Iowa Public Television

 

House of Representatives Speaker Christopher Rants

posted on March 22, 2006

Borg: TOUCH PLAY LOSES AT THE IOWA STATEHOUSE, BUT THE COURTS MAY HAVE THE FINAL SPIN. WE'LL QUESTION HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES SPEAKER CHRISTOPHER RANTS ON THIS EDITION OF 'IOWA PRESS.'

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM WAS PROVIDED BY 'FRIENDS,' THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION; BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA, THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE; AND BY CAPITOL RESOURCES, INC., LOCATED IN BROOKLYN, IOWA, AND BY NICOLE SCHLINGER AND ERIC LANGE INDIVIDUALLY, FUND-RAISING AND COMMUNICATION SERVICES FOR MAJOR CAMPAIGNS SINCE 1996.

ON STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION, THIS IS THE FRIDAY, MARCH 17 EDITION OF 'IOWA PRESS.' HERE IS DEAN BORG.

Borg: THE IOWA LEGISLATURE THIS PAST WEEK TOOK ACTION ON ONE OF THE CURRENT SESSION'S MOST CONTROVERSIAL AND EMOTIONAL ISSUES. BOTH THE HOUSE AND THE SENATE VOTED DECISIVELY TO REVERSE LAST YEAR'S APPROVAL OF THE SLOT MACHINE LOOK-ALIKES IN MAIN STREET IOWA BUSINESSES. THE DECISION, WHICH GOVERNOR TOM VILSACK SAYS HE ALSO SUPPORTS, HAS HUGE FINANCIAL IMPLICATIONS. THE STATE LOSES MILLIONS IN GAMBLING REVENUE AND, UNLESS THE COURTS SAY OTHERWISE, THE TOUCH PLAY MACHINE OWNERS LOSE THEIR INVESTMENT. AS SPEAKER OF THE IOWA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, SIOUX CITY REPUBLICAN CHRISTOPHER RANTS HAD A MAJOR ROLE IN THE ISSUE. WELCOME BACK TO 'IOWA PRESS.'

Rants: GOOD TO BE BACK.

Borg: ALSO WITH US HERE AT THE TABLE: 'DES MOINES REGISTER' POLITICAL COLUMNIST DAVID YEPSEN AND 'ASSOCIATED PRESS' SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER MIKE GLOVER.

Glover: SPEAKER RANTS, BRING US UP TO SPEED. THE HOUSE AND THE SENATE HAVE VOTED ON A TOUCH PLAY BAN. THE GOVERNOR HAS SAID HE'LL SIGN A TOUCH PLAY BAN. BUSINESSES THAT RUN THE MACHINES HAVE VAGUELY THREATENED A LAWSUIT OVER IT. WHAT'S THE STATUS OF TOUCH PLAY?

Rants: WELL, TO A CERTAIN EXTENT, I'LL AGREE WITH WHAT THE GOVERNOR SAID AND WHAT YOU JUST SAID. THE HOUSE AND SENATE HAVE BOTH VOTED. THE GOVERNOR IS GOING TO SIGN THE BILL. THE DEBATE IS DONE. IT'S TIME TO MOVE ON TO MORE IMPORTANT ISSUES THAT WE HAVE OUT THERE, WHETHER IT BE SMALL GROUP HEALTH INSURANCE, MEDICAL MALPRACTICE REFORM, COMMERCIAL PROPERTY TAXES. WE HAVE A LOT OF OTHER THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT RIGHT NOW. IF THEY'RE GOING TO PURSUE A LAWSUIT, THAT'S THE COURSE OF ACTION THEY TAKE, THEN THAT WORKS ITS WAY THROUGH THE COURTS. THE LEGISLATURE AND THE GOVERNOR HAS SPOKEN. IT'S TIME TO MOVE THIS SESSION ON TO MORE IMPORTANT ISSUES.

Glover: ISN'T THERE A REALISTIC CHANCE OF ANY FURTHER NEGOTIATIONS OVER THIS, OR IS IT ALL NOW IN THE COURTS?

Rants: I DON'T THINK SO. I THINK IF THEY CHOOSE TO PURSUE IT WITH THE COURTS, THAT'S THEIR BUSINESS. EVERYBODY HAS THAT OPTION. YOU KNOW, THE LEGISLATURE CHANGES THE RULES, WHETHER IT BE IN TERMS OF FARMING, WHETHER IT BE IN BUSINESS. WHATEVER IT MIGHT BE IN DAILY LIFE, NOT EVERYBODY GOES TO THE COURTS TO TRY TO STOP THAT ACTION. WE HAD A CONVERSATION WITH THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BEFORE WE DEBATED THOSE BILLS. THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, WHILE HE CAN NEVER GUARANTEE EVERYTHING, EXPLAINED TO US WE HAVE GOOD, SOUND GROUND TO STAND UPON. I'M CONFIDENT THAT WE'LL PREVAIL. IF THEY CHOOSE TO PURSUE IT, FRANKLY, I THINK THAT WOULD BE A MISTAKE.

Yepsen: MR. SPEAKER, LET'S SET ASIDE WHAT THE COURTS MAY DO AND WHETHER SOMETHING IS LEGAL OR NOT. WHAT ABOUT THOSE SMALL BUSINESSES WHO DID ACT, WHO BOUGHT TOUCH PLAY MACHINES, WHO INVESTED IN THEM, AND WHO ARE OUT A SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT OF MONEY? WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? WHAT IS THE LEGISLATURE SAYING? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TO TRY -- DO YOU EITHER TRY TO HELP THOSE PEOPLE, OR DO YOU JUST TELL THEM TO DROP DEAD?

