Iowa Public Television

 

Sen. Mike Gronstal

posted on November 27, 2006

>>

Borg: SHARING NO MORE. DEMOCRATS CONTROL THE IOWA SENATE AND MIKE GRONSTAL LEADS THEM. WE'LL QUESTION MAJORITY LEADER MIKE GRONSTAL ON THIS EDITION OF 'IOWA PRESS.'

FUNDING FOR 'IOWA PRESS' WAS PROVIDED BY 'FRIENDS,' THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION; AND BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS.

ON STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION, THIS IS THE FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 24 EDITION OF 'IOWA PRESS.' HERE IS DEAN BORG.

Borg: DURING LAST TWO YEARS, MIKE GRONSTAL WAS ADEPT AT SHARING WITH A 50/50 DEMOCRATIC/REPUBLICAN SPLIT OF THE IOWA SENATE. THE TWO PARTIES SHARED LEADERSHIP POSITIONS. AS POLITICALLY CORRECT AS SHARING MAY SOUND, VOTERS EARLIER THIS MONTH PUT THE DEMOCRATS DECISIVELY IN CONTROL OF BOTH THE HOUSE AND THE SENATE FOR THE NEXT TWO YEARS, SO THEY'RE NOW SETTING LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES. LAST WEEK AT THIS TIME, WE QUESTIONED THE INCOMING DEMOCRATIC LEADERS IN THE IOWA HOUSE, SPEAKER PAT MURPHY OF DUBUQUE AND HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER KEVIN MCCARTHY OF DES MOINES. AS SENATOR MIKE GRONSTAL SHEDS THE TITLE OF COLEADER IN THE SENATE, WE'RE LOOKING TO GET A GLIMPSE OF HIS VISION. AND I HAVEN'T SAID THERE, BUT REALLY MAJORITY LEADER DID NOT JUST HAPPEN TO YOU. OVER THE PAST TWO ELECTIONS AT LEAST, YOU'VE BEEN RECRUITING CANDIDATES AND GETTING THAT MAJORITY A LITTLE BIT CLOSER AND A LITTLE BIT CLOSER. NOW YOU HAVE IT.

Gronstal: YES. AND ACTUALLY AS YOU WERE DOING THE INTRO, I'M KIND OF GOING, LIKE, THIS IS THE FIRST TIME I'VE HEARD THAT IN KIND OF A PUBLIC WAY.

Borg: MAJORITY LEADER HAS A NICE RING TO IT.

Gronstal: WELL, IT'S CERTAINLY GOT A BETTER RING THAN MINORITY LEADER AND BETTER THAN COLEADER.

Borg: ACROSS THE 'IOWA PRESS' TABLE, TWO GENTLEMEN WHO SPEND A LOT OF TIME AT THE CAPITOL: 'DES MOINES REGISTER' POLITICAL COLUMNIST DAVID YEPSEN AND 'ASSOCIATED PRESS' SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER MIKE GLOVER.

Glover: SENATOR GRONSTAL, YOU'VE TRIED FOR THE BETTER PART OF A DECADE, OR A LITTLE MORE ACTUALLY, TO GET CONTROL OF THE SENATE. YOU'VE GOT IT NOW. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH IT?

Gronstal: IT'S NOT EASY TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION. WE'VE GOT NEW MEMBERS IN OUR CAUCUS, AND I CAN TELL YOU WE ARE GOING TO STICK TO WHAT WE CAMPAIGNED ON. WE'RE GOING TO LOOK FOR THE COMMON GROUND WITH REPUBLICANS. IN THE INTRO YOU TALKED ABOUT NOT HAVING TO SHARE POWER ANYMORE. I THINK THERE ARE A LOT OF REPUBLICANS THAT WANT TO WORK WITH US, AND I THINK THERE'S A HOST OF ISSUES THAT WE WANT TO ADDRESS. I THINK EDUCATION IS A VERY HIGH PRIORITY WITH US. I WANT TO MAKE SURE WHEN WE'RE DONE WITH THIS SESSION WE'RE ON TRACK IN THE NEXT THREE OR FOUR YEARS TO GET TO THE NATIONAL AVERAGE ON TEACHER SALARIES. I KNOW WE TOOK SIGNIFICANT STEPS LAST YEAR. I WANT TO FINISH THE JOB. WE'VE BEEN PROMISING TEACHERS IN IOWA A COMPETITIVE WAGE SINCE THE LATE '80S. IT'S TIME TO SET ASIDE THE RHETORIC AND GET THE JOB DONE. SO I WANT TO SEE US MAKE IMPROVEMENTS IN EDUCATION, CONTINUED IMPROVEMENTS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. I HAVE A REAL PASSION FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGES. I'D LIKE TO SEE US DO A MUCH BETTER JOB THAN WE'RE DOING AT OUR COMMUNITY COLLEGES. AGAIN, WE'VE MADE SOME PROGRESS IN THE LAST TWO YEARS, BUT IF WE WANT TO BE A PLACE THAT ATTRACTS -- ATTRACTS JOBS TO OUR STATE, WE'VE GOT TO HAVE THE KIND OF INSTITUTIONS OUT THERE READY TO TRAIN THE WORKERS FOR THE JOBS OF TODAY. AND WE TRAIN THEM FOR THE JOBS OF TOMORROW, AND THAT PLACE IS OUR COMMUNITY COLLEGES. I THINK HEALTH CARE; I THINK THERE'S SOME REAL OPPORTUNITIES THERE. THERE ARE SOME STATES WITH REPUBLICAN GOVERNORS THAT ARE MOVING FORWARD ON PRETTY DRAMATICALLY EXPANDING ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE.

