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News Analysis: January 21, 2008

posted on January 22, 2008 at 11:42 AM

Mundt: Fully recovered from the caucus. It seems like such a long time ago.

Pitt: It does now. It does. We’re well into the legislative session now, a whole week into it.

Mundt: And in the last several days one of the big issues -- and it's part of a larger issue that has to do with I think the state of funding in Iowa this coming year -- has been community colleges. And especially I think a lot of noise around the potential for an increase that is not what people expected.

Pitt: Right. I think the Governor's budget includes a 2-percent increase, which is about $177 million. The request was about $189 million. So there's a bit of a difference there. Much of that increase would be money that would fund the – a pay increase or at least the pay for the teachers at community colleges. So I think there's going to be some debate about that. Republicans quickly came out and said that’s just not enough and we're going to fight for more money. And then the Democratic leadership at the end of the week did come forward and say that they expect that they’ll probably try to do better than the Governor’s budget.

Mundt: So where does that put the situation vis-a-vis the Governor? Does that mean that he may step back and reassess this, or will he hold firm?

Pitt: Well, typically these things end up in some sort of negotiation and the democratic leaders will sit down with the Governor and they'll talk about it. And the Governor kind of defended his budget by saying that community colleges get money from other government programs, for instance for job training programs. Something on the order of about $20 million or so come into community colleges from government sources other than, you know, just the funding coming from the legislature and student scholarships and some other money from government sources. So I mean the Governor is defending his budget but, again, most likely -- it's real early in the session. We're just beginning to talk budget issues, so those things have a tendency to be somewhat fluid until they sit down and negotiate and come up with firmer numbers.

Mundt: Does this turn into the potential for another tuition increase for students? I heard one lawmaker the other day say, you know, I'm going to flood the Capitol with students here, who are going to be very upset about this if they don't get the money that they need. Are they tied directly together?

Pitt: Well, that would have been Representative Kaufmann that made that remark. He is a community college instructor, and I think he feels very passionate about it. And so I think there will be a lot of noise probably being made early in the session as these things again have a tendency to, you know, really be early session kind of issues. And then as they get down to work -- you know, the first week usually is just a lot of hearing a few speeches, kind of setting up the big issues for the session, and then they'll get down to negotiating. Whether it will include tuition increases, I mean that's another thing that will have to be worked out. We've seen a number of years of tuition increases, so I don't know what the feeling would be about that. So again, that will figure into the mix, I'm sure, as they discuss it.

Mundt: Universities, it’s apparent, are going to get a bigger increase, but that really hasn't come up yet too much, has it?

Pitt: Not yet. I mean I think that, again, it will be discussed definitely. But this focus early on, at least in the first week, has been about community colleges, again, because of the Governor's budget and it wasn't quite what people wanted it to be.

Mundt: Can you give me a sense of the mood in the Capitol? I think that from reporting in "The Register" and in other newspapers and just a sense of Iowa's economy, there's already an understanding that all of us have that this year is not going to be the same as last year. But can you describe the mood as lawmakers get together for the first time, they go through the formalities, and get down to business?

Pitt: Well, I think the mood is really quite typical for what we see, you know, the first week of the session. The lawmakers get an idea in December what the economy is going to do, what kind of tax revenue will be coming into the state, and they have to base their budgeting on that figure. There are some signs of a softening economy. And so, you know, it’s just really hard to say at this point where they'll end up. They do have to base their budget on the December figures, and that's the revenue that they will be using for all those numbers.

Mundt: You brought up a story to my attention, which somehow it slipped by me. I guess I don’t think a lot about the bottle deposit, but we pay our extra 5 cents and then us it back. The Governor wants to double that.

Pitt: Yeah, he's talking about raising it to 10 cents and, instead of giving the money back when you turn the bottles in, keeping 2 cents of that, using one penny for projects that would help the environment. And that would be about $20 million. And then the other penny would go to the people who handle the bottles and cans. They get a penny now. This would be an additional penny for them to help them, you know, handle it and take care of whatever they need to do, recycle. So it’s a proposal. It's out there. It's being debated already.

Mundt: And what's the debate like on that so far?

Pitt: Well, I think that the environmental portion of it, there are people who obviously feel very passionate about environmental programs, so they obviously will fight for that money. I think that's where the Governor was coming from in his budget, apparently. And the people who handle, you know, the cans and bottles, they've been arguing for more money for quite some time, for a number of years, and so they obviously will fight for their portion of it too. I think the debate is going to be whether or not -- it’s a tax. I mean there are some anti-tax groups that are saying, you know, it really amounts to an additional tax on Iowans. And so that aspect of it will also be fought as this thing goes through the legislature.

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