The 2015 session moves in to overtime this week with no end in sight. The last scheduled day of session was last Friday, May 1st, but there are still a lot of issues to be resolved.
The delay is largely the result of gridlock from House Republicans, who are now at odds with their own Republican Governor.
In an unusual development, Senate Democrats and Governor Branstad have come to an agreement on the framework of the budget this year. So far, Republicans have refused to negotiate with anyone else at the Capitol.
The budget plan agreed to by the Senate and Governor follows Iowa’s balanced budget law and spends $7.3 billion next year while leaving the state’s savings accounts full at $700 million plus an additional $387 million surplus. That’s over a billion dollars in surplus and reserves.
Instead of opening discussions with the Senate and Governor to shut down the session, House Republicans sent their members home after another short week with one message – we’re not compromising.
Iowans heard that same message earlier in the week, when just a day before we were supposed to adjourn for the year, House Republicans refused another compromise on school funding.
It was an unfortunate development because we found out last week that the impact of the school funding crisis on our kids next year will be much worse than anyone expected.
According to Iowa superintendents, schools will have 1,134 fewer educators next year and 2/3 of school districts will be forced to raise property taxes due to the Republican gridlock. (You can find out what’s happening in your own school at iowahouse.org/GOPpinkslip).
The anti-bullying bill is another issue stalled by House Republicans, even though it is a top priority of the Governor and many legislators.
Already passed by the Iowa Senate with a 43-7 vote, it has strong bi-partisan support in the Iowa House as well. However, it’s been held up for three years now by House Republican leaders who won’t stand up to a small group of extreme, right-wing legislators and let it come to a vote. Just this week, the Governor even made another plea to Republican leaders to bring the bill up for a vote.
Other issues being held up by Republicans this year include a tuition freeze at our state universities, keeping tuition affordable at community colleges, catching young readers from falling behind, and continuing a teacher mentoring initiative started just a few years ago.
When you combine the bad news from schools and with the end of session nearing, most of us in the Capitol thought Republicans would finally come to the table to talk last week. But apparently we were wrong.
The my-way-or-the-highway approach used by House Republicans this year has led to the school funding crisis and now pushed the Legislature well beyond the expected adjournment date.
It’s typical for legislative leaders and the Governor to stake out positions early in session, but with divided government the only way to adjourn is to compromise and reach an agreement.
While House Republicans have boxed themselves into a corner, they’ll have to come back to the table before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
Iowans – including everyone at the State Capitol – are waiting for them.