Iowa Legislative Session set to open - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa Legislative Session set to open

DES MOINES (KWWL) -- The gavel falls on Iowa's 2009 legislative session Monday.  For lawmakers, the agenda is pretty short as they get set to start the legislative session in Des Moines.  They have to solve the state's deepening deficit before they can act on any other issues.  And, that's a big job.

What was once a surplus, has sunk into a $600 million deficit which Iowa lawmakers will have to deal with before doing anything else, this session.

"Any other issue will come second to the budget problems that every lawmakers will face at the capitol this session," said Rep. Christopher Rants, (R) Sioux City.

Governor Chet Culver has already ordered $180 million in cuts for the current fiscal year.

"And we'll address those shortfalls, and if there are any areas we have to back fill," said Sen. Jack Kibbie, (D) Senate President.

It'll be Kibbie's job as Senate president. But, if you ask the Senate's Majority Leader, the deficit doesn't exist.

"There is no deficit! There is none!" said Sen. Michael Gronstal, (D) Senate Majority Leader.

During a meeting with the Des Moines Register's editorial board, Gronstal rejected the idea of a deficit for fiscal year 2010 when, he claims, the 2010 budget hasn't been written.

"He's wrong. He's just wrong," said Rants.

Speaker Pat Murphy leads the Democratically-controlled Iowa House.

He believes there's a deficit, and that Culver's cuts along with money from the state's "rainy day" fund will help balance the budget.

"I'm pretty sure we won't have to raise taxes to deal with the shortfall," said Murphy.

Senator Steve Warnstadt of Sioux City agrees.

"We're going to focus on spending reductions, and before you would go to a tax increase we'd go to a rainy day fund," said Warnstadt.

Right now, there's $620 million in that fund, which is set aside for tough times, like these.

"We haven't seen an economic downturn or financial crisis like this since 1933," said Murphy.

Times are so tough that some suggest adjourning the legislative session until the state's revenue estimating conference can issue updated numbers on the deficit.

"Why not just leave?" said Rants.

But that won't come until April leaving lawmakers with an impossible decision - play ball in bad economic times, or take their ball and go home.

Online Producer:  Bob Waters

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