passed a policy bill through the regular process,” Bolkcom said, “it’s time to abandon it, finish the budget and adjourn.”

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

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