Week 17 of the Session: Week 1 of Overtime. The 2015 Session of the Iowa General Assembly officially entered overtime this week, as today (May 7) is the 116th day of what was scheduled to be a 110-day regular session.
What this means is the per-diem stipend legislators are paid to cover their expenses for being in Des Moines have ended and they are technically on their own to cover the cost of hotels and meals from here forward. While this is a soft approach to closing the session, it is nonetheless effective.
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Decisions Key to Adjournment
Two key decisions must be made before the House and Senate can make a true run for adjournment:
1. School finance: the House and Senate must agree on a total spending amount for K-12 school spending. This has been at a stalemate since late January with Majority Republicans in the House standing firm for an increase of 1.25% and Majority Democrats in the Senate at 4.0% (though, they did offer to split the difference with the House and settle on 2.62%).
There may have been some progress on the issue this week. It appears House Republicans may accept some additional spending on K-12, as long as it is one time expenditures, funded by one time money in the state’s ending balance.
Do not be surprised if resolution of the school funding issue this year involves a combination of an increase in on-going K-12 spending at the Republican level of 1.25% with an additional amount of one time dollars (perhaps with a matching 1.25% of one time spending from the ending balance).
2. Overall Spending Total: before any true run to adjournment can begin, House and Senate leadership must agree on a total spending level for the general fund. To date, House Republicans and Senate Democrats are $182 million apart in total spending. A resolution of the school finance question with the use of one time spending could reduce that difference by $50 million or so. But that still leaves a giant gap between the two sides.
As most of the remaining work of the 2015 Session involves the budget, there can be no real push to adjournment until the decision on the size of the big budget pie is resolved and that remains a significant obstacle.
Both the House and the Senate have current plans to be in Session all five days next week. And, if agreement on the big budget number is reached relatively early in the week, they could run into the weekend in an attempt to finish for the year.
A complicating factor involves rumors that suggest some member or members of the Senate Democrat majority will be out of the state the week of May 18. With only a 26-24 majority in the Senate, the loss of even one member of the majority means they would need Republican help to pass ANY bills the week of May 18 (not something the majority party would want to face).
Thus, if the Session does not conclude next week, the legislature might be faced with the prospect of no floor work (at least on the Senate side) the week of May 18 and a resumption of full activity the week of May 25 (but as the 25th is Memorial Day, work wouldn’t resume until May 26 at the earliest).