The Iowa Legislature is scheduled to adjourn this week as both parties remain stuck on the biggest task they face: writing a new state budget.
Sen. Robert Dvorsky, D-Coralville, head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said key lawmakers plan to meet this week “to start talking at least and get some idea where their differences are.”
The Republican-led House and Democratically-controlled Senate must write a spending plan that can win approval from Republican Gov. Terry Branstad.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said he hopes an agreement can be reached this week on the overall size of the budget
“We’re once again working on the size of the pie,” said Paulsen. “I’m optimistic we’ll be able to resolve that this week.”
Branstad has asked the Legislature for a $6.1 billion budget, but Paulsen says Republican legislators want to spend less.
“Republicans will be lower than that,” said Paulsen. “We’re still having those conversations, but we’re not ready to spend that much money.”
Daily expense payments that lawmakers receive end on Friday, when lawmakers had planned to end the session. All sides conceded that disagreements over the state’s budget will delay the session’s end. Lawmakers can continue the session after Friday, but won’t be paid expenses. Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Branstad complicated the issue last week when he vetoed portions of a spending measure both parties had supported in the legislature.
“How do you negotiate with someone who won’t negotiate?” said Gronstal. “The governor sits and acts as an honest broker for the differences between the House and Senate, then signs the House stuff and vetoes the Senate stuff.”
Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said Branstad said during the campaign that he would push for a two-year budget that spends less than the state collects.
“Governor Branstad continues to have an open door policy and will meet with legislators from both chambers and both parties to ensure these parameters are met with regard to the state’s budget,” said Albrecht.
“It’s almost a game of chicken,” said Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley, R-Chariton. “All the dots are not connected at this point. It could break loose very quickly.”
McKinley and Dvorsky also are concerned that few private meetings are being held in an effort to reach a compromise.
Dvorsky said the first step toward solving the budget dispute is identifying differences, and that hasn’t yet happened.