Weeks after expense payments ended, still no adjournment in sight for Iowa Legislature

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Two weeks after their daily expense payments ended, Iowa lawmakers still have not been able to find common budget ground, even though the proposals from Republican-led House and Democratic-majority Senate are only about 2 percent apart.

Legislative leaders said Thursday there was still work to do before they can adjourn. Lawmakers have not been able to agree on an overall spending level or how much new money to provide to schools.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, said that many Senators would not be in for much of next week, as the focus will turn to negotiations between legislative leaders. He said the two sides were trying to find ways to make some one-time payments to make up the difference between their budget proposals.

"There are certainly things in the state budget that are clearly one time expenditures," Gronstal said.

Legislators must resolve the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 before they can conclude the session; daily expense payments for lawmakers ended May 1. With the Senate and Gov. Terry Branstad a proposing overall general fund budgets of about $7.34 billion and House Republicans seeking to spend $7.17 billion, the difference between the sides is not large.

The major sticking point this year has been how much money is available to spend. Senate Democrats and Gov. Terry Branstad support using some surplus money to balance the budget, but House Republicans say the state should not spend more than the projected revenue for the coming fiscal year.

Making some one-time payments to balance the budget could allow the state to dip into the surplus, while allowing Republicans to stick to their pledge of controlling ongoing expenses. But it is not clear the strategy will work. There has been discussion of an education compromise on education that could include an increase in basic aid for schools, plus a one-time payment, but some conservative Republicans in the House have balked at the prospect.

Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Melcher-Dallas, said he could support a one-time spending compromise on school spending, but he was cautious. He also wasn't as sure about the same approach on other budget bills.

"I'd have to look at each individual one," he said. "Again, we've only got so much one-time money to use as well."

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Hiawatha Republican, did not detail why lawmakers are having difficulty, but said they were dealing with a perennial problem: "Democrats want to spend more than Republicans."

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