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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — The next, roughly $8.2 billion state budget is being crafted as state lawmakers returned to work Wednesday for the first time in more than two weeks.
It’s a signal that not only should state government receive in timely fashion the plans for next year’s budget, which starts July 1, but also that state legislators are preparing to finish their work for the year and adjourn the 2022 legislative session.
Still unknown is the fate of one piece of legislation hanging over the session: Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal for taxpayer-funded scholarships for private school tuition assistance.
Reynolds and Senate Republicans, who passed the bill in late March, have been delaying the end of the legislative session with hopes of convincing enough House Republicans to vote for the bill to pass it there, too, and get it to Reynolds’ desk for her signature.
In the meantime, the Iowa Senate’s budget committee worked throughout Wednesday on 10 budget and spending bills.
In some cases, the budget bills were finished products, the results of negotiations between leaders in the Republican-majority Senate and House.
In others, however, deals have still not been reached. Republicans moved the unfinished budget bills anyway as a procedural matter, with hopes of updating them next week so they can be debated on the floor, approved, and sent to Reynolds.
That approach did not sit well with Democrats.
“I’ve been here 20 years, and this is probably the least amount of meetings we’ve had,” said Sen. Amanda Ragan, a Democrat from Mason City and a longtime member of the health and human services budget committee.
“There’s a reason we have these subcommittee meetings,” Ragan said. “It’s one of the larger bills and larger budgets, so I think it’s really critical that we have some opportunity to really examine it before we vote on it.”
Sen. Todd Taylor, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, was even more blunt: “This is about the worst process possible,” Taylor said.
Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, a Republican from Fort Dodge who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, seemed to acknowledge the flaws in this year’s process of passing budget bills.
“This isn’t normal,” Kraayenbrink said as the committee finished its work for the day, and the session. “The last several years haven’t been normal.”
Sen. Mark Costello, a Republican from Imogene who oversaw the health and human services budget bill, said he did his best to speak to stakeholders about the budget as he helped craft the bill.
“I’ve spoken with a lot of people about this budget and different aspects of it,” Costello said. “We do what we decided to do, and there are pros and cons to a lot of these things.”
Senate Republicans put one piece of policy into a budget bill: they included in the judicial branch’s funding bill legislation that would give the governor one more appointee to the commissions that nominate judges for openings at the state district court level.
The Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds in 2019 made a similar change to the makeup of the commissions that nominate Iowa Supreme Court justices.
The Senate passed the measure earlier this session, but the House did not have enough votes to pass it out of committee.
There also was disagreement between the judicial branch and Republican legislators over whether the judicial branch could use savings from its retirement program to spend on salaries. A representative of the judicial branch said they believe they cannot, and thus with the proposed budget as written would have to cut staff.
Senate Republicans pledged to work with the judicial branch to ensure it remains fully funded.
Legislators expect to return to the Capitol on Monday, when they plan to make the final push to adjournment. They will debate on the floors of both chambers these budget bills and any policy items upon which Republican leaders have agreed.
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