- Associated Press - Sunday, April 10, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The Iowa Legislature has taken another step toward adjournment by agreeing to budget spending targets, but lawmakers still need to figure out critical details over what areas of state government will actually get some of the limited new dollars available.

Those decisions will be left to legislative budget groups that must allocate funding based on the overall spending targets. Lawmakers agree there is about $7.34 billion available to spend on the state budget that takes effect in July, but the final details of who gets what hasn’t been determined.

Sen. Robert Dvorsky, D-Coralville and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, called it “a very tough budget” and said there may be cuts within particular programs, but he couldn’t elaborate because the budget groups are working it out.

It’s unclear whether the split Legislature will reach consensus in time for an adjournment scheduled on April 19. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, acknowledged there may be some disagreement over the next several days within the chambers over the final budget, but she thinks it’s still possible to finish on time.

More than $170 million of the overall proposed budget is new dollars, and the bulk is slated to go toward basic aid for K-12 schools. That leaves about $20 million in new money for areas of state government that range from economic development to higher education. Many departments are expected to receive little new money.



Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said a split Legislature means his chamber and GOP leaders in the House had to make concessions, but he refused to offer details.

“We do not believe Iowans elected us to continue to engage in gridlock,” he said.

It’s also unclear whether lawmakers will pass legislation before the session wraps up that addresses water quality initiatives or medical marijuana. GOP leaders are in the midst of pushing through a bill that would use special infrastructure money and a tax on water use that typically go to the general fund to pay for water quality initiatives.

The plan abandons a proposal by Gov. Terry Branstad that would have funded water quality initiatives with some money from a 1-cent sales tax that’s set aside for education infrastructure funding. Branstad has indicated he will try to seek support for that plan in the future, though he has thrown his support behind the new GOP plan for now.

The Senate announced recently that it will introduce another water quality funding plan, a possible sign that consensus may not be reached this session. Gronstal released little information on the new plan and Upmeyer refused to speculate whether the issue could be tabled until next year.

A bill that would expand access to medical marijuana had momentum this session in the Republican-controlled House, but its progress has lagged in recent weeks. The legislation could be considered dead, except Republican leaders confirmed their caucus met recently to further discuss the issue. It’s unclear what will come out of those discussions.

“It’ll come as no surprise that we have a wide range of opinions on the matter,” said House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights. “It’s very healthy for us to talk through that.”

Lawmakers in both chambers appear more on track to pass legislation that would add state oversight to Iowa’s Medicaid program, which provides health care to about 560,000 poor and disabled residents and was switched to private management on April 1. Democrats have been vocal about an oversight bill in the Senate and Republicans introduced their own legislation recently. Democrats say they’re reviewing the GOP plan, but both parties have indicated an interest in reaching a deal before the end of the session.

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