Just before sunrise on Sunday morning, the gavels fell for a final time this session in the Iowa House (5:04 am) and in the Iowa Senate (5:55 am). For a legislative session that seemed to grind to a halt on a regular basis, it became clear on Thursday that the Democrat leadership team would ram its agenda through over the weekend and then head home.
A week ago, the legislature wasn’t even in session on Friday, nor was it in session for most of the day this past Wednesday. They all needed to be in Newton to greet President Obama. What was so important that legislators couldn’t go home to see their families this weekend? What led to legislators debating bills at all hours of the night on a weekend? Politics.
Many people had predicted that the legislative session would conclude before Iowa’s 99 county recorders starting handing out marriage licenses to gay couples today. While those predictions were spot on, there are other political advantages to be gained by working around the clock on a weekend. Nobody was there to cover the bills they were debating, or even worse, how much debt with which our future generations will be saddled.
With the session ending around sunrise, the morning editions of the newspapers that service our state were already on people’s doorsteps. Sure, there will be some news coverage about what happened over the weekend in today’s papers, but that will soon take a back seat to the coverage of the first gay marriage licenses being issued.
Talk about a shrewd move. Not only did the same legislative leaders who believe that gay marriage is the civil rights issue of our time not want their members to be at the State Capitol today, they are using the news coverage of the historic event to hide what transpired over the weekend.
So what don’t they want you to know about?
Culver and the Democrats’ budget is a whopping $6.3 billion. That’s the most state spending in our history. With state revenues continuing to fall and unemployment numbers on a steady climb, the state should have tightened its belt. Instead, late Saturday afternoon Governor Culver held a press conference asking the legislators for an additional $100 million. Unbelievable.
This budget also creates a spending gap of $890 million for fiscal year 2011. That means the state is planning on spending almost a billion dollars more that it will take in. In talking with an official from the State Auditor’s office, they said revenues would have to grow by 17% for there not to be a budget gap. That means legislators and the Governor will likely have to make massive budget cuts or pass a massive tax increase next year. There is a good chance they will have to do both.
If the budget wasn’t bad enough, Iowa Democrats also passed a $765 million bonding proposal. Iowans will pay $1.6 billion over the next 20 years so that the state can spend $765 million on various projects across the state over the next year or two. While the legislators appropriated the money this weekend, an 11 member board will dole out the projects to who they see fit.
It is unlikely that that many of you tuned into listen to the Iowa House debate the $535 million portion of the bonding bill. The debate lasted until 2 a.m. on Saturday morning. And while only a handful of people probably listened, our Republican legislators in the House need to be commended for their actions. In this era of tea parties where the people gather to protests both sides of the political aisle, they would have been cheering our Republican legislators.
Member after member spoke out against the bonding proposal. Each made principled arguments on why there is no need for the state to go into debt to the tune of $1.6 billion when the legislature could easily find the money to pay from these projects now, or over the next few years. House Democrats stated that this portion of the bonding bill to be about flood recovery, yet even Rep. Tyler Olson (D-Linn County) admitted that only $245 million was for flood related projects.
House Republicans unanimously agreed that they could find the money to meet those needs. They offered to use the state’s cash reserves, and they also pointed out that the instead of making a yearly $60 million payment on a loan, they could use that money to fund those projects over the next four years. Those common sense suggestions are what Iowans expect from their legislators, but the Democrats didn’t even consider them.
More shocking was how the Republican minority had a better understanding of the Democrats’ borrowing plan than Rep. Dennis Cohoon (D-Polk County), the Chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Capital Appropriations Subcommittee. Republicans were not involved in any of the planning of the legislation – all of that was held in private behind closed doors – yet they covered every square inch of that bill during the lengthy debate.
Certainly, most legislators are glad to have this legislative session behind them. For Republicans, there were some surprising victories and many frustrating losses. Democrats on the other hand are hoping that their late-night weekend tactics, coupled with the flurry of media attention over gay marriage, will allow them to go home unscathed.
No matter how the upcoming weeks play out, waiting for Governor Culver and the Democrats next January will be a majority of Iowans demanding a constitutional amendment defining marriage, and an $890 million budget gap that they will have to address in an election year.
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