Legislative leaders discuss ’11 session

Two Democrats and two Republicans — two from the House and two from the Senate — are on a panel this morning organized by IowaPolitics.com.  The first topic was budget-cutting. 

Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley said Republicans want to cut what “isn’t absolutely required” in the state budget because of declining state tax revenues & the economic situation.  He said voters had sent a “directive” to legislators:  “People believe govt has grown too big & is spending too much…We will be as aggressive as we can be.”

Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat from Emmetsburg, struck a conciliatory tone.  “I don’t see any reason why Senate Democrats won’t look at (budget cuts)…I don’t know that we ought to stand in the way of that.”

Kibbie then suggested the Iowa Power Fund — a program launched by Governor Culver to assist development of the renewable energy industry — might continue, but under a different name because the state still needs to support the industry. “When administrations change, those things continue, but they continue under a new name,” he said.

House Majority Leader-elect Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Garner, told the crowd here at Drake it’s likely the first bill to be debated in the Iowa House in 2011 will “deappropriate” money from the current year’s budget.  She said Republicans will try to pursue budget cut ideas they’ve talked about for the past few years, like selling off state-owned vehicles and leasing vehicles for state employee travel instead.

She took aim at the sabbaticals for professors at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University & the University of Northern Iowa which were recently approved by the state Board of Regents.  Upmeyer said some sabbaticals which yield research grants may be needed.  “But I don’t think Iowans are interested in paying for a sabbatical to study the growth of billiards in the Phillippines,” she said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Des Moines Democrat who will be the minority leader in the House in 2011, said Upmeyer and other Republicans wouldn’t get much savings from suspending sabbaticals and “poking” professors “in the eye.”  

As for the budget-cutting ideas Republicans proposed over the past two years — ideas rejected by Democrats — McCarthy suggested the bulk of those “will save very little money in real dollars.” 

McCarthy also questioned why Republicans were taking the dual paths of cutting the state budget and plotting to enact tax cuts. “Don’t tell me we’ve got a massive, bloated budget if we’ve got room for a massive tax cut,” he said.

Lynn Campbell of IowaPolitics.com asked the panel whether legislators would advance a plan to change the way judges are chosen in Iowa.  

Upmeyer:  “I don’t know what action we will take.”

McCarthy said the courts should be there to protect minority rights.  “That’s their role,” he said. “It’s not to put everything up for a majority vote.” 

McKinley:  “I suspect there will be examination of this by the legislature.”

Kibbie noted he was in the legislature in the 1960s when the current system of appointing judges was established. “It’s worked terrific ever since,” Kibbie said. “…I’m not going to stand here and say we shouldn’t look at it, but I think a majority of Iowans are not going to be in favor of changing the way we pick our judges.”

As for whether the legislature would pass a resolution that will place a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the statewide ballot, there was not much new said on the issue.

Kibbie said there will “be a lot of threats” and he would “just as soon the issue would be behind us” but he predicted Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal would not allow it to move forward.

Upmeyer said the House will pass a resolution calling for a statewide vote on the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.  “The judicial branch did what it did.  The recourse is to allow the people of Iowa to vote,” she said. “I don’t know how that vote will turn out, but I think they deserve a right to vote…It’ll be up to Senate Gronstal whether to stand in the way of Iowans.”

Will the legislature ban smoking on casino floors?

McKinley: “I don’t know.”

Kibbie:  “I don’t know if we’ll be addressing that or not.”

McCarthy:  “My prediction is nothing will happen.”

Will the legislature vote to end state funding for preschool programs?

Kibbie said Democrats in the senate would “draw a line in the sand” on that issue.  “I think when the session ends, we’ll still have a 4-year-old preschool program,” he said.

Upmeyer said state support of preschool was started on a premise that was faulty.  “The research shows that by about second or third or fourth grade, you cannot tell the difference between a kid who had preschool or not,” she said.

McCarthy also cited research suggesting people who go to preschool are less likely to be in prison, and tend to earn more as adults.  “I thought the concept was pretty well settled,” he said.  McCarthy called cutting preschool funding “penny wise and pound foolish.”

McKinley, like Upmeyer, questioned the value of preschool.  “It’s very, very questionable whether there is benefit,” he said.

The panel agreed it’s unlikely action will be taken in the legislature to allow Iowans to use marijuana for medicinal uses.  

As for a bill that would tighten Iowa’s law on late term abortions — a response to a Nebraska doctor who plans to open a clinic in Council Bluffs, Iowa — Upmeyer said it would “absolutely” be debated in the House.  I didn’t hear her say it would pass, however.  McKinley said it was a “live round” and hinted that if the House does pass the legislation, it may be another bill that Senate Majority Leader Mike Grosntal blocks in the senate.  McCarthy said the “rhetoric” about the need for change in the law “doesn’t comport with reality. He argued women don’t seek a late term abortion if she has the “sniffles” or is depressed. 

The panel was asked about campaign finance reform.  Upmeyer said tarnsparency about campaign contributions was the solution.  Kibbie decried negative campaigning, suggesting people should be “taken out behind the bar” when they step out of line — a remark that drew laughter from the crowd.  McCarthy said the system was “absurd” and it needs to start at the federal level because of the recent court ruling on corporate spending in elections.

With about three minutes left, the  final question from a Drake professor asked the panel to essentially interpret the results of the election.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.