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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Lawmakers ready to dive into the budget battles

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

With its opening flourish out of the way, the Legislature turns this week to details of a proposed $5.3 billion budget with one of the first battles being over how much to give local schools.

"We've had some initial discussion about that," said Senate Democratic Leader Michael Gronstal. "We are hopeful we can move forward relatively quickly."

Gov. Tom Vilsack framed the debate when he asked the Legislature to boost next year's budget by 6.1 percent.

While Vilsack and legislative leaders will negotiate the overall size of the budget, a series of legislative budget panels will craft details. Those committees will begin meeting this week.

State law requires the Legislature within the first 30 days of a session to make a decision on how much it will increase basic state aid to local schools. Lawmakers allowed a 4 percent increase, roughly $100 million, during the last session.

Vilsack has held this year's base increase to the same amount, but wants an additional $30 million to increase teacher pay and $15 million for preschool programs. That brings his actual increase in school funding to about 6 percent.

"We'll make a determination on what that figure will be this week," said House Majority Leader Chuck Gipp, R-Decorah.

The Legislature this week also will begin holding committee sessions on the 4,600 TouchPlay lottery machines operating across the state.

Many lawmakers say they weren't aware they were allowing such machines when they authorized a lottery expansion in 2002. Vilsack put a moratorium on installing the machines and ordered a task force report in 60 days.

"We told our committee you can't wait for 60 days and then start considering it," said House Speaker Chris Rants, R-Sioux City.

"We are moving this to the top of our list of items to be discussed this week," said Senate Republican President Jeff Lamberti, of Ankeny. "People want us to start talking about this issue."

In addition, Lamberti said Republicans this week will unveil a measure in reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court decision which allowed local government to condemn private property and give it to other private interests. In the court case, local officials seized some private homes to convert the property to businesses in hopes of spurring the economy.

Lamberti said property-rights advocates oppose that move, saying government should only be able to condemn property for projects such as schools and roads. He said details of the plan would be unveiled this week.

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