This is another funnel week, which means we are nearing the end of the session. We will pretty much know by early next week what will be debated and what will be thrown overboard. I suspect our workload, as far as policy is concerned, will be fairly light. I know there are some major issues that need to be resolved, such as education reform, the mental health re-write and property tax reform, but I am guessing we will really start to concentrate on the budget so we can shut this place down in an orderly fashion.
With only about 30 days until the projected adjournment date, no budget bills have been sent to the Governor. The Transportation bill that I will manage is ready to go to the House floor for debate. This bill should pass fairly easily, with bi-partisan support. It should be the first budget bill to land on the Governor's desk, but that doesn't mean he will sign it. There are rumors floating around here saying the Governor is threatening to veto the whole budget unless he gets some sort of compromise on the property tax issue. This would not surprise me one bit. Let the fun begin!
After about 10 hours of debate spanning two calendar days, the House did pass an education reform bill. In all, we debated 56 proposed amendments and finally passed the legislation on a 53-46 vote. All of the democrats opposed the bill, even though eight amendments brought forward by them were accepted. The final vote was partisan, but I know there was a lot of cooperation between the two parties as the bill moved through the committee process. The democrats even made a few positive comments on the floor, and the entire debate was civil and everyone had a chance to express their concerns. This legislation is different than what the Governor proposed, and it now goes to the Senate for consideration. They have their own version of education reform, so we will have to wait a few weeks to see what can be agreed to. I am sure that House Republicans look forward to carrying the bi-partisan effort of education reform across the rotunda to the Senate so we can get a bill to the Governor yet this session.
Iowa's unemployment rate continues to drop, and is now at 5.4%. The last time it was this low was April of 2009. There has been a steady, lower trend for quite some time, so this is obviously good news. There are five states with lower rates than Iowa. They are: New Hampshire (5.2%), Vermont (5.0%), South Dakota (4.2%), Nebraska (4.0%) and North Dakota (3.2%). Hooray for the Midwest, and it's great to see Iowan's back in the workplace.
Pork exports rose sharply in January, jumping a huge 43% over last year. Mexico, China and Japan are our top three buyers. With strong demand, it appears the hog market will remain bullish. This is just another plus for our already positive agricultural economy.
In about two weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear testimony regarding the constitutionality of the new federal healthcare reform law. This will be a very interesting and important court decision. On top of the legal question, the Congressional Budget Office is now saying the cost of the new healthcare law will be $1.25 trillion instead of its original guess of $940 billion. This is over a ten year period. You can bet that even the higher number is lower than what the actual cost will finally be. I do not usually write about federal issues, but this is huge, and will definitely have a big impact on our state budget for many years to come.
You may reach me at the Capitol during the week by phoning me at 515-281-3221, or at home on weekends at 712-434-5880. You may write me at the State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. My home address is P.O. Box 398, Aurelia, Iowa 51005. If you have email, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.