Why State Lawmakers Haven’t Finished the Legislative Session Yet

Politics

DES MOINES, Iowa — The 2021 Iowa legislative session was supposed to end on April 30, but Republicans who control the House and the Senate have yet to send a budget to the governor.

There are still several issues Republicans in both chambers are far apart on, and leaders say it isn’t likely they will gavel out by Friday.

“There’s still a lot of things to be negotiated here at the end,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “We have different beliefs and different priorities in a lot of different areas. And so now it’s just trying to consolidate those ideas.”

One of the biggest sticking points between the two chambers is how to tackle tax cuts. Lawmakers will need to sort out changes to tax policy before they finish negotiations with the state budget, since the two items are intertwined.

“Senate Republicans really believe that we should be reducing taxes to continue to grow our economy, and so far we have not had agreement from the House,” Whitver said. “With the Republican House, Republican Senate, Republican governor — there’s no reason that we can’t reduce taxes right now.”

The Senate has passed several bills this session to speed up income tax cuts, eliminate the state’s inheritance tax, and cut county property taxes — all proposals the House has yet to take up and the governor is hoping they can agree on.

“The governor last week rolled out a compromised proposal for me and the [House] Speaker. I thought it was a very fair compromise,” Whitver said. “It’s a bill that I think we could really end a successful session if we get that done and so we’re right on board with the governor’s compromise bill and just continue to work with the House to try to get that done.”

The final step to ending the session is the nearly $8 billion budget, another area of Republican disagreement. Minority Whip Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, described the budgets of each chamber as “pretty far apart.”

Some of the biggest differences between the chambers are funding for the Iowa Department of Corrections and Board of Regents.

The House has proposed a roughly $21 million increase to the corrections department, whereas the Senate is proposing a $6.3 million increase.

For Iowa’s three public universities, Senate Republicans are suggesting an $8.2 million increase for the Board of Regents, but House Republicans want no additional funding and each school to freeze tuition.

Democrats are mostly cut out of the negotiations and don’t have the numbers to influence the final agreement.

“They don’t need our votes to pass the bill,” said Konfrst. “And I would imagine they would argue that it’s already hard enough to come to a compromise with people in their own party, let alone adding Democrats to the mix.”

Konfrst says Democrats are instead looking for surprises such as legislation that didn’t make it through committee but was added as an amendment to the budget.

“It’s really important for Iowans to know what’s happening here at the end of session and our job in the minority party is to make sure people know and we provide transparency for voters,” she said.

Whitver said he does not predict lawmakers to gavel out for the last time on Friday.

“If we have to wait a week or two weeks or three weeks to make sure that we’re continuing to move the state forward, we’re willing to do that and it’s happened before, and it will happen again,” he said.

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