Iowa Legislature 'rants' point to tension as end of session nears

The rotunda outside the Iowa Senate and House chambers in February 2010. (Steve Pope/Freelance)
The rotunda outside the Iowa Senate and House chambers in February 2010. (Steve Pope/Freelance)

It was apparent during a political dust-up Tuesday — triggered by McDonald’s national day of hiring — that some Iowa senators aren’t “lovin’ it” as session-ending tensions build over budget disagreements that stand in the way of the split-control Legislature’s adjournment.

Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, fired the opening volley when he used a brief Senate floor speech – during a time allotted for senators to make “points of personal privilege” — to take issue with Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ participation in a press conference at a local McDonald’s restaurant, wondering whether that signaled Gov. Terry Branstad’s strategy to create 200,000 jobs and raise Iowans’ personal income by 25 percent over the next five years.

“It raises a bigger question: Where are the other jobs events and, more importantly, where are the jobs? And just as importantly, where are the good jobs?” said Hogg, noting that the GOP governor is in the 13th week of his fifth term with little to show in that first quarter for meeting his campaign pledges to create jobs and raise income.

“If Gov. Branstad wants to stay on pace to create 200,000 jobs over five years, at this point Iowa should have created 10,000 jobs. If he wants to raise family income by 25 percent over five years, at this point every family should have had a raise of 1.25 percent – 13 weeks, 10,000 jobs, 1.25 percent raise for every Iowan,” Hogg said. “I don’t hear it, I don’t see it, I don’t feel it. Maybe there’s just a giant sucking sound out there, but I don’t feel the mojo on today’s national day of hiring at McDonald's.”

Majority Republicans in the House, majority Democrats in the Senate and Branstad are trying to hammer out state budgets for the next two fiscal years with key disagreements over GOP plans to pare back state funding for preschool programs and freeze K-12 schools’ “allowable growth” for two years but still pumping $215 million into education to “backfill” property tax money used to cover past shortfalls in state aid.

Legislative Democrats want to keep preschool as is and provide a 2 percent boost in base K-12 per-pupil spending through June 30, 2013, and Hogg criticized Branstad for embarking on a “bad economic development strategy” that would replace teaching jobs with low-paying fast-food employment as schools face projected layoffs associated with “zero growth” education funding.

That drew out GOP senators, with Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton saying that many of the problems facing education are more about priorities than money and Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon, questioning how legislative Democrats would finance their budget ideas given that the past three years of education commitments were underfunded. He said some of the ideas he’s heard floated would only work “as long as you have the idea that budgeting fairies come in here at midnight and line item our general fund for us.”

GOP senators also were critical of Democrats’ $875 million I-JOBS bonding program that failed to meet job-creation projects and their fostering of a regulatory climate and pro-labor agenda that hurt business recruitment.

“I think the vision is we need jobs, but you have to know how jobs are created and it’s not government picking winners and losers,” McKinley said.

Hamerlinck even took issue with the Senate’s open forum policy that begins each day with points of personal privilege that “have no form or function” and often are just “ideological rants.”

“It’s just a time where we can just kind of spew off random ideas and not be accountable in any way for them,” he said.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, touted Iowa as among the nation’s best states where businesses can locate. but that message doesn’t get through the negative GOP drumbeat that disparages efforts to improve cultural, entertainment and training opportunities.“We’ve got to quit getting up on this floor and saying how bad things are,” Dotzler said. “It doesn’t do any good to get up on this floor and rant.”