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News Analysis: March 19, 2009

posted on March 20, 2009 at 5:05 PM

Paul Yeager: We want to look behind the headlines with James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette. 

You spend a lot of time in central Iowa covering the legislature when it's in session.  We'll ask how long you're going to be in session, how long you'll keep making that commute but first today was a busy day of caucusing, yesterday a lot of debate, what are they talking about in a lot of these caucuses today?

James Lynch: Well, they have a long list of bills to talk about whether they're supporting to bring them out on the floor but democrats say they're going to caucus on their infrastructure plan.  They are putting forward a plan that's slightly different than the Governor's $750 million bonding plan. 

Millions seems so small in these days of trillions but their plan is about $700 million and they are trying to decide where people are on that plan and what they want to see in it, what they don't want to see in it, if $700 million is too much or too little.  So, they said they would spend a lot of time talking about that today before coming back out on the floor.

Paul Yeager: Is this what the Governor has been doing as he's been traveling across the state this week on his shovel ready tour?  Is that tied to the same thing?  Are they one in the same?

James Lynch: Right, they're pretty much the same.  The Governor's plan goes a little bit further than what the democratic majority seems to want to do.  I think one of the big sticking points for a lot of legislators is bonding for roads and bridges and they don't want to do that. 

Generally the case is that those don't last 20 years so you're paying for roads that have worn out and that doesn't seem to make sense to them.  They tend to say that the federal stimulus money that the state is receiving for transportation could cover those projects as well as the money cities and counties are getting for transportation projects.  So, that work would go on whether they bond for it or not.  So, that is kind of the big sticking point at this point.

Paul Yeager: And it's kind of like the Governor does what the President does when he needs to gain support for a project or an idea, make the campaign trail around the country, around the state.  I know the Governor was in northeast Iowa yesterday, he was in Waverly, heard part of that press conference and he talked specifically about flood relief in certain areas, flood relief in Cedar Rapids, I know he went to Pelo.  How realistic -- where are we going to come down on this when it's all said and done?  What is going to hinge on where we come down?

James Lynch: Well, I think there's a lot of support to do something for disaster recovery and using both the federal money, another $125 million worth of community development block grants was announced this week, the state is hoping for a lot more of that money in the future and using that money with state money, democrats have put forward $100 million recovery plan that includes flood mitigation, building levees and those sorts of things as well as home buyouts and housing assistance, those sorts of things. 

I think we're going to see a pretty sizeable package there.  There's a lot of support, a lot of communities were affected so that affects a lot of legislators and I think that $100 million package as well as whatever is included in the bonding proposal for flood recovery will be pretty sizeable.

Paul Yeager: You talk about sizeable and we've talked about millions of dollars and hundreds of millions of dollars.  On Friday in the late morning the revenue estimating conference is to come back, about three weeks early than what they normally do in April, and say how much money the legislature has to spend.  Any idea where this thing is going to go down one way or the other and what leadership, including the Governor, are planning whether it's 1%, 5%, 10% less than what they thought?

James Lynch: I suspect they have a variety of plans in mind depending on those numbers.  There's a plan A and a plan B and if it's really bad there's a plan C.  But I think it's generally accepted the numbers are not going to be good.  The question is how bad is it going to be? 

You know the monster is going to jump out and is waiting around the corner but how bad is that monster going to be?  I think that will say a lot about what the legislature does next week and for the rest of the session and probably determine to some point how long the session will last.

Paul Yeager: Any idea if you're going to be coming the full session?  Are they going to 10%?  That was talked about for a while, we'll only go 90 days as opposed to 100 days for this session.

James Lynch: I expect that they're going to try and cut back.  Senate Majority Leader Gronstal keeps talking about April 2nd.  Some legislators say if he keeps talking about April 2nd they might finish by April 9th and there is sort of a legislative logic in that you keep pushing people and you get them out early but not as early as you hoped.  He did make the remark that they might adjourn by St. Patrick's Day, that has come and gone, so I think conventional wisdom right now is they'll be done before Easter.

Paul Yeager: Okay, well that's mid-April, the 12th of April so coming soon.  James Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, thank you so much for coming in tonight, glad to have you here on The Iowa Journal.


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