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Funnel Ahead & Budget Work Begins

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The Iowa Legislature has hit the halfway point in the legislative session, and the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate are working together to prioritize bills and put together budgets so they can be done with their work on or near their 90-day goal (April 12).  

At the moment, all signs point to the Legislature being done by mid-April.  A safe bet would be that the Legislature, without any major hiccups, should be able to finish the session slightly before Easter (April 20).  Only one thing has to happen before the Legislature can adjourn - they must pass a budget for the state budget year that begins July 1, 2014 and ends on June 30, 2015.

Before legislators can pass a budget, they must know how much they are able to spend. This is called a "target."  This week, the House and Senate reached agreement on budget targets.   To the average Iowan, this statement has little meaning. But to the legislators, lobbyists and Iowans who follow the budget process,, this is very exciting news!  Targets are the first major step in the budget process - when the majority party in each chamber makes the decision on how much to spend, and then divides that number up among the seven appropriations subcommittees. 

In a "normal" year (if there is such a thing), the Republican House and Democratic Senate have different targets that are milions apart.  Each chamber puts their own budget together, and they start going through the process of passing budgets that they know won't look the same once an agreement is made. First one chamber passes their version, then the other replaces it with their version, and then the other chamber makes changes, and utlimately you end up in conference committee.  It's a lot of work, and the final decisions are usually made at a very high level (legislative leaders) after a very long negotiation process.

The significance of joint targets to the budget process is that the House and Senate, for the first time in over a decade, have agreed on the overall amount they will spend next year, and the amount each of the seven budget subcommittees will get to spend. This means that the House and Senate will both spend the same amount in their budget bills, but how they spend it could still (and probably will) be different.  So the negotiations won't be on how much to spend, but how that money is spent.  While this could still be controversial, it’s less likely to be as time-consuming as the "normal" budget process.  You can read more about the actual targets in the next article.

While the announcement of budget targets usually means budget work is full speed ahead, legislators will hit the pause button briefly on budget work in order to turn their attention to next week's March 14 funnel deadline.  This second and final funnel requires all bills to have been passed by one chamber, and then be out of committee in the other chamber.  So any bill that wants to continue its path to becoming law must have passed the House/Senate - and be voted out of the other chamber's committee (so House Files need to have passed the House, and be voted out of a Senate Committee; Senate Files will need to be voted out of the Senate, and pass out of a House Committee). 

Once this final deadline passes, the only committees that will still be working on bills are those that deal with taxes (Ways & Means), spending (Appropriations), and government operations (Government Oversight).  All other committee work will be done, and your lawmakers will spend the majority of their time debating.  You can watch or listen to live debate, and go back and watch archives of these debates.  Just follow the links below!