As the Iowa General Assembly (IGA) moved closer to adjournment late Wednesday afternoon, Kathie Obradovich of the Des Moines Register wrote that the legislature is “poised for a landmark session.” This analysis was based on late breaking movements on three key issues: education reform, property tax reform, and health care expansion.
Passage of reform bills in all three areas would certainly give legislators something to crow about, and the political love would be spread all around.
Governor Branstad and House Republicans could boast of passing what they argue is much needed property tax reform, Senate Democrats could claim victory on the Medicaid expansion impasse, and both sides embraced the true essence of compromise on education reform (House Republicans getting what they want on home school regulations and Senate Democrats getting what they want on teacher evaluation).
Where does that leave us in terms of state politics?
Pretty close to where we were in January, except every legislator can now say they contributed to making Iowa a better place to attend school, to do business, and live a healthy life. Unlike 2009 or 2010 when state budget issues significantly impacted the gubernatorial race, the actions of the 2013 IGA are unlikely to shake up the governor’s race, or even state legislative races, in any meaningful way. While some may argue Governor Branstad caved on Medicaid expansion (if in fact a health care deal has been reached), expanding Medicaid is the more prudent path in terms of public opinion.
Where all legislators, as well as the governor, may get dinged is in the time it took to pass education reform. Unlike property taxes, and to some extent health care, there was a pressing deadline for the target of education funding. What started off as a game of chicken between Senate Democrats and Governor Branstad quickly turned negative as school superintendents grew anxious and took to the airwaves begging the legislature to act.
Consider this: legislators took 129 days (in what was supposed to be a 110 day session) to pass basic education funding in the context of a nearly $800 million budget surplus. Imagine what would have happened had both sides been negotiating in a time of severe economic turmoil.
Following the 2012 elections, Iowa was one of three states with a split legislature. Thus, as expected, the 2013 session began with a big emphasis on compromise. After 129 days both sides seemed to have embraced the concept. The 2014 session will also be about compromise, but expect politics to overshadow everything else. Oh, and the legislature is scheduled to gavel in for only 100 days next year…
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