Rants: WELL, THERE ARE TWO SORT OF RESPONSES TO SEE THAT. ANYTIME YOU GET IN GAMBLING, YOU'RE TAKING A GAMBLE. THE HOUSE, APPARENTLY IN THIS CASE, IS THE COIN TO WIN. THE OTHER RESPONSE IS THAT'S ONE REASON WHY THE HOUSE TOOK ACTION. WE PASSED A SECOND BILL THAT SAME EVENING TO EXTEND THE TIME THROUGH SEPTEMBER 1 TO ALLOW SOME OF THOSE FOLKS TO TRY TO RECOUP THEIR INVESTMENT. ONE OF THE CHALLENGES IN THIS WHOLE DEBATE WAS ACTUALLY GETTING GOOD INFORMATION, GETTING A LOOK AT THE CONTRACTS TO SEE EXACTLY WHERE THE RESPONSIBILITY OR THE LIABILITY LIES AND WHAT THE RELATIONSHIP IS BETWEEN THE MANUFACTURERS AND THE VENDORS AND THE SMALLER RETAILERS. YOU'VE GOT TO REMEMBER, A LOT OF THESE SMALL BUSINESSES, WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT THE RETAILERS, THE RETAILERS DON'T ACTUALLY OWN THOSE MACHINES. THOSE MACHINES ARE ACTUALLY OWNED BY SOMEONE ELSE. THOSE ARE THE FOLKS WHO I UNDERSTAND STAND A CHANCE TO LOSE SOME OF THEIR INVESTMENT. A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE SAYING THE AMOUNT OF MONEY THAT'S BEING MADE ON THOSE MACHINES IS GOING A LONG WAY TOWARD REPLACING THAT INVESTMENT.

Yepsen: SO YOU WOULD ALLOW THEM TO KEEP THEM UNTIL SEPTEMBER 1.

Rants: THE HOUSE PASSED A BILL THAT SAID THEY COULD KEEP THEM TO SEPTEMBER 1 BUT, FRANKLY, YOU NEED TO END THIS THIS YEAR. IF YOU DON'T END IT THIS YEAR, IT WILL NEVER GO AWAY. YOU'LL HAVE NOT 10,000, BUT YOU'LL HAVE 20,000 MACHINES ACROSS THE STATE.

Yepsen: AND THAT BILL IS IN THE SENATE, THEN?

Rants: THAT BILL IS IN THE SENATE.

Borg: HOW ARE YOU GOING TO USE THE REVENUE THAT HE HAVE DERIVED SO FAR FROM TOUCH PLAY?

Rants: WELL, THE MONEY THAT HAS COME IN SO FAR HAS NOT BEEN BUILT INTO OUR REVENUE ESTIMATE, SO THAT'S MONEY THAT THE STATE IS NOT COUNTING ON RECEIVING. I IMAGINE THAT NEXT WEEK WHEN THE REVENUE ESTIMATING CONFERENCE MEETS THAT THEY WILL ACCOUNT FOR SOME OF THAT MONEY. THAT MONEY IS IN FISCAL YEAR '06, THE YEAR WE ARE NOW THREE-QUARTERS OF THE WAY THROUGH. YOU SHOULDN'T BE SPENDING THAT MONEY. THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS THAT THAT MONEY SHOULD CONTINUE TO FLOW INTO OUR CASH RESERVE. AND OUR CASH RESERVE HELPS TO COVER OUR PROPERTY TAX CREDITS. WE HAVE A PROPERTY TAX CREDIT ACCOUNT. IT WOULD BE NICE TO HAVE SOME OF THAT MONEY IN THERE. IF WE ARE ABLE TO KEEP OUR HANDS OFF OF IT AND EXERCISE SOME FISCAL DISCIPLINE, WHEN THAT FLOWS INTO THE CASH RESERVE, THAT WILL THEN FULLY FUND OUR CASH RESERVE. WE'LL BE UP TO 7.5 PERCENT LIKE WE'RE REQUIRED TO BE BY LAW. THE MONEY WILL ALSO THEN FLOW INTO REPAYING OUR SENIOR LIVING TRUST FUND. REMEMBER WE BORROWED MONEY FROM THE SENIOR LIVING TRUST FUND TO HELP COVER OUR MEDICAID COSTS WHEN THE BUDGET WAS TIGHT. IF WE ALLOW THAT MONEY TO FLOW IN, THAT WILL THEN GET OUR SENIOR LIVING TRUST FUND UP TO ABOUT ONE-THIRD OF THE WAY FULL. THAT'S A GOOD START. WE'RE CONTINUING TO MAKE PROGRESS BUT WE STILL HAVE A LONG WAYS TO GO. SO I THINK WE NEED TO LEAVE THAT MONEY ALONE, LET IT PAY FOR THOSE TWO THINGS, AND THEN WE CAN MOVE ON WITH THE REST OF THE BUDGET.

Glover: SPEAKER RANTS, THE LEGISLATURE HAS SPENT A LOT OF THE FIRST COUPLE OF MONTHS OF THIS LEGISLATIVE SESSION ARGUING ABOUT LEGALIZED GAMBLING, TOUCH PLAY, SLOT MACHINES, AND ALL THAT. THAT'S TAKEN A LOT OF IOWANS BY SURPRISE. THEY DIDN'T REALIZE THIS ISSUE WAS OUT THERE. HOW DID WE GET INTO THIS?