Glover: NOW, THE LAST TIME THAT DEMOCRATS HAD THE TRIFECTA, WHICH IS BOTH CHAMBERS OF THE LEGISLATURE AND THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, WAS 1964. IN THAT YEAR DEMOCRATS CAME IN AND ENACTED THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY'S PLATFORM, MOVED VERY ACTIVELY AND LOST CONTROL IN 1966. WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE IN OPINION AND APPROACH IN DEMOCRATS IN THIS SESSION?

Gronstal: LOOK, I'VE BEEN AT THIS A LONG TIME. THIS IS MY THIRD DECADE IN POLITICS. THIS WILL BE MY 25TH YEAR COMING UP. I THINK IF I'VE LEARNED ANYTHING OVER THAT PERIOD OF TIME, IT'S THAT MAJORITIES LOSE POWER WHEN THEY QUIT LISTENING, AND THAT'S ONE THING WE'RE GOING TO STRESS TO OUR MEMBERS, BOTH OUR OLD MEMBERS AND OUR NEW MEMBERS. YOU'VE GOT TO BE LISTENING TO YOUR CONSTITUENTS. AND I THINK DEMOCRATS MADE SOME MISTAKES IN THE '80S AND INTO THE '90S, AND THAT'S WHEN WE LOST CONTROL. AND I THINK FUNDAMENTALLY, IT WASN'T ABOUT ANY PARTICULAR ISSUE OR GOING TOO FAR ON ANYTHING. IT WAS THAT WE QUIT LISTENING. WELL, WE'RE NOT GOING TO QUIT LISTENING TO IOWANS. WE'RE GOING TO CONTINUE TO REACH OUT TO IOWANS AND LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS TO OUR PROBLEMS. BUT I'VE GOT TO TELL YOU, A LOT OF PEOPLE WANT TO FOCUS ON THE PROBLEMS THAT WE HAVE IN IOWA. I THINK WE HAVE INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITIES. I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT WHAT'S GOING ON IN THIS STATE WHEN IT COMES TO RENEWABLE ENERGY AND THE JOBS THAT GO ALONG WITH THAT AND THE DIFFERENCE THAT'S MAKING IN RURAL IOWA. I'VE TALKED WITH KIDS THAT WORK AT ETHANOL PLANTS. I CALL THEM KIDS, 25, 30 YEARS OLD, THAT BASICALLY SAY TEN YEARS AGO THEY DIDN'T THINK THEY HAD A FUTURE IN IOWA. NOW ETHANOL IS PART OF THEIR VISION OF HAVING A FUTURE IN IOWA. SO I THINK THERE'S A LOT OF EXCITING THINGS HAPPENING IN IOWA, AND I THINK WE CAN MEET THE CHALLENGES.

Yepsen: SENATOR, LET'S TALK ABOUT SOME OF THE SPECIFIC ISSUES THAT WILL BE IN FRONT OF THE LEGISLATURE, THE CIGARETTE TAX INCREASE AND GAS TAX INCREASE. LAST WEEK ON THIS PROGRAM, YOUR TWO COLLEAGUES ACROSS THE ROTUNDA SAID THAT THEY WEREN'T SURE THAT THEY WERE GOING TO DO A CIGARETTE TAX INCREASE. SO DO YOU THINK THE LEGISLATURE WILL RAISE THE CIGARETTE TAX?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT'S KIND OF A TOSS-UP AS TO WHETHER OR NOT WE RAISE THE CIGARETTE TAX. IN THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS, WE'VE LOOKED AT IT AS A MECHANISM TO FUND SOME IMPORTANT PRIORITIES. IT DOES APPEAR REVENUES ARE COMING IN PRETTY STRONG IN IOWA OVERALL, AND SO WE'RE A LITTLE MORE HESITANT ABOUT SAYING WE NEED TO ENHANCE REVENUES. ON THE OTHER HAND, THERE ARE A SIZABLE NUMBER OF OUR MEMBERS THAT SEE THE CIGARETTE TAX INCREASE AS A KEY TO LOWERING TEEN SMOKING. AND SO AS A PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURE, I THINK IT'S LIKELY THAT THAT ISSUE WILL BE VISITED IN THE LEGISLATURE.

