At the beginning of the 2012 session, state legislators agreed that a repeat of 2011’s 11th hour finish was not in the best interest of Iowans.

But with the presumed ending date of April 15 within sight, state Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, said things in Des Moines are starting to get “crazy.”

“For only having four to five weeks left, there’s an awful lot to get through,” Wolfe said Saturday, at the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce’s second Legislative Coffee forum.

Education and Mental Health reform bills, arguably the largest pieces of legislation under consideration this year, are coming up on the docket, Wolfe said. Both will have significant costs and could serve to dramatically alter longstanding state institutions.

“We’re going to be debating both of those bills next week,” Wolfe said. “At this point, to be honest, I don’t know what the final bill is going to look like in those areas.”

State Rep. Steven Olson, R-DeWitt, also attended the forum. He said that education and Health and Human Services budgets are tied up in the reform packages, further complicating the matter.

Olson and Wolfe discussed a variety of topics of potential interest to constituents in Clinton, including the potential for a gas tax increase.

Supporters of the increase say that a rise in the tax paid by consumers per gallon of gasoline purchased could help rebuild Iowa’s infrastructure by pumping millions into the Department of Transportation’s budget to fix roads and bridges. Olson said that if implemented, a gas tax increase would likely be added in incrementally, and would total about nine to 10 cents per gallon.

While legislation approving the increase has cleared the house Ways and Means committee, Olson concedes it could face stiff opposition from the public due to recent spikes in gas prices nationwide.  

“We were so close to having it happen, and then gas prices just took off,” Olson said.

Still, he said that the measure has not yet been defeated, and plenty of support remains.

“Nothing is ever dead until the day we walk out the door,” Olson said.

The event was moved up by an hour to 8 a.m. Saturday, to allow Olson and Wolfe to participate in their respective party County Conventions later that day. Olson served as the keynote speaker at the Clinton County Republican convention.

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