Rants: I THINK WE GOT -- HOW DID WE GET INTO IT IS THE QUESTION THAT EVERYBODY HAS BEEN ASKING, AND THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF FINGER POINTING AND DEBATE GOING BACK AND FORTH. WE HAD THAT CONVERSATION THE LAST TIME I WAS ON THIS PROGRAM, THAT PEOPLE WERE CAUGHT BY SURPRISE. A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE SAID, YOU KNOW, SOMEBODY NEEDS TO OWN UP TO THEIR MISTAKE. I'LL OWN UP TO MINE. NEVER AGAIN WILL I GO ALONG WITH A GOVERNOR WHO WANTS TO PUT SOMETHING INTO A BILL ON THE LAST DAY OF SESSION, OMNIBUS APPROPRIATIONS BILL THAT CREATES THINGS LIKE CHARTER AUTHORITIES OR CHARTER AGENCIES, WHICH SUDDENLY GIVES A DIVISION LIKE THE LOTTERY -- MAKES THEM MUCH MORE AUTONOMOUS AND DOESN'T MAKE THEM ACCOUNTABLE TO THE LEGISLATURE THROUGH THE BUDGETING PROCESS OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT. THAT WAS MY MISTAKE. I'LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. BUT I THINK THAT WHEN THE LOTTERY ENACTED THIS OR THE LOTTERY WENT DOWN THIS PATH, THEY DID CATCH EVERYONE BY SURPRISE, BOTH LEGISLATORS AND IOWANS, WHEN SUDDENLY ALMOST OVERNIGHT WE SEE THOUSANDS OF THESE MACHINES INSTALLED ALL ACROSS IOWA. AND IT'S PERVERSELY IRONIC THAT IF THE GOVERNOR HADN'T PUT HIS MORATORIUM IN PLACE, THE NUMBER OF MACHINES WOULD BE DOUBLED BY TODAY. AND THEN I THINK YOU WOULD REALLY SEE IOWANS CRYING FOUL.

Glover: AND THERE ARE THOSE WHO SUGGEST THAT THE REAL DRIVING FORCE THAT WENT INTO THIS WAS THE SHEER NUMBERS OF THESE MACHINES --

Rants: THAT'S CORRECT.

Glover: -- THAT IF THERE HAD BEEN 1,000 OR 1,500 OF THESE MACHINES AROUND THE STATE, NOTHING WOULD HAVE HAPPENED. BUT NOBODY ANTICIPATED --

Rants: WHEN DIRECTOR STANEK TALKED TO THE LEGISLATORS, HE WAS TALKING ABOUT -- TEST MARKETING FOUR HUNDRED AND SOME MACHINES. THERE'S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN 400 AND 4,000 MACHINES. AND IT IS THE SHEER NUMBERS I THINK THAT HAS REALLY DRIVEN THIS DEBATE. UNFORTUNATELY, IT'S BEEN A DISTRACTION.

Yepsen: MR. SPEAKER, WHEN YOU WERE OUT HERE LAST TIME, I ALSO ASKED YOU IF ED STANEK SHOULD BE FIRED. YOU HAD TO STOP AND THINK ABOUT IT AND SORT OF TOOK A WAIT-AND-SEE POSITION. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT IT MORE AFTER THIS? I MEAN SHOULD ED STANEK GO?

Rants: WHAT I BELIEVE SHOULD HAPPEN IS, DAVID, I BELIEVE THE IOWA LOTTERY SHOULD BE RETURNED UNDER -- I THINK THEIR CHARTER AUTHORITY PROVISION SHOULD BE REVOKED. I THINK THEY SHOULD BE RETURNED UNDER THE DEPARTMENT OF INSPECTION AND APPEALS. I THINK THEIR BUDGET SHOULD BE APPROVED BY THE LEGISLATURE. THE LEGISLATURE SHOULD HAVE A LOT MORE OVERSIGHT THAN THE LOTTERY. AS I SAID, OUR MISTAKE WAS IN ALLOWING THE LOTTERY TO BECOME A CHARTER AUTHORITY, AND WE GAVE THEM TOO MUCH INDEPENDENCE. AND PARTICULARLY, THE ABILITY TO CREATE ALL KINDS OF GAMES AND MARKET THEM AND DOING WHATEVER THEY WANTED WAS A MISTAKE THAT EVERYONE MADE.

Glover: AND A DEBATE THAT'S BEEN RUNNING UNDER THE SURFACE OF ALL OF THIS DEBATE OVER TOUCH PLAY HAS BEEN ABOUT THE FUTURE OF GAMBLING. A LOT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TYPES HAVE TOLD ME QUIETLY AND PRIVATELY THAT ONE OF THEIR WORRIES IS THIS HAS ENERGIZED THE GAMBLING OPPONENT LOBBY AND THAT THERE MIGHT BE A FULL-FLEDGED PITCH TO JUST TOSS OUT GAMBLING ENTIRELY. I TALKED TO A GUY WHO HAS SOME TOUCH PLAY MACHINES WHO SAID, 'THAT'S FINE, SHUT THEM DOWN. IF YOU'RE GONNA SHUT ME DOWN, SHUT DOWN THE CASINOS. SHUT THEM ALL DOWN.'

Rants: AND I THINK THAT THAT -- YOU KNOW, THIS IS THE FIRST TIME SINCE THE LOTTERY GOT STARTED THAT THE GAMBLING OPPONENTS HAVE WON, AND THAT WAS PART OF THE DEBATE TUESDAY NIGHT IN TRYING TO GET THAT BILL DOWN TO THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE WITHOUT AMENDING IT AND POTENTIALLY ALLOWING THE BILL TO BE STALLED. YOU KNOW, IT WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE HOW THAT PLAYS OUT IN THE FUTURE. WE STILL HAVE SOME LEGISLATION OUT THERE ABOUT HORSE PURSES AND HORSE RACING AT PRAIRIE MEADOWS. AND MY GOAL IS TO KEEP THAT LEGISLATION LIMITED TO JUST THIS ISSUE OF HORSE PURSES AND NOT ALLOW IT TO EXPAND INTO OTHER FORMS OF GAMBLING.