Yepsen: AND SINCE THE ELECTION, THE ROAD LOBBY AND THE D.O.T. HAVE STARTED MAKING NOISES ABOUT THE NEED TO RAISE THE GAS TAX, SAYING WE DON'T HAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO FIX UP ROADS. ARE THE DEMOCRATS IN THE LEGISLATURE GOING TO RAISE THE GAS TAX IN IOWA?

Gronstal: WELL, FIRST OF ALL, I DON'T KNOW IF THEY'LL RAISE THE GAS TAX. I DON'T KNOW IF THEY'LL TAKE A LOOK AT PICKUP FEES. I THINK WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN IS FOR OUR COMMITTEES, OUR PEOPLE TO COME IN AND REVIEW THE DATA AND THE INFORMATION AND MAKE SOME JUDGMENT AS TO WHETHER OR NOT WE BELIEVE WE HAVE THE INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS BEING MET OR CLOSE TO BEING MET IN THE STATE. AND IF THEY'RE NOT, WE HAVE TO LOOK AT SOME MECHANISM TO DEAL WITH THAT.

Yepsen: SO IT'S POSSIBLE?

Gronstal: SO IT'S POSSIBLE.

Yepsen: A THIRD TAX QUESTION FACING THE LEGISLATURE IS THE QUESTION OF FEDERAL DEDUCTABILITY. DEMOCRATS HAVE HISTORICALLY WANTED TO REPEAL FEDERAL DEDUCTABILITY, LOWER THE TAX RATES TO GET A MORE PROGRESSIVE INCOME TAX SYSTEM. WILL THIS LEGISLATURE AND NEW GOVERNOR DO THAT?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT KIND OF REMAINS TO BE SEEN. I DO THINK THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE THAT SEE -- SEE THE MECHANISM OF FEDERAL DEDUCTABILITY PRESSING UP OUR TOP RATE IN SUCH A WAY THAT IT MAKES US LOOK VERY UNCOMPETITIVE WHEN IN FACT WE'RE NOT, SO I THINK THERE ARE PEOPLE WILLING TO LOOK AT THAT. BUT I ALSO -- I WANT TO GO BACK -- I THINK WE WANT TO PURSUE AN AGENDA THAT'S ABOUT UNITING IOWANS, NOT DIVIDING THEM. AND IF WE CAN'T FIND SOME COMMON GROUND WITH REPUBLICANS ON TAX REFORM IN THIS STATE, I DON'T HAVE A LOT OF INTEREST IN SHOVING SOME SOLUTION DOWN PEOPLE'S THROATS.

Borg: LAST WEEK ON THIS PROGRAM, YOUR DEMOCRATIC COLLEAGUES LEADING IN THE IOWA HOUSE SAID THE FIRST ITEM OF BUSINESS THE FIRST DAY IS LEGISLATION TO RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE. AGREED?

Gronstal: ABSOLUTELY AGREED. WE'VE HAD THOSE DISCUSSIONS WITH --

Borg: TO WHAT?

Gronstal: WITH GOVERNOR-ELECT -- WE'RE GOING TO GO THROUGH THAT POLICY PROCESS WHERE WE BRING OUR MEMBERS IN, BUT PROBABLY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF A COUPLE BUCKS PHASED IN OVER 18 MONTHS, 24 MONTHS. I DON'T HAVE THE NUMBER ON THAT, BUT WE'LL GO THROUGH THAT. BUT ABSOLUTELY, THE FIRST ITEM OF BUSINESS, WE THINK, IS TO MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF 125,000 IOWANS THAT MAKE MINIMUM WAGE. SEVENTY PERCENT OF THEM ARE BREAD WINNERS FOR THEIR FAMILIES. IT'S NOT ALL KIDS THAT MAKE MINIMUM WAGE.

Yepsen: IS THERE A SECOND ITEM ON THE AGENDA?

Gronstal: NO.

Yepsen: OKAY. THAT'S THE FIRST BUT YOU FOLKS HAVEN'T DECIDED --

Gronstal: AS A MATTER OF FACT, I PARTICULARLY LIKE THAT ONE BECAUSE IT'S NOT ONE THAT HAS TO DO WITH, YOU KNOW, SOME SPECIAL INTEREST BRINGING THAT ISSUE IN FRONT OF US. THAT'S ONE THAT'S JUST ABOUT MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN REAL IOWANS' LIVES. WILL THERE BE OTHER ISSUES? WILL LABOR BRING OTHER CONCERNS TO US THAT WE'LL RESPOND TO? OF COURSE THEY WILL. BUT I WANT TO MAKE SURE THE FIRST THING WE DO IS RAISE THAT MINIMUM WAGE.

