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Heard Around the Capitol

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The legislative rumor mill is alive and well, even though legislators are back in their home districts preparing for the 2014 legislative session to begin on Monday, January 13, 2014.  While we obviously cannot report on every rumor we hear, there are a few things we've overheard that you might want to take note of:

  • Legislative leaders want a quick session.  Last year legislators tackeld four big reforms - property tax, health care, education, and mental health/disability services.  They say they want to let these reforms take shape, and plan to keep controversy out of the 2014 session.  Their plans are to do a budget, and get out early, well before the 100th day of session (April 22, 2014).

  • Legislative leaders have agreed to move the first "funnel" deadline up by two weeks - so bills will need to get out of their assigned committee by Friday, February 14, 2014.  Committees will have only about 16 working days to get their priority bills ready for that deadline.  Very few bills will make this first cut.
  • Tax cuts look good on campaign brochures, so they'll be the topic of some discussion. Tax issues are "funnel proof" and are not subject to legislative deadlines. The only time constraint legislators working on tax proposals have is the end of session.  Some legislators are looking at corporate income tax cuts, while others are looking for ways to keep more money in middle-class taxpayer pockets.  Still others see benefit in sending the extra money back to taxpayers, since the state collected it but doesn't "need" it (that is, hasn't spent it).  Look for some discussion to be spent on taxes and tax cuts.

  • Legislators will do battle this year, but it'll be focused on the budget.  Legislators acknowledge that the battle this year will be over spending.  The Governor has asked his department heads to submit a budget built on what he requested from the Legislature in 2013 (not what actually passed the Legislature).  That means, department budgets are mostly below current spending levels.  The Governor could add back some things before submitting the budget to the Legislature, but it looks like legislators will spend most of their energy on the battle to restore "status quo" or current funding.  Who knows how much time, energy and political capital they will be willing to spend after that battle on new or increased spending.

In other non-rumor news, the Governor has a new Chief of Staff (Matt Hinch, who lobbyied last year for the Greater Des Moines Partnership and spent some time prior to that on the staffs of Congressman Latham and Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen) and House Democrats have a new Minority Leader (Representative Mark Smith of Marshalltown). That means there are two new faces at the budget negotiating table.  There will be some changes in committee makeup, but we won't know those until the special elections are completed.  Look for our updated "Guide to the 2014 Legislature" once those decisions are made (click here for more information about this Guide).

So what does all this mean to you - the advocate?  It means three things. 

  1. You need to get started early (that is, NOW).  This session will be a quick one, so that means legislators need a game plan before they set foot in the Capitol in January. Those 'game plans' will be set soon, so if you have things you want your legislator to do for you, call or email them soon.  Talk to them about your priorities, and what you want them to do for you.  Because its a short session, things will move quickly, and those who are best prepared and start the earliest will be the ones that have the best chance of getting something done.
  2.  Be realistic in your budget requests.  You may want millions to clear the Medicaid waiver waiting lists, but the reality is that legislators will have to come up with at least $90 million this year just to keep Medicaid services at current levels. 
    You will need to temper your requests, and prioritize. While your request may be large, are there ways to break it down so you can start making progress toward your goal?

  3. Do not get discouraged.  Sometimes it takes years to get things done.  Keep at it, show up at local legislative forums, and bring others along on your issue so you're not the only voice your legislator hears on the issue.  Consider modifying your request - ask if your legislator will bring the issue up in caucus or make statements about your issue on the floor during their morning "points of personal priviledge" time.  Other ideas would include writing a Guest Editorial on the topic, or making statements during campaign or other events.  Once legislators speak out in public about an issue, they are committed to it.  With time and some patience, you'll succeed.