Yepsen: I WANT TO CHANGE SUBJECTS. YOU SAID HERE A COUPLE TIMES THAT THIS DEBATE HAS CROWDED OUT OTHER ISSUES IN THE LEGISLATURE. YOU'VE MENTIONED A FEW. WHAT HAS IT CROWDED OUT?

Rants: WELL, IT'S -- UNFORTUNE -- THE LEGISLATION IS ALL MOVING ALONG NICELY. BEAR IN MIND, WE HAVE SPENT I THINK EIGHT HOURS OF DEBATE TIME ON THAT PARTICULAR BILL. BUT IT'S DOMINATED THE MEDIA AND IT'S DOMINATED THE HEADLINES AND IT HAS BEEN A DISTRACTION IN TERMS OF WHAT THE PUBLIC CONVERSATION IS ABOUT. WE'VE GOT OTHER PIECES OF LEGISLATION THAT WE'RE ACTUALLY GOING TO START TAKING ACTION ON IN THE NEXT WEEK. ONE OF THEM HAS TO DO WITH SMALL GROUP INSURANCE TRYING TO EXPAND INTO ASSOCIATION POOLS SO THAT EMPLOYERS CAN GET A BETTER PRICE ON THEIR INSURANCE COSTS. REPRESENTATIVE STRUYK AND A FAIRLY LARGE PARTISAN SUBCOMMITTEE HAS BEEN WORKING ON THAT SINCE BEFORE SESSION STARTED. REPRESENTATIVE PAULSEN BROUGHT IT UP AT THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE AND WILL TAKE IT UP AT THE END OF NEXT WEEK, LEGISLATION DEALING WITH MEDICAL MALPRACTICE -- GOING INTO THE I'M SORRY PROVISION IS WHAT SOME PEOPLE ARE CALLING IT -- TRYING TO BREAK DOWN THAT WALL THAT IS SOMETIMES ERECTED BY THE LITIGATORS WHEN THERE'S AN ADVERSE OUTCOME IN A MEDICAL PROCEDURE. WE'VE STILL GOT LEGISLATION THAT WE'RE GOING TO PURSUE AGAIN THIS YEAR COMING OUT OF THE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE NEXT WEEK, LOOKING AT TRYING TO CONTROL THE COST OF COMMERCIAL HEALTH INSURANCE -- EXCUSE ME, OF COMMERCIAL PROPERTY TAXES. IOWA HAS THE THIRD HIGHEST COMMERCIAL PROPERTY TAX RATE IN THE COUNTRY. WE'RE GOING TO BRING THAT OUT OF WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE NEXT WEEK. AND WE ALSO HAVE THE RENEWABLE FUELS DEBATE. WE'VE MOVED THAT LEGISLATION THROUGH THE AGRICULTURE COMMITTEE, AND IT IS SOMETHING THAT APPROPRIATIONS NOW HAS TO KICK OUT NEXT WEEK. THOSE ARE FIVE BIG ISSUES, OR AT LEAST -- I LOST COUNT THERE -- FOUR OR FIVE BIG ISSUES THAT ARE MOVING THROUGH THE PROCESS THAT YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ON THE FRONT PAGE OF THE NEWSPAPER.

Yepsen: DO YOU HAVE ANY REASON TO BELIEVE THE GOVERNOR IS GOING TO SIGN ANY OF THIS, OR IS THIS JUST SOME OF THIS PARTISAN STUFF?

Rants: WELL, I CERTAINLY HOPE SO. I MEAN I'VE HAD A CONVERSATION WITH THE GOVERNOR ABOUT MEDICAL MALPRACTICE. HE'S EXPRESSED SOME CONCERNS, SAID SOME THINGS HE'D LIKE TO SEE INCLUDED IN IT. I DON'T THINK ANYONE CAN DISAGREE WITH THE FACT THAT OUR HIGH COST OF HEALTH INSURANCE IS MAKING IT VERY DIFFICULT ON SMALL EMPLOYERS TO PROVIDE THAT TO THEIR EMPLOYEES. THE GOVERNOR ARTICULATED, AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SESSION, A MODEL BASED ON THE NEW YORK MODEL OF REINSURANCE ON THE PART OF THE STATE. WE'RE PURSUING A MODEL THAT'S MORE LIKE TEXAS, ALLOWING EMPLOYERS TO GROUP THEMSELVES TOGETHER TO TRY TO COMMAND A BETTER RATE. I THINK THERE'S BIPARTISAN SUPPORT FOR ALL OF THESE PARTICULAR ISSUES, BUT WE'VE GOT A LIMITED AMOUNT OF TIME TO GET THEM FINISHED.

Borg: DID I HEAR YOU SAY THAT, IN WHAT YOU INTEND TO DO YET THIS SESSION, THAT YOU WANT TO REDUCE THE AUTONOMY OF THE LOTTERY THIS SESSION?

Rants: I WOULD LIKE TO. THE GOVERNOR HAS EXPRESSED A RELUCTANCE TO DO THAT. THIS WAS SOMETHING I GAVE ON. I DID NOT PUT THAT IN THE BILL THAT WE DEBATED THIS WEEK, BUT I THINK YOU'LL SEE THAT DEBATE STILL COME THIS SESSION.

Glover: YOU'VE GOT ABOUT A MONTH TO GO IN THIS LEGISLATIVE SESSION -- OR THE SCHEDULE, HAVE ABOUT A MONTH TO GO IN THIS LEGISLATIVE SESSION. YOU'VE SKETCHED OUT A NUMBER OF ISSUES. YOU'VE TALKED ABOUT THE IMPACT THAT TOUCH PLAY HAS HAD. WHAT WILL THE LEGACY OF THIS SESSION BE?

Rants: I THINK IT WILL BE ON A NUMBER OF FRONTS. ONE, WE STILL HAVE A GROUP THAT IS FOCUSED ON EDUCATION REFORM. A GROUP OF REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS HAVE BEEN MEETING WITH THE GOVERNOR, AND I THINK YOU'LL STILL SEE SOME -- I STILL THINK YOU'LL SEE A PRODUCT THAT COMES OUT OF THAT THAT ADDRESSES SOME OF THE CONCERNS REPUBLICANS HAVE RAISED ABOUT ACCOUNTABILITY AND PERFORMANCE, LOOKING AT HOW LONG THE SCHOOL YEAR LASTS, THINGS OF THAT NATURE AND, OF COURSE, STILL TALKING ABOUT TEACHER SALARIES. I THINK YOU'LL SEE A COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION PACKAGE COME FORWARD BEFORE THE SESSION IS OVER. BUT I HOPE THAT WE CAN MOVE FORWARD ON SOME OF THIS LEGISLATION, TRYING TO CREATE A BETTER BUSINESS CLIMATE IN THE STATE, TRYING TO MAKE INSURANCE MORE AFFORDABLE FOR THOSE EMPLOYERS THAT ARE TRYING TO PROVIDE IT TO THEIR EMPLOYEES. THERE MAY BE NOT BE A LANDMARK ISSUE. AND I KNOW PEOPLE LIKE TO LOOK FOR THOSE LANDMARK ISSUES AND, YOU KNOW, SAY THE SESSION WAS ABOUT ONE THING. THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS, WHETHER IT BE ABOUT RENEWABLE FUELS, WHETHER IT BE ABOUT HEALTH INSURANCE, WHETHER IT BE ABOUT PROPERTY TAXES, ALL OF THOSE THINGS NEED TO BE ADDRESSED AND ALL OF THOSE THINGS WILL MAKE IOWA A BETTER PLACE IF WE'RE SUCCESSFUL.

Yepsen: MR. SPEAKER, WILL YOU RAISE THE CIGARETTE TAX?

Rants: I DON'T THINK I SEE THAT HAPPENING. I KNOW MUCH HAS BEEN MADE ABOUT THAT, AND SUPPOSEDLY THERE'S THIS LETTER OUT HERE WITH REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS ASKING THEM TO CALL IT TO A VOTE. I HAVEN'T ACTUALLY RECEIVED THAT LETTER. I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO RECEIVING THAT LETTER. BUT IT'S STILL GOT TO MOVE THROUGH THE PROCESS. IT HASN'T COME OUT OF WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE. AND AGAIN, GIVEN THE FACT THAT WE'RE FULLY FUNDING MEDICAID THIS YEAR -- REPUBLICANS' BUDGET THAT WE PASSED WITH BIPARTISAN SUPPORT TWO DAYS AGO FULLY FUNDS MEDICAID WITHOUT RAISING THE CIGARETTE TAX. WE PUT MORE MONEY INTO HEALTH CARE. WE'RE ADEQUATELY FUNDING OTHER PARTS OF STATE GOVERNMENT. YOU DON'T NEED IT FOR THE REVENUE. NOBODY SEEMS TO DISPUTE THAT. SOME OF THE ADVOCATES FOR RAISING CIGARETTE TAX SAY THROW THE MONEY IN THE RIVER, WE DON'T CARE WHAT YOU DO WITH IT. UNFORTUNATELY, THAT'S NOT A REAL-WORLD OPTION. IT IS A DECLINING SOURCE OF REVENUE. WE KNOW IN IOWA THAT SMOKING IS ON THE DECLINE. IT'S DECLINING NATIONWIDE. AT THE SAME TIME WE'RE STILL COMMITTING STATE DOLLARS TO REDUCING UNDERAGE SMOKING. ONE OF THE THINGS WE PUT INTO OUR HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES BUDGET IS ADDITIONAL DOLLARS TO TRY TO PREVENT YOUNG PEOPLE FROM STARTING TO SMOKE TO BEGIN WITH. IF YOU RAISE THAT CIGARETTE TAX, YOU ARE THEN GOING TO SPEND THAT MONEY BUILDING UP A BUDGET INCREASE ON A DECLINING SOURCE OF REVENUE. IT DOES NOT MAKE FISCAL SENSE TO ME TO DO THAT.

Yepsen: FORGET THE REVENUE, MR. SPEAKER. WHAT ABOUT DOING OTHER THINGS TO MAKE SMOKING LESS POPULAR? MANY STATES, THEY'RE STARTING TO BAN IT FROM RESTAURANTS. I WAS JUST IN MASSACHUSETTS. YOU CANNOT SMOKE ANYPLACE THAT IS A WORKPLACE. WHAT ABOUT HAVING IOWA DO THINGS LIKE THAT?

Rants: I THINK OUR EMPHASIS THIS YEAR IS GOING TO BE ON UNDERAGE SMOKING. WE'RE GOING TO PUT ADDITIONAL -- I WANT TO SAY IT'S $4- OR $5 MILLION TOWARD CESSATION EFFORTS. YOU NEED TO HELP THOSE FOLKS THAT WANT TO QUIT FIRST AND FOREMOST AND TRY TO STOP YOUNG PEOPLE FROM STARTING THE HABIT, AND THAT'S WHAT WE'RE GOING TO DO THIS YEAR.