Borg: WELL, THERE'S SOMETHING FOR LABOR CALLED FAIR SHARE. RATHER THAN REPEALING 14B, OR THE RIGHT TO WORK LAW, FAIR SHARE, IS THAT LIKELY TO BE ENACTED?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT'S LIKELY TO BE VISITED. I DON'T KNOW IF IT WILL BE ENACTED OR NOT.

Borg: WHAT'S THE CONCEPT THERE?

Gronstal: WELL, THE CONCEPT IS IF THE THREE OF YOU ARE REPRESENTED BY A GROUP AND YOU DON'T PAY ANYTHING AND THEY PAY, YOU'RE A FREELOADER. YOU'RE GETTING ALONG -- YOU'RE GETTING A FREE RIDE FOR ALL THE SERVICES THAT THEY PROVIDE. YOU'RE A FREELOADER. ASKING YOU TO PAY YOUR FAIR SHARE OF THE DUES -- NOT THE ENTIRE DUES BUT YOUR FAIR SHARE FOR THE BENEFITS YOU RECEIVE --

Borg: FINANCIALLY --

Gronstal: IS A REASONABLE ACTION TO TAKE.

Borg: FINANCIALLY HEALTHY FOR UNIONS BECAUSE IT WILL BRING A LOT MORE DUES INTO THE UNION COFFERS?

Gronstal: YOU SEE, I THINK YOU -- I THINK YOU JUMP TO CONCLUSIONS THERE. I THINK IN SOME -- IN SOME VENUES IT BECOMES HARDER FOR -- FOR THE UNION TO CONVINCE A WORKPLACE TO UNIONIZE. IN OTHER CASES, THE EMPLOYER MAY SAY, OKAY, I'LL GIVE YOU FAIR SHARE AS OPPOSED TO GIVING YOU A RAISE. IT'S ALL SUBJECT TO NEGOTIATION. SO I DON'T THINK IT'S EASY TO MAKE BROAD GENERALIZATIONS ABOUT WHO WINS AND WHO LOSES.

Glover: ANOTHER TOPIC OUT THERE YOU MENTIONED, THAT YOU WANT TO INCREASE PAY FOR TEACHERS. AS PART OF THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE LOOKING AT WAYS TO LINK HIGHER PAY WITH SOME KIND OF A MEASURE OF JOB PERFORMANCE. ARE YOU INTERESTED IN THAT? THE NEW GOVERNOR DOESN'T SEEM TO BE INTERESTED IN THAT.

Gronstal: WE'RE CERTAINLY WILLING TO LOOK AT THAT, AND WE MADE THAT COMMITMENT WHEN WE PASSED THE TEACHER SALARY BILL LAST YEAR. WE PUT IN A PAY-FOR-PERFORMANCE MECHANISM IN THERE TO TAKE A LOOK AT THAT AS A PILOT PROJECT, AND I SEE NO REASON TO BACK AWAY FROM THAT IF WE CAN COME UP WITH SOME CONCEPTS THAT WORK IN THAT AREA. AS YOU KNOW, IF YOU'VE REVIEWED OTHER -- OTHER ENTITIES THAT HAVE TRIED THAT, THEY AREN'T EASY TO DO. BUT WE'RE WILLING TO -- WE'RE WILLING TO CONTINUE TO EXPERIMENT WITH IT.

Glover: AND YOU DID $150 MILLION IN TEACHER PAY THE LAST TIME YOU VISITED THE ISSUE. DO YOU HAVE ANY CONCEPT OF HOW MUCH YOU WANT TO DO THIS TIME?

Gronstal: WE DID $35 MILLION A YEAR, ESCALATING TO -- SO $105 MILLION. AND THAT'S -- ROUND NUMBERS, THAT'S ABOUT $3,000 PER TEACHER. TO GET TO THE NATIONAL AVERAGE, WE'D PROBABLY NEED ANOTHER $3,000 PER TEACHER.

Glover: SO YOU NEED A TEACHER PAY INCREASE OF THAT SIZE.

Gronstal: SO 2- OR 3,000. SO, YEAH, ABOUT ANOTHER $100 MILLION IN THAT EFFORT.

Yepsen: SENATOR, AS YOU KNOW, THERE'S A BIG CONTROVERSY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA OVER THE SELECTION OF A NEW PRESIDENT. DO YOU APPROVE OR DISAPPROVE OF THE WAY THE BOARD OF REGENTS HAVE CONDUCTED THAT SEARCH?

Gronstal: I WOULD SAY THAT I THINK THEY'RE TRYING TO DO THE RIGHT THING, THE BOARD OF REGENTS. I THINK THEY'RE TAKING A GOOD HARD LOOK AT WHO'S GOING TO RUN THAT INSTITUTION, AND THEY EXPRESSED SOME REAL CONCERNS ABOUT THE -- ABOUT THE CANDIDATES THEY HAD AND THE RELATIVE LACK OF EXPERIENCE THEY HAD IN THE HEALTH CARE SIDE OF IT. IT'S A BILLION-DOLLAR OPERATION, THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA HOSPITALS AND CLINICS. AND I THINK THEY'RE -- I THINK THEY'RE TAKING A VERY RATIONAL APPROACH TO THIS.

