Lawmakers resume public consideration of state budget

Governor says discussions continue about private school scholarships

By: - May 17, 2022 3:12 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds talks to reporters May 17, 2022, after signing legislation dealing with biofuels at a farm near Prairie City. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa lawmakers will resume public discussion on the state budget Wednesday, just over four weeks past the 100th day of the 2022 session.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday morning and begin preparing budget bills for floor debate. For the past several weeks, discussion has been behind closed doors as legislative leaders negotiated with each other and with the governor.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said some of the bills may have agreement with the House and others don’t – but he didn’t specify which ones.

“I’ve been meeting with the speaker and the governor over the last few days and progressing through conversation. So hopefully in the next couple of weeks, we can come to some kind of agreement and really get moving on session,” Whitver, R-Ankeny, told reporters Tuesday.

He said he hopes to establish joint budget targets with the House. He downplayed the $70 million difference between the House and Senate spending proposals.

“I mean, the big difference is 70 million (dollars). But when you start moving around different pieces and figuring out apples to apples, and, you know, what’s in the general fund and what’s in other funds, it’s really not that far apart.”

Reynolds: Talks continue on private school scholarships

The House passed nine budget bills through the chamber last month, but the Senate did not advance them in part because of a standoff over private school scholarships. Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed the legislation, which was approved by the Senate March 30. House Republicans, however, did not have enough votes to approve the measure, which would scoop state aid from public schools to pay expenses for students who move to private schools.

Reynolds said Tuesday she wasn’t giving up on the proposal for this year until lawmakers adjourn and “go home.” She said she’s continuing to explore changes to the proposal, including narrowing the bill by limiting the number of students or the number of schools affected.

“So I’ve been very open and vocal that I’m willing to sit down with any legislator and walk through, you know, some different ideas that they may have. And actually, they’ve come with quite a few,” she said.

She was also firm on the need to include parents’ rights and transparency provisions, which were included in the Senate bill.

“I think ultimately what we need to do is make sure that parents have a say in their child’s education. And I just fundamentally disagree with school districts icing parents out of educational decisions,” she said.

Reynolds referred to a recent debate over new inclusive transgender policies enacted by the Linn-Mar school district in Marion. The policy, which district officials said was based on federal guidelines, allows transgender students to use their preferred name, pronouns and facilities matching their gender identity. Students in seventh grade or higher could override their parents’ preferences or choose not to inform them.

“I just don’t think that a seventh grader should be deciding what their parent knows and doesn’t know. It’s ridiculous,” Reynolds said.

Whitver said negotiations on the issue have been between Reynolds and House Speaker Pat Grassley, and he declined further comment. Grassley refused to take questions from reporters Tuesday.

Whitver said other policy issues also remain to be decided, although he didn’t name specific bills. “When we come back, it will be more than just budget,” he said. “There’s still, you know, a lot of bills alive on my desk, there’s still some left on (Grassley’s), but (I) really want to work with the House and figure out which of those bills are priorities for them. And then, you know, do the same for the bills that we have over there.”

Lawmakers need to pass a budget by June 30 to avoid a government shutdown. Reynolds remained confident that would not be an issue.

“We’re not going to shut the state down,” she said. “We’re not Washington, D.C., and we’re never going to be. So we know how to sit down, work together, have a conversation and move things forward.”

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine.