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Iowa Senate leader: Lowered budget is ‘gut punch’ to middle class

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal said Thursday the legislative session — scheduled to adjourn April 29 — could continue for “weeks, months” as Republicans and Democrats struggle to agree on budgeting issues.

Gronstal accused Republican lawmakers and Gov. Terry Branstad of delivering a “gut-punch to the middle class,” in wake of the news that Branstad and Republicans lowered the general fund budget by $161 million from what was originally proposed by the Governor earlier this year. Branstad initially proposed $6.1 billion.

That new number is $5.9 billion, which would represent fiscal year 2012’s general fund budget. Though Branstad has pushed for a two-year budget, the Republicans propose $5.9 billion to be appropriated for one fiscal year.

And that $5.9 billion, Gronstal reiterated Thursday morning, is the “gut-punch,” impacting education and human services, which comprise roughly 80 percent of the budget.

“That will result in more crowded classrooms,” he said, referring to 1,500 Iowa teachers being laid off. “Less access to pre-school. College tuition is going to go up.”

Speaker of the Iowa House Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) said the proposed general fund budget is fair, adequately meets the state’s priorities, and fulfills promises to Iowans.

“Well, yes, a variety of programs are going to see a reduction, that’s accurate,” Paulsen said. “We sat down last week, went through every single budget, (then) sat down with Senate Democrats and listened to their concerns. They had priorities, I’d guess you’d say, so we walked through and tried to accommodate those. I mean, Sen. Gronstal likes to talk about olive branches, and I think we brought the whole tree.”

Not so, Gronstal said Thursday. The reduction would still eradicate universal preschool and prohibit public school districts from adjusting their budgets — two items Republicans and Democrats have fought bitterly on. Furthermore, state reserve funds are full and the state has an additional $300 million, making the budget reduction unnecessary, Democrats argued.

“So, as things are getting better, our governor comes back to the table on the 114th day of the session, and decided to change his budget, dramatically lowering the resources that he is going to agree to spend for next year’s education, health care, and job creation efforts in this state,” he said.

Paulsen acknowledged the legislature “probably stepped backwards collectively towards reaching an agreement. At least, that’s the sense I was left with. But that being said, we also took a step forward: that being that every single Republican in this building has landed on a number on what the size of the pie will be. And that’s the ceiling.”

Is this the beginning of a long budget battle? Some Democrats believe so. Gronstal said the session could last for weeks, even months, if issues are not resolved. In 1992, the session went until June 25.

Paulsen and House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, expressed slight optimism, however.

“I don’t think it has to (last weeks or months),” Paulsen said, adding the Legislature does not have “a whole lot left to do other than the budget.”

Paulsen said Republicans remain “supportive of (Gov. Branstad’s) two year budget, and at the appropriate time, we will address that.”

The Senate is not expected to meet Monday, Gronstal said. Rather, senators are expected to be back in their districts, speaking and meeting with constituents. It is likely the House will also be in recess, though Upmeyer said all members are at the ready should legislation be prepared for debate and voting.

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