Yepsen: SO DO YOU SEE ANY REASON AT ALL FOR THE LEGISLATURE TO GET INVOLVED IN THIS? I MEAN SOME PEOPLE HAVE SAID GARTNER -- MICHAEL GARTNER, THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD, SHOULD GO.

Gronstal: I DIDN'T RUN -- I DIDN'T RUN FOR BOARD OF REGENTS. I RAN FOR THE LEGISLATURE. THAT'S AN EXECUTIVE BRANCH FUNCTION, AND I THINK IT'S CERTAINLY WORTH US REVIEWING AND TAKING A LOOK AT AND LISTENING TO IT. BUT I THINK IF YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE A BOARD OF REGENTS, THEY OUGHT TO BE ABLE TO DO THEIR JOB.

Glover: ONE OF THE FIRST DECISIONS THIS NEW GOVERNOR IS GOING TO HAVE TO MAKE AND THE DECISION THAT THE LEGISLATURE WILL EVENTUALLY HAVE TO MAKE LATER THIS SPRING IS A NEW CONTRACT BETWEEN THE STATE AND THE UNIONS REPRESENTING STATE WORKERS. HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU SEE BEING ON THE TABLE FOR THAT CONTRACT?

Gronstal: WE DON'T EVEN HAVE THE DECEMBER REVENUE ESTIMATE YET, SO I THINK THAT'S PRETTY HARD TO TELL.

Glover: BUT THAT IS GOING TO BE A MAJOR --

Gronstal: OBVIOUSLY, EVERY TWO YEARS WE GO THROUGH CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS WITH LABOR.

Glover: IS THERE ROOM FOR ANY PAY INCREASE AT ALL THIS TIME?

Gronstal: SURE, THERE'S ROOM FOR PAY INCREASE, YEAH. WHY WOULDN'T THERE BE?

Glover: WELL, THERE HAVE BEEN YEARS IN THE PAST WHEN YOU'VE FROZEN STATE WORKER PAY AS A BUDGET CUTTING EFFORT.

Gronstal: YEAH, AND THOSE WERE IN -- THOSE WERE IN YEARS WHEN WE HAD DECLINING REVENUES, NOT EXPANDING REVENUES. REVENUES, LIKE I SAID, ARE COMING IN -- LISTEN, IT'S NOT GOING TO BE AN EASY JOB TO BALANCE NEXT YEAR'S BUDGET, BUT WE'RE NOT GOING TO -- WE'RE NOT GOING TO PREJUDGE THE NEGOTIATIONS. THAT'S WHY YOU GO THROUGH NEGOTIATIONS, TO COME TO A NUMBER. AND SO THE UNION AND MANAGEMENT WILL GO THROUGH THAT PROCESS, AND WE'LL SEE WHAT THEY COME UP WITH.

Yepsen: WE'VE HAD PUBLIC EMPLOYEE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING IN THIS STATE SINCE THE MID 1970S. THE DEMOCRATS HAVEN'T BEEN IN CONTROL OF BOTH HOUSES OF THE LEGISLATURE AND THE GOVERNOR SINCE THE MID '60S, SO THIS IS REALLY KIND OF -- IT'S KIND OF A FIRST IN WHICH BOTH THE GOVERNOR AND THE LEGISLATURE CONTROLLED BY THE DEMOCRATS ARE NEGOTIATING A PAY PACKAGE WITH THE VERY UNIONS WHO BACKED THEM IN THE ELECTION. WHERE'S THE GUARANTEE FOR THE TAXPAYER OF THAT?

Gronstal: THE GUARANTEE FOR THE TAXPAYER IS THIS PROCESS THAT THEY GO THROUGH AND NEGOTIATE ON. AND THEY'VE GOT -- THE STATE PUBLIC EMPLOYEE UNIONS WEREN'T ALWAYS HAPPY WITH WHAT VILSACK DID OR WITH WHAT THEY NEGOTIATED. THAT'S PART OF THE PROCESS. I MEAN -- I MEAN ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THIS EQUATION, THE FOLKS THAT BACK REPUBLICANS, WHO PROTECTED THE PUBLIC TREASURY FROM THEM?

Yepsen: SO WE'RE NOT GOING TO SEE THE DEMOCRATS JUST ROLL OVER TO THE PUBLIC EMPLOYEE --

Gronstal: WE DON'T -- THE LEGISLATURE DOESN'T HAVE A DIRECT ROLE IN THAT.

Yepsen: BUT YOU DO HAVE TO FINANCE THE SALARY BILL; YOU DO HAVE TO DO THAT.