Glover: LET'S TURN TO ONE OF THE ISSUES YOU SAID YOU WANT TO FOCUS ON, AND THAT'S EDUCATION. JUST THIS PAST WEEK THE HOUSE PASSED AN EDUCATION BUDGET BILL THAT CRITICS SAY INCLUDES NO MONEY FOR TEACHER PAY INCREASES OR NO MONEY FOR EARLY CHILDHOOD PRESCHOOL PROGRAMS. HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THE CRITICISM TO THAT BILL, AND WAS THAT SIMPLY AN OPENING OFFER IN A ROUND OF NEGOTIATIONS?

Rants: WHEN THE HOUSE REPUBLICANS PUT OUT OUR BUDGET PROPOSAL WHICH, BY THE WAY, IS A 3.4-PERCENT INCREASE THIS YEAR. WE'RE INCREASING SPENDING $281 MILLION. WE HAVE SAID FROM THE BEGINNING WE BELIEVE THERE'S MONEY THAT CAN BE FOUND WITHIN THAT BUDGET TO FUND A TEACHER SALARY INCREASE. THERE'S MONEY THAT CAN BE FOUND IN THAT BUDGET TO FOCUS ON EARLY CHILDHOOD. BUT WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO NEGOTIATE THAT OUT.

Glover: SO THIS WAS THE FIRST OFFER.

Rants: WE HAVE MOVED OUR BUDGET PROCESS THROUGH -- ALL OF THE BUDGET BILLS HAVE NOW MOVED THROUGH THE HOUSE. I REMEMBER WHEN REPRESENTATIVE RAECKER WAS HERE AND WHEN I WAS HERE EARLIER, WE SAID WE'D HAVE THAT DONE BY ST. PATRICK'S DAY. I THINK YOU TWO WERE KIND OF SKEPTICAL THAT WE'D BE ABLE TO DO THAT, BUT WE'VE NOW ACCOMPLISHED THAT. AND THEY ALL PASSED WITH BIPARTISAN SUPPORT, BY THE WAY. WE HAVE THIS GROUP THAT IS WORKING WITH THE GOVERNOR TALKING ABOUT MORE THAN JUST MONEY. THE REPUBLICANS BELIEVE IT'S ABOUT MORE THAN JUST MONEY. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE CLASSROOM. THERE'S SOME POLICY INITIATIVES THAT WE'RE INTERESTED IN. WE'RE READY TO HAVE THAT DEBATE ABOUT STATEWIDE STANDARDS. WE WANT TO TALK ABOUT HOW WE TALK ABOUT STUDENT PERFORMANCE AND STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT. WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE 21ST -- OR THE TOMORROW'S WORK FORCE COMMISSION THAT MARVIN POMERANTZ AND BOB KOOB HEADED UP, THEY TALKED ABOUT MORE THAN JUST MONEY. MONEY IS A KEY COMPONENT BUT THEY ALSO TALKED ABOUT PERFORMANCE AND TYING THINGS TO PERFORMANCE AND ACHIEVEMENT. THIS GROUP THAT IS WORKING WITH THE GOVERNOR IS LOOKING AT BOTH. YOU CAN'T DO ONE WITHOUT THE OTHER.

Glover: SO AT THE END OF THE DAY, YOU'LL HAVE MONEY IN THE BUDGET FOR TEACHER PAY --

Rants: I BELIEVE THERE WILL BE MONEY IN THE BUDGET.

Glover: -- MONEY IN THE BUDGET FOR PRESCHOOL PROGRAMS AND THESE SO-CALLED EDUCATION REFORMS?

Rants: I THINK YOU HAVE TO HAVE ALL -- I THINK YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE REFORMS IF YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT THE MONEY. THE KEY THING WHEN WE TALK ABOUT THE MONEY -- I'M NOT GOING TO SIT HERE AND TELL YOU TODAY THAT THERE ISN'T A PROBLEM WITH TEACHER SALARIES. I THINK EVERYBODY RECOGNIZES THAT IOWA HAS A WAYS TO GO. PART OF OUR PROBLEM RIGHT NOW IS WITH BEGINNING TEACHERS. REMEMBER, WE'RE IN A RETIREMENT BUBBLE. WHEN SOME OF OUR MORE EXPERIENCED TEACHERS WHO ARE AT THE HIGHER END OF THE PAY SCALE RETIRE, WE REPLACE THEM WITH YOUNGER TEACHERS THAT MAKE LESS MONEY. THAT IS A CHALLENGE WE HAVE TO REALIZE THAT IF WE'RE GOING TO RECRUIT THOSE BEGINNING TEACHERS, WE HAVE TO PUT AN EMPHASIS ON BEGINNING TEACHERS. WE ALSO KNOW WE'RE LOSING THOSE MATH AND SCIENCE TEACHERS. AND THERE AREN'T THE KIDS IN COLLEGE TODAY GOING INTO THOSE SUBJECT MATTERS TO REPLACE THOSE TEACHERS THAT ARE RETIRING. WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO FOCUS ON MATH AND SCIENCE. THAT'S WHERE IT GETS CONTROVERSIAL. THE ISCA AND OTHERS DON'T LIKE LOOKING AT SELECTED FIELDS. AND I -- THE LAST TIME I SAID THAT, I GOT A LOT OF CALLS FROM MUSIC TEACHERS AND ART TEACHERS. BUT IT'S A MARKETPLACE THAT'S AT WORK HERE, AND WE'VE GOT TO BE ABLE TO RECRUIT THOSE KIDS.

Yepsen: I WANT TO PIN YOU DOWN OR GET YOU TO FLUSH OUT THE THINGS REPUBLICANS HAVE TO HAVE IN THAT EDUCATION PACKAGE. YOU MENTIONED TWO THINGS HERE: TOUGHER STATE STANDARDS AND BASING THINGS ON PERFORMANCE. THOSE ARE KIND OF AMBIGUOUS TO ME. TELL ME WHAT REPUBLICANS HAVE TO HAVE OUT OF THIS.

