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Iowa Senate Democrats accept spending cap, other items in House Republican budget

Iowa Senate Democrats have agreed to 50 items within the House Republicans’ omnibus budget bill, Democrat leaders said today, primarily Republicans’ desires for a two-year budget and a $5.99 billion spending cap.

Most of the items Democrats have agreed to — or “accepted,” as Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) characterized it — are within education and health and human services. One such comprise is that the universal preschool program will see no change in allowable growth in their budgets for the coming fiscal year. Republicans agreed to the Democrats’ bitterly fought for two percent in the second year; Gronstal said in the Democrats’ counter offer, they will ask for three percent in that second year.

“We’ve accepted the reality that the House isn’t going to move on that subject (in fiscal year ‘12),” Gronstal said. “It’s certainly not our preference. We certainly think we could afford to do allowable growth this year, but the Republicans in the House and the Governor have expressed no willingness to consider resources in fiscal (year) ’12.”

Gronstal back-pedaled from calling the Republicans’ two-year budget a “starvation budget,” and characterized it as rather a “year-long fast.

“Right now, it’s not quite starvation, it’s a year long fast,” he said, adding if the Senate “can’t get (allowable growth) in (fiscal year) ‘12, we think at a time when the state’s got a billion dollars in the bank, we can afford a little catch up in ‘13.”

Senate Appropriations Chair Bob Dvorsky (D-Coralville) said when drafting the compromise budget, Democrats started at $6.2 billion, reducing it to $5.99 billion. The amount is an estimated 97 percent of net receipts plus transfers, or 94 percent including all revenues as estimated by the Revenue Estimating Conference. State law prohibits the Legislature from spending more than 99 percent.

“We’ve gone to their number, and met them more than half way,” Dvorsky said.

Gronstal remained vague on property tax, however, saying he was “cautiously optimistic” about the parties reaching a solid agreement at this time.

“We continue to extend an offer of compromise,” he said.

Democrat leaders indicated last week and Monday they will pass this compromise this week.

Republicans did not entirely embrace the Senate proposal Monday, though Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) did not denounce it, either. Like Gronstal, he said he was “cautiously optimistic” and said early Monday afternoon he had seen six of the budgets that make up the entire proposal.

Paulsen said he was confused about the proposal for three percent allowable growth, saying all session, the Senate Democrats “demanded two percent, insisted on two percent. We finally got there and, I mean, make sure I say this correctly…Bob Dvorsky said, ‘I think two percent in fiscal year ‘13 was a pretty good victory, actually’ and now all of a sudden, we’re having the target moved on us once again.”

But Paulsen, who added some of the agreed upon proposals on the list were Democrat proposals in the first place, also said he didn’t want to shut down the idea of negoitating.

“You know, whatever, I’m not here to toss water to the extent we have any kind of flame going,” he said. “We’re going to take all the proposals and look at them, and see where we stand.”

Gov. Terry Branstad, who is in Washington D.C. today, said through spokesman Tim Albrecht “a lot of work remains to be done” on the Democrats’ offer.

Senate Republican leadership was far more pessimistic.

“The Senate is back in session this week, but the work we do likely will not get us closer in the end,” Sen. Paul McKinley wrote on his Facebook page this morning. “Senate Democrats continue to demand to spend more money while continuing the same budgeting gimmicks that lead us to the fiscal problems we endured the last few years. Iowans did not vote for that and will not stand for that.”

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