Gronstal: YEAH, IN THE END WE HAVE TO FINANCE IT. AND IF WE DON'T FINANCE IT, WE SAW WHAT HAPPENED BACK IN 1992 WHEN IT WENT TO THE SUPREME COURT WHEN GOVERNOR BRANSTAD DIDN'T FINANCE IT. SO WE'RE GOING TO LET THAT PROCESS HAPPEN AS IT SHOULD.

Yepsen: ANOTHER ISSUE RELATED TO EDUCATION IS A K-12 ISSUE, AND IT'S CALLED STATE STANDARDS FOR LOCAL SCHOOLS. I WAS STRUCK RECENTLY THE IOWA ASSOCIATION OF SCHOOL BOARDS SAID WE NEED TO UP OUR STATE STANDARDS. THEY'VE NOT REALLY SAID THAT IN THE PAST. THEY'VE BEEN MORE IN FAVOR OF LET THE LOCAL SCHOOLS SET THOSE STANDARDS. WILL THE LEGISLATURE SET TOUGHER GRADUATION STANDARDS FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IN IOWA?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT'S -- I THINK THAT'S LIKELY. I THINK WE STARTED STEPS LAST SESSION IN THAT DIRECTION, SO I THINK IT'S LIKELY THAT WE WILL CONTINUE TO MOVE IN THAT DIRECTION. I'D ALSO SAY THERE ARE -- THERE ARE A HOST OF OTHER ISSUES OUT THERE THAT I THINK WE WANT TO DEAL WITH IN THE NEXT LEGISLATIVE SESSION. THE EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, WE'VE TAKEN SOME VERY MODEST STEPS AT THAT IN THE LAST FEW YEARS. GOOD STEPS, RIGHT THINGS TO DO, BUT PRETTY MODEST STEPS IN THE OVERALL SCHEME OF THINGS.

Glover: ONE ISSUE THE LEGISLATURE IS GOING TO BE FACED WITH IN THIS COMING SESSION OR PERHAPS THE FOLLOWING SESSION IS THE ISSUE OF BUILDING A NEW PRISON. THERE'S A LOT OF DISCUSSION ABOUT REPLACING THE MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON IN FORT MADISON. WHAT'S YOUR VIEW ON THAT? DOES THIS STATE NEED A NEW PRISON?

Gronstal: MY VIEW IS YOU CAN PROBABLY CONSTRUCT A NEW PRISON THAT IS MUCH MORE STAFF EFFICIENT. MODERN PRISONS, WHEN THEY'RE BUILT, THEY'RE A LOT MORE STAFF EFFICIENT, AND IT PROBABLY MAKES MORE SENSE FOR THE STATE TO REPLACE THE AGING PRISON WITH A MORE STAFF EFFICIENT KIND OF OPERATION.

Glover: RIGHT. AND YOU CAN DO IT MORE CHEAPLY? IS IT YOUR VIEW THAT THAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN IN THIS SESSION?

Gronstal: I -- PROBABLY, PROBABLY. I KNOW THAT THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS IS OUT THERE DOING A STUDY, COMING BACK TO US WITH SOME RECOMMENDATIONS, AND WE'LL SEE WHAT THEY RECOMMEND. BUT, YEAH, I THINK IT'S LIKELY WE WILL VISIT THAT ISSUE THIS SESSION.

Glover: AND IT WOULD BE ANOTHER MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON REPLACING THE ONE AT FORT DODGE?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT'S -- I THINK THAT'S CLEARLY THE CONCEPT. BUT WHETHER -- YOU KNOW, YOU CAN ALWAYS CONFIGURE THE BEDS IN DIFFERENT WAYS.

Glover: RIGHT.

Gronstal: AND THAT'S WHY WE WANT TO SEE WHAT THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS RECOMMENDS. IT MAY BE A FEW LESS MAXIMUM SECURITY BEDS AND A FEW MORE MINIMUM SECURITY BEDS OR WHATEVER. WE NEED TO HEAR THOSE RECOMMENDATIONS.

Yepsen: SENATOR, AS YOU KNOW, SOCIAL ISSUES ARE ALWAYS HOT IN THE LEGISLATURE WHEN THEY COME UP. WILL THE ARRIVAL OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY MEAN WE SET ASIDE DISCUSSION OF RESTRICTIONS ON ABORTION, DEBATES ON DEATH PENALTY, BANS ON GAY MARRIAGE? ARE THESE THINGS -- GUN CONTROL. I MEAN ARE THESE THINGS OFF THE TABLE FOR THIS SESSION?

