CLINTON — Area legislators predict an education reform package and an allowable growth rate of 4 percent will be approved by the end of the legislative session.
Other bills, they say, likely will not be settled when the session wraps up in less than a month.
During the final legislative coffee of the session, which was held at the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce on Saturday morning, Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland, and Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, addressed a number of concerns from their constituents. Many of these concerns, such as education reform and allowable growth, mirrored those raised when legislators met during the first legislative coffee of the session in February.
Education reform and school district funding have been at the forefront of debate since the legislative session started. First, the two legislative bodies have disagreed on the amount of funding to provide school districts. The Senate approved a 4 percent allowable growth rate and the House called for a 2 percent allowable growth. Further compounding that issue is the debate over education reform.
House Republicans on Wednesday made some concessions to their education reform plan, including raising aid to Iowa’s public schools by 2 percent next year as well as a one-time payment equal to 2 percent allowable growth. For the following academic year, House Republicans offered a 4 percent allowable growth.
Wolfe said that despite the apparent differences between the Democratic and Republican plans, they are similar. Rep. Steve Olson, R-DeWitt, was not at the forum to share his perspective on the issues.
“Even though they’re doing it in an odd way the first year, it means they’re acknowledging that 4 percent is the right amount,” Wolfe said. “So that’s a good thing right there. I don’t think it’s a real heavy lift to get them then to say ‘OK, we’ll do the 4 percent the right way. We won’t mess around. We’ll do 4 percent both years.’ Then I assume that the Senate will be willing to agree to many of the things in the House plan.”
Hart said she believed that Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, would not quibble on the 4 percent.
Wolfe added she felt the remaining issues would be resolved by the end of the session May 3 and an agreement could be reached as early as the end of the week.
“I’m optimistic that we will get something and, I do believe in the end it’s going to be 4 percent and there will be education reform,” Wolfe said.
While a number of changes will likely be made in order for Democrats and Republicans to be satisfied with the funding and reforms for Iowa’s schools, Wolfe said she believes legislators will come to an agreement.
“There is so much money that I do believe that both parties understand that coming out of this underfunding education in any way is not going to be seen as any sort of acceptable compromise,” Wolfe said.
Legislators also discussed property tax reform and the gas tax. Hart said the property tax reform matter was in the hands of leadership.
“It’s something that supposedly is a priority. It’s something that they’re working out,” Hart said.
Increasing Iowa’s gas tax is allegedly tied up in the property tax reform issue, legislators said. Wolfe told constituents she did not believe property tax reform, nor Medicaid expansion would be settled by the end of the session.
“I don’t see how it could happen in three weeks,” Wolfe said. “There is some talk that we would just pass a basic budget bill. Then we’re going to shut things down on May 3 and we’re all going to come back in July for a second session. It’s going to be Medicaid expansion versus the Governor’s plan. Also, parallel the whole property tax, gas tax situation.”