Rants: WELL, WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT THOSE ARE PART OF THE PACKAGE.

Yepsen: WHAT DO THEY DO?

Rants: WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT WE ARE -- WE ARE TALKING ABOUT PROFICIENCY. WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT WE AREN'T JUST PUTTING MORE MONEY INTO A SYSTEM THAT ISN'T EXPECTING MORE OUT OF OUR KIDS. REPUBLICANS HAVE ALSO PASSED SOME OTHER INITIATIVES. WE'VE STARTED OUR JUMP-START PROGRAM, AIMED AT BEING ABLE TO HELP THOSE KIDS IN TWELVE TWELFTH GRADE IF THEY'RE READY TO MOVE ON TO COLLEGE. WE'VE TALKED ABOUT TRYING TO PROVIDE MORE INFORMATION TO THE TAXPAYER AND TO PARENTS. WE HAD A KEY VOTE LAST WEEK ON WHETHER OR NOT PARENTS SHOULD BE FULL PARTNERS IN DETERMINING THEIR KIDS' EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES AND THEIR FUTURES. IT TURNED INTO A PARTISAN VOTE. I'M NOT ENTIRELY SURE WHY. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT POLICY INITIATIVES THAT REPRESENTATIVE TYMESON AND THE EDUCATION COMMITTEE HAVE PUT FORWARD. ALL OF THOSE ARE AT PLAY WHEN WE TALK ABOUT THE MONEY. AND THOSE ARE NEGOTIATIONS THAT I THINK ARE GOING ON AND ARE MOVING FORWARD.

Borg: IS ANYTHING LIKELY IN LEGISLATION ON ETHANOL YET THIS SESSION? IF SO, WHAT MIGHT IT BE?

Rants: ABSOLUTELY. THE HOUSE AGRICULTURE COMMITTEE PASSED OUT A BILL THAT MOVES US TOWARD A 25-PERCENT RENEWABLE FUELS PORTFOLIO -- OR RENEWABLE FUEL STANDARD BY THE YEAR 2025. IT'S NOW UNDER APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE BECAUSE WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO FIND SOME ADDITIONAL DOLLARS. I THINK IT WILL BE $6 MILLION OVER THREE YEARS TO PUT INTO REPLACING TANKS WITH E85 TANKS. THIS IS SOMETHING THAT BOTH PARTIES ARE SUPPORTIVE OF. I THINK WE'RE MOVING JUST A LITTLE BIT FASTER IN THE HOUSE. THAT WILL COME OUT OF APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE I HOPE THIS WEEK AND BE ELIGIBLE FOR DEBATE THE FOLLOWING WEEK. WE'RE TAKING A COUPLE DIFFERENT TRACKS ON RENEWABLE FUELS. IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT ETHANOL. IT'S ABOUT RENEWABLE FUELS. THAT ALSO INCLUDES SOY DIESEL. IT ALSO INCLUDES WHAT WE'RE DOING TO EXPAND THE CREDITS OR EXPAND THE TIME FRAME TO APPLY FOR THE CREDITS FOR WIND TURBINES IN THE STATE. WE'VE GOT A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO REALLY FOCUS ON RENEWABLE FUELS AND MAKE IOWA MORE ENERGY INDEPENDENT, AND I WON'T BE SATISFIED WITH THIS SESSION IF WE DON'T GET THAT BILL PASSED AND DOWN TO THE GOVERNOR.

Yepsen: MR. SPEAKER, WE ALWAYS TALK POLITICS ON THIS SHOW.

Rants: OF COURSE.

Yepsen: LAST WEEK THE POLLS SHOWED REPUBLICANS IN DEEP TROUBLE. PRESIDENT BUSH'S JOB APPROVAL IS APPROACHING RICHARD NIXON'S LEVELS. REPUBLICANS HAVE LOST THEIR ADVANTAGE NATIONALLY ON TERRORISM. HOW BAD A BATH IS THE REPUBLICAN PARTY GOING TO TAKE IN THE 2006 ELECTION?

Rants: I'M VERY CONCERNED ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENVIRONMENT, AND I'M MORE CONCERNED ABOUT THE NATIONAL ENVIRONMENT THAN WHAT'S GOING ON HERE IN IOWA. I THINK IOWANS RIGHT NOW, THE LAST TIME WE CHECKED OUR POLLS, IOWANS HAVE A PRETTY GOOD APPROVAL STANDARD OF WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE IOWA LEGISLATURE. AND, OF COURSE, WE'VE GOT REPUBLICANS IN CONTROL IN THE HOUSE, SO THAT'S GOOD NEWS FOR US. I PLACE A LOT OF CONFIDENCE IN THE FACT I THINK IOWANS ARE TICKET SPLITTERS. IOWANS UNDERSTAND THERE'S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THEIR COURTHOUSE AND STATEHOUSE FOLKS FROM SOME OF THE FOLKS IN WASHINGTON, D.C. IF THEY DON'T, I'M IN TROUBLE. IF THEY DO, THEN I THINK I'M JUST FINE.

