DES MOINES — Lawmakers finalized a $6.244 billion state budget and a major mental health system redesign Wednesday, but adjourned without passing a comprehensive property tax relief package — a top priority they promised to continue working on during the interim and to fight about as they hit the 2012 campaign trail.
The 84th General Assembly’s second yearly meeting ended on the 122th day — 22 days beyond the adjournment target — after the Iowa Senate adjourned at 5:23 p.m. and the Iowa House followed suit 50 minutes later.
“We accomplished a great number of things that we set out to do,” said House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner.
Lawmakers from both political parties pointed to initial steps they took to reform the state’s education system and shift to a more-equitable regional approach of providing uniform mental health services locally as major accomplishments.
But they conceded it was a major disappointment to leave without having provided promised tax relief to businesses by lowering rates on commercial and industrial property — an issue that has gone unresolved for 34 years.
Also, the Senate adjourned without taking up a bill that would have established a regulatory and rate-making structure for Mid-American Energy’s proposal to build a new nuclear energy plant using modular technology at some point in the future.
Senators also did not join the House in approving a resolution nullifying a Natural Resources Commission rule banning the use of lead shot when hunting mourning doves once the season opens Sept. 1.
Leaders of the House and Senate met with Gov. Terry Branstad during the afternoon in hopes of finding compromise on a plan to reduce commercial property taxes while limiting growth for other property classes and providing state “backfill” money to cushion the potential loss of revenue to local governments.
However, those talks failed to produce a historic resolution to an issue that the governor and both Republicans and Democrats in the split-control Legislature had identified as their top priority for the 2012 session.
“The only option is if the governor wants to call a special session,” said Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, minority whip of the Senate GOP caucus.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said the property tax negotiations got caught up in partisan politics and resulted in lawmakers walking away from a proposal that left $350 million in potential property tax relief “on the table.”
“It’s a tough issue but I want you to know we offered compromise,” Gronstal said.
“I’m willing to continue to work with (the governor) and continue to work with the House and look for common ground and, if we can find some, I’ll continue to have meetings with him. If we can find some, he can call us back into special session,” he added. “I’m open to that possibility, but it clearly wasn’t going to happen today. I don’t think a special session is impossible, but it’s not very possible if they’re not willing to give.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said it was “regrettable” that majority House Republicans and majority Senate Democrats couldn’t come together on an agreement to cut business taxes — noting House members sent four proposals to the Senate over two sessions that none led to a final agreement.
He pledged to continue to work to find common ground during the interim and pledged that Republicans would be back next year with a proposal to cut Iowans’ taxes by $390 million — using the $90 million in a new taxpayer trust account and the state’s projected $300 million ending balance.
“We’ll continue to work on that. We may still find a way. I don’t know what that might be. I’m obviously disappointed that we weren’t able to get it done in regular session,” the House speaker said. “We’re a glass-half-full people and we always work toward reaching a solution.”
Branstad thanked the 84th General Assembly for considering his administration’s priorities and for adopting a significant number of them.
“However, the 2012 session may be remembered as much for what failed to be accomplished as for what actually was accomplished,” the governor said. in a statement. “Despite the best efforts of my office and a bipartisan majority in the Iowa House, the inability of Senate Democrats to adopt serious property tax reform has put Iowa taxpayers in jeopardy of seeing significant property tax increases in the coming year.”
Gronstal refuted that claim, saying “I gave and I gave and I gave, and as far as I can tell I was the only one negotiating and I think in the end they decided let’s play politics with this issue. How can you walk away from an offer of a 25 percent reduction in commercial property taxes of $350 million? You walk away for one reason — you want to play politics.”
Senate GOP Leader Jerry Behn of Boone, who missed much of the session’s final week due to a health problem, issued a closing statement lamenting the lack of action to improve the state’s business climate.
“Did we provide the measurable results that Iowa taxpayers deserve this session?” Behn said in his statement. “In most cases, we did not. When it comes to job creation, property tax relief, world-class education and government rule and regulation reform, this Legislature failed to make the necessary strides that hardworking Iowans deserved.”
Senate President Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, who is retiring after a long legislative career, said he was disappointed that the property tax compromise couldn’t pass on a bipartisan basis. He noted that the Statehouse has become “a very partisan climate and it’s getting more partisan, and that disappoints me.”
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