Gronstal: I WOULDN'T -- I WOULDN'T SAY THEY'RE OFF THE TABLE. I'D JUST SAY THEY'RE UNLIKELY. I THINK WE WOULD SERVE IOWANS BEST IF WE SET ASIDE THE CAMPAIGN ISSUES THAT WE ALL CAMPAIGN ON EVERY TWO YEARS, IF WE SET THOSE ASIDE AND LISTENED TO IOWANS AND WORKED ON THE ISSUES WHERE WE HAVE COMMON GROUND. WE DID THAT FAIRLY WELL FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS IN A TIED ATMOSPHERE. WE WORKED TOGETHER. WE MADE PROGRESS ON THINGS IOWANS CARE ABOUT: RENEWABLE ENERGY, JOB CREATION, EXPANSION OF ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE, IMPROVEMENTS IN EDUCATION. IN A HOST OF AREAS, WE MADE REAL PROGRESS FOR IOWANS BY NOT SPENDING OUR TIME PURSUING THE ISSUES THAT DIVIDE US.

Yepsen: AND DOES THAT INCLUDE CIVIL RIGHTS PROTECTIONS FOR GAYS AND LESBIANS? I MEAN SEPARATE FROM THE QUESTIONS AROUND GAY MARRIAGE, THERE IS THE QUESTION OF WHETHER OR NOT GAYS AND LESBIANS SHOULD BE PROTECTED IN EMPLOYMENT AND HOUSING IN THIS STATE --

Gronstal: AND IN EDUCATION --

Yepsen: ALL RIGHT, WELL --

Gronstal: IN TERMS OF BULLYING. I DON'T THINK ANYBODY SHOULD BE BEAT UP BECAUSE OF THEIR REAL OR PERCEIVED SEXUAL ORIENTATION.

Yepsen: SO YOU WOULD DO SOMETHING ON BULLYING --

Gronstal: I DON'T THINK ANYBODY SHOULD BE FIRED BECAUSE OF THEIR REAL OR PERCEIVED SEXUAL ORIENTATION. I THINK THAT'S -- I THINK THAT'S SOMETHING THE LEGISLATURE WILL LOOK AT.

Glover: AND YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU'D LIKE TO ADDRESS HEALTH CARE. HEALTH CARE IS CERTAINLY SOMETHING THAT'S ON THE MINDS OF A LOT OF PEOPLE. WHAT CAN A STATE LEGISLATURE DO TO DEAL WITH A HUGE ISSUE LIKE HEALTH CARE?

Gronstal: WELL, THERE ARE PURCHASING POOL CONCEPTS, AND WE PASSED ONE AND THE HOUSE ATTEMPTED TO PASS ONE IN THE LAST COUPLE YEARS. AND IF WE -- IF WE KIND OF STEP BACK FROM WHOSE -- YOU KNOW, WHOSE SPECIAL INTEREST CAN WE SERVE AND REALLY WORK WITH THE INSURANCE COMMISSIONER AND THE NEW GOVERNOR, WE CAN PROBABLY DO SOMETHING ON HEALTH INSURANCE PURCHASING POOLS. AND --

Glover: AND HOW DOES THAT WORK?

Gronstal: I MEAN MITT ROMNEY IS DOING A LOT IN MASSACHUSETTS, A REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR, OF EXPANDING ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE. SO I THINK THERE ARE SOME REAL OPPORTUNITIES OUT THERE, AGAIN, IF WE DO IT IN A BIPARTISAN WAY. IF WE CHOOSE A PARTISAN COURSE, IT'S NOT GOING TO WORK VERY WELL. HEALTH PURCHASING POOLS ARE YOU GET SEVERAL COMPANIES, AND INSTEAD OF MAKING THEM ALL BUY SMALL GROUP POLICIES, YOU LET THEM POOL TOGETHER GREATER NUMBERS, AND, THEREFORE, GET GREATER SAVINGS WHEN THEY NEGOTIATE WITH AN INSURANCE COMPANY. WE DID SOME JUST IN TERMS OF THE PAPERWORK. IF YOU'RE A SMALL BUSINESS EMPLOYER AND YOU WANT TO GO OUT AND SHOP THE MARKETPLACE, YOU MAY HAVE TO FILL OUT A TEN-PAGE FORM FOR EVERY EMPLOYEE IN YOUR WORK FORCE. YOU HAVE 25 EMPLOYEES; DO THE MATH. SO WE PASSED LEGISLATION LAST YEAR TO SIMPLIFY THAT, COME UP WITH THE INSURANCE COMMISSIONER ONE SET -- ONE- OR TWO-PAGE FORM. AND IF YOU'RE THE SMALL BUSINESS EMPLOYER, YOU CAN GET THAT DONE FOR ALL YOUR EMPLOYEES, AND THEN YOU CAN GO SHOP FIVE DIFFERENT INSURANCE COMPANIES BECAUSE IT'S UNIFORM.

Glover: AND ONE PROPOSAL I'VE SEEN WOULD ALLOW THOSE INSURANCE POOLS TO BE FORMED BUT WOULD ALSO CALL FOR THE STATE TO STEP IN AND PAY FOR THE MOST EXPENSIVE CATASTROPHIC CASES.

