Monday, March 23, will mark the 71st Session Day of the 110-day session and the first day of the 11th week. Spring Break in many parts of Iowa this past week meant a number of legislators' and lobbyists' children in the Capitol. It's always exciting for the kids to see the beautiful building, but you can see that excitement wither away once debate on any given bill enters a second hour. And a third. And a fourth... A Labor committee bill this week took a combined total of 10-12 hours to gain passage in the House, starting Tuesday and overflowing into Wednesday.
There is a growing sense among legislators and lobbyists that this session is definitely headed for overtime and may blow way beyond the May 1 target adjournment date. Part of the reason for that stems from uncertainty about the budget. Since the Legislature had to wait until this last Thursday for budget projections, it has tamped down any sense of urgency to resolve the non-budget items.
A partial list of some of the big remaining issues includes school funding and school start date, broadband expansion, income tax cuts/reform and a state alternative minimum tax, the Iowa Next proposal, and moving Medicaid to managed care. Additionally, the House and Senate have also spent some serious debate time passing some bills that have an unknown future in the other chamber, specifically legislation regarding abortion, gun rights and labor issues. Votes like these are sometimes held to show a party's support for an issue, but they can also be useful near the end of session when both chambers are looking at trading top priorities in order to close down the session.
The "second funnel" deadline will wash over the Legislature on Friday, April 3. By that date, all non-spending or tax bills will need to have been passed by the committee of jurisdiction in the opposite chamber from where it was introduced to stay alive (for example - a House Education Committee bill will have to be passed by the Senate Education Committee before close of business on April 3).
Since all bills not under the jurisdiction of the Appropriations or Ways & Means Committees will need to have been passed by committee, for the most part, this means that only those two committees in each chamber will conduct meetings after the second funnel. For everyone working in the Capitol, this makes life a little more manageable than having to track the activities of over 35 committees at the Statehouse. This coincides with the budget discussions and debate schedules getting much more intense through the end of the session.
As stated in the opening, the budget projections came out Thursday. The Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) met and considered where tax revenues lie in relation to state expenditures and updated their budget projections from their December numbers.
So, what do the budget numbers say? As anticipated by many, the REC anticipates revenues will still be a net positive, but will be significantly lower than the December projections, specifically about $89.7 million lower for the current Fiscal Year 2015 and about $19.1 million lower for the upcoming FY 2016. You can view the REC's summary yourself at https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/BL/656455.pdf
Since the March REC estimates are lower than December's, the Legislature must use the March numbers in the preparation of their budget. In the days ahead, the majority party in each chamber will release "budget targets," the amount of money they are authorizing each of the seven appropriations subcommittees to spend in their budget bills. From there, the appropriations subcommittees will begin to assemble the appropriations bills that collectively will set the FY 2016 budget (as well as the framework for FY 2017).
If you have not already weighed in with legislators about your priorities, NOW would be a critical time. Once those bills are introduced, they are hard to change very much without cutting into some other program. If your priority project shows up reduced in the initial budget bill, it MAY stay that way!