Mundt: Right now we're turning to David Pitt to get a sense of what is evolving behind the headlines. And here comes today an endorsement from Governor Culver for?
Pitt: For Barack Obama.
Mundt: And is there any surprise in that announcement?
Pitt: Well, I think the Governor had withheld his support from the process until now. I think it was done today because Nebraska is holding their caucuses on Saturday. The Governor came out today and said he would go to Nebraska and throw his support to the Senator.
Mundt: Any sense of why he waited until several weeks after the Iowa caucuses before making this announcement?
Pitt: Well, I think the popular thinking is that a Governor should wait until after the Iowa caucuses, because if they throw their support in one particular candidate, those who don't get the support may throw some doubt on whether or not Iowa is a good place to hold the first in the nation caucuses. So governors typically withhold their support until after the caucuses are past. I don't know exactly why he waited this much longer afterwards, but today is the day for him.
Mundt: And Hillary Clinton has certainly said a number of things about caucuses that indicated that she among others doesn't think that they are perhaps the best way to go.
Pitt: Right, but that happens it seems like every time we have the political process come through. So it's nothing new.
Mundt: How about an update on the school funding question?
Pitt: Yes, the legislature is working on the school funding proposals and the first round has happened. The House passed $112.6 million increase in state funding for public schools. It will go onto the Senate now. It allows the school districts to also tax additionally on the local level to the tune of about $45 million if they choose to do that.
It was a 97-2 vote. 2 Republicans voted against it, feeling like it's just too much money for the state budget to bear at a time when the Republicans believe there is a huge gap in what we have coming into the state and what we have proposed to spend. So there is some concern about the spending there.
Mundt: Give us a sense of perspective, if you can. Is that about what the Governor asked for? Was he asking for a little less? Are lawmakers stepping out in front of him? Are they toeing the line?
Pitt: Well, I'm not sure exactly how far it is from the Governor's proposal, but it is something that it does increase the per pupil spending about $213 to just over $5000 to $5500 per pupil. It's about $2.2 billion total from the state's budget, so it's a considerable amount of money for local school districts.
Mundt: And things have been looking pretty good. We're always getting the reports later, of course, but I think the last report came in December that indicated that revenues are still coming in as we would expect, maybe even a little better.
Pitt: Right, that is the most recent report. And I think there is another one coming soon, too, so that will give us a little bit more of a look to see whether or not the economy overall is affecting that.
Mundt: And just a question, because I sometimes miss how all this ties in together. We've got K-12 funding, we've got community college funding and the Regent's university funding, is all of that kind of tracking along in the same way?
Pitt: Well, this is just for the K-12 school this week. The Democrats also say that they plan on increasing funding for teacher salaries, which will be in addition to the $75 million I think the plan is, and about another $15 million for pre-school as well. So this isn't even the whole package, but it's at least the beginning. They usually do this in the first month of a session and get that part of the spending plan done.
Mundt: Republicans have come forward with a plan that they say will improve the state's economy. I wonder if you could dissect that a little bit.
Pitt: There has been a little bit of criticism from the Republican side that Democrats aren't working hard enough or working fast enough to do something for the state economy.
The bill on the federal level is still working through Congress. It looked like there was some work on that today, and it looks like that may actually be on the track to get completed. But on the state level, Republicans would like to see a few things happen.
One thing that they proposed is expanding the two-day sales tax holiday to three days and throwing in a little bit more that you can include in that. Currently it's for people who shop for school, primarily clothing, shoes, those kinds of things. But they would like to expand that to include more things.
They are also proposing giving one percent of the withholding taxes paid by businesses into job training programs, so hoping to spur the economy a little bit with that.
And then giving homeowners a five year exemption from paying their increases they get in property taxes from higher values, if they do some remodeling or some work on their home. So there are several things that they propose to do to try to help the state economy.
Mundt: And they're essentially trying to get a jump on a possible recession. We don't have full indications that that's happening on the national level, and generally Iowa has lagged behind. So this is pretty early. Things are still looking all right right now.
Pitt: Right, yeah, I think it definitely is something to be debated, whether or not we're going to recession, whether signs of just a softening of the economy. I think there are certainly a lot of people debating on it.