Yepsen: SO HOW WORRIED ARE YOU IF THE LAND STARTS TO SLIDE HERE THAT ALL YOUR EFFORTS WILL JUST --

Rants: IN MARGINAL RACES, IT WILL BE TOUGH. IN MARGINAL RACES, IT WILL BE TOUGH. I CAN'T DENY THAT. BUT WE'VE HAD A GREAT YEAR RECRUITING CANDIDATES. AND WHAT'S TO MY ADVANTAGE RIGHT NOW IS A LOT OF THE CANDIDATES THAT STEPPED FORWARD AND PUT THEIR NAMES ON THE BALLOT THIS WEEK AND FILED THEIR NOMINATION PAPERS THIS WEEK ARE LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS. WE'VE GOT A CITY COUNCILMAN FROM MARION, IOWA, WHO PUT HIS NAME ON THE BALLOT, NICK WAGNER. I'VE GOT SCOTT BELT, CITY COUNCILMAN IN COUNCIL BLUFFS, PUT HIS NAME ON THE BALLOT. SHERIFF GREG ORR IN MUSCATINE PUT HIS NAME ON THE BALLOT. SO THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO THEIR COMMUNITIES HAVE VOTED FOR BEFORE AND ARE NOW ASKING THEM TO VOTE FOR THEM AGAIN ON ANOTHER KIND OF RACE.

Glover: AND TODAY IS THE DEADLINE FOR CANDIDATES TO FILE THEIR NOMINATING PETITIONS TO GET ON THE BALLOT. PAT MURPHY, THE DEMOCRATIC LEADER OF THE HOUSE, SAYS THERE ARE 47 INCUMBENT DEMOCRATS RUNNING FOR REELECTION, 46 INCUMBENT REPUBLICANS RUNNING FOR REELECTION. HE SAYS HE HAS A SHOT IN FOUR OF THE OPEN DISTRICTS THAT YOU'RE LOSING. IS HE RIGHT?

Rants: I DON'T THINK HE HAS A SHOT IN FOUR OF THE OPEN DISTRICTS. I THINK HE'S GOT A SHOT IN MAYBE ONE OR TWO OF THE OPEN DISTRICTS. I WILL GRANT THAT THE WILLARD JENKINS RACE WHERE WE HAVE DAVE WEILAND RUNNING IN IN WATERLOO WILL PROBABLY BE ONE OF THE HOTTEST RACES IN THE STATE. JEFF ELGIN'S OPEN SEAT WHERE WE HAVE ANDY ANDERSON AS A CANDIDATE IN CEDAR RAPIDS WILL BE ONE OF THE HOTTEST RACES IN THE STATE. THOSE ARE THE TWO BATTLEGROUND OPEN SEATS. IF I WERE REPRESENTATIVE MURPHY, I'D BE A LOT MORE WORRIED ABOUT PROTECTING SOME OF MY INCUMBENTS.

Glover: WHO ARE YOU GOING TO KNOCK OUT?

Rants: IN COUNCIL BLUFFS, I THINK THE SCOTT BELT VERSUS PAUL SHOMSHOR RACE WILL BE VERY HOT. STATE SENATOR DOUG SHULL IS RUNNING FOR THE IOWA HOUSE AGAINST MARK DAVITT, WHO'S NEVER HAD A RACE, IN INDIANOLA. SHERIFF GREG ORR IN MUSCATINE RUNNING AGAINST NATHAN REICHERT. THAT'S SORT OF MY I-80 CORRIDOR. AND THEN YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE RACES IN CEDAR RAPIDS OR IN BLACK HAWK COUNTY, WE'VE GOT SOME OTHER GREAT CANDIDATES. I FEEL VERY GOOD ABOUT THE FIELD OF CANDIDATES THAT REPUBLICANS ARE PUTTING ON THE BALLOT THIS YEAR. I THINK IT'S OUR STRONGEST EVER.

Yepsen: MR. SPEAKER, WE'VE ONLY GOT ABOUT FIFTEEN SECONDS LEFT. SENATOR GRASSLEY WAS SITTING IN THAT SEAT A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, AND HE WAS VERY ADAMANT ABOUT THE FACT THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS TO DO A BETTER JOB ON ABSENTEE BALLOTS. DO YOU AGREE?

Rants: THE SENATOR IS CORRECT.

Yepsen: WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?

Rants: WE DO NEED TO DO A BETTER JOB. ONE OF THE THINGS, HOUSE REPUBLICANS WILL BE CONDUCTING SOME OF OUR OWN ABSENTEE BALLOT PROGRAMS TO HOPEFULLY COMPLEMENT OR ADD TO WHAT THE STATE PARTY IS DOING. HE'S CORRECT ABOUT THAT ASSESSMENT.

Borg: DECISION TIME COMES IN JUNE AND THEN NOVEMBER.

Rants: THAT'S CORRECT.

Borg: OURS IS RIGHT NOW. WE'RE OUT OF TIME. THANKS FOR BEING WITH US TODAY.

Rants: THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Borg: ON OUR NEXT EDITION OF 'IOWA PRESS,' IOWA STATEHOUSE REPORTERS PROVIDE THEIR INSIGHT ON THE WORK OF THE IOWA GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND OTHER NUANCES IN IOWA POLITICS. AND WE'LL BE RETURNING TO OUR REGULAR 'IOWA PRESS' AIRTIMES NEXT WEEK, SO YOU'LL SEE THAT REPORTERS ROUNDTABLE AT 7:30 FRIDAY NIGHT, WITH A REPEAT SUNDAY MORNING AT 11:30. I'M DEAN BORG. THANKS FOR JOINING US TODAY. CAPTIONS BY: MIDWEST CAPTIONING DES MOINES, IOWA.

FUNDING FOR THIS PROGRAM WAS PROVIDED BY 'FRIENDS,' THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION; BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS; BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA, THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE; AND BY CAPITOL RESOURCES, INC., LOCATED IN BROOKLYN, IOWA; AND BY NICOLE SCHLINGER AND ERIC LANGE INDIVIDUALLY, FUND-RAISING AND COMMUNICATION SERVICES FOR MAJOR CAMPAIGNS SINCE 1996.

Tags: Iowa