Gronstal: THERE ARE CERTAINLY OPPORTUNITIES THERE. THOSE TAKE SOME REVENUE. THAT'S ONE OF THE --

Glover: IT TAKES MORE THAN 'SOME' REVENUE, SENATOR.

Gronstal: WELL, I MEAN THAT'S WHY -- THAT'S WHY THERE WAS DISCUSSION THE LAST COUPLE YEARS ABOUT A CIGARETTE TAX. USE THE MONEY FROM THE CIGARETTE TAX TO PAY FOR THE CATASTROPHIC EXPERIENCE OF SOME OF THOSE GROUPS AND TAKE THE CATASTROPHIC OFF THE TOP AND HAVE THE INSURANCE PLAN JUST COVER THE BASE SERVICES. BUT WHEN THEY GET TOO EXPENSIVE, YOU PICK UP THAT DIFFERENCE AND FUND IT WITH THE CIGARETTE TAX.

Glover: IS THAT ON THE TABLE?

Gronstal: SURE. SURE, ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE POSSIBLE BUT, AGAIN, I THINK IT REQUIRES US TO GO OUT AND TALK WITH IOWANS, LISTEN TO THEM, TALK WITH BUSINESSES, TALK WITH PROVIDERS. I THINK THERE'S -- I THINK YOU HAVE TO GO THROUGH A LONG PROCESS. YOU HAVE TO KEEP LISTENING.

Yepsen: SENATOR, ANOTHER ISSUE YOU'VE MENTIONED HERE THAT EVERYONE HAS TALKED ABOUT IS RENEWABLE ENERGY. WHAT MORE DO YOU SEE THIS LEGISLATURE DOING TO FOSTER THE GROWTH OF RENEWABLE ENERGY IN IOWA?

Gronstal: DAVID, WE HAVE JUST SCRATCHED THE SURFACE ON THIS ISSUE. JUST YESTERDAY THERE WAS AN ANNOUNCEMENT THAT CELLULOSIC ETHANOL PRODUCTION UP IN EMMETSBURG; THAT'S MAKING IT OUT OF CORN STALKS, NOT THE CORN ITSELF. BUT THERE'S ALL KINDS OF RESEARCH THAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN, AND WE NEED -- AND WE NEED TO KEEP IOWA ON THE CUTTING EDGE. THERE ARE PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT INSTEAD OF PRODUCING ETHANOL, PRODUCING BUTANOL. BUTANOL HAS THE SAME PROPERTIES AS GAS. YOU DON'T NEED TO GET A DUAL FUEL VEHICLE. ALL OF THESE THINGS REQUIRE RESEARCH AND THEN DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS, SO I THINK WE WANT TO STAY ON THE CUTTING EDGE ON THAT. WE'VE ALSO GOT TO HELP WITH THE BYPRODUCT. WE'VE GOT TO FIND WAYS TO MAKE THE BYPRODUCT USEFUL FOR POULTRY, MORE USEFUL FOR HOGS. RIGHT NOW IT'S VERY USEFUL FOR CATTLE BUT NOT THE OTHER TWO.

Yepsen: AND YOU MENTIONED HOGS. WILL THIS LEGISLATURE ENACT LOCAL CONTROL OF HOG CONFINEMENTS?

Gronstal: I THINK IT'S UNLIKELY THEY'LL PURSUE LOCAL CONTROL OF HOG CONFINEMENTS. I'D SAY THERE'S CERTAINLY SOME PEOPLE THAT WANT TO PURSUE THAT. I THINK THE NUMBER ONE JOB WE HAVE IS TO MAKE SURE WE PROTECT OUR ENVIRONMENT.

Glover: AND YOUR COLLEAGUES IN THE HOUSE, WHEN THEY TALK ABOUT RENEWABLE FUELS -- IF WE CAN GO BACK TO THAT FOR A SECOND -- THEY ALWAYS LIKE TO TALK ABOUT BIOREFINERIES. TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT. HOW DOES THAT WORK AND WHAT IS THE STATE'S ROLE IN THAT?

Gronstal: WELL, IN ALL OF THESE THINGS, THE STATE'S ROLE IS TO ACT AS A CATALYST. I THINK -- I THINK FOR INSTANCE, WE ACTED VERY MUCH AS A CATALYST FOR ETHANOL AND BIODIESEL OVER THE LAST FEW YEARS. I THINK -- I THINK WE HAVE LESS OF A ROLE IN THAT NOW BECAUSE THE MARKETPLACE WORKS THAT PRETTY WELL. MOST OF THE PEOPLE PUTTING UP ETHANOL PLANTS FIND THEY'RE ABLE TO GENERATE THE CAPITAL PRETTY QUICKLY. SO I THINK OUR ROLE IN THAT PHASE OF RENEWABLE FUEL IS DECLINING, BUT WE CONTINUE TO HAVE A ROLE IN TRIGGERING OTHER KINDS OF EFFORTS AND KEEPING IOWA ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF THIS.

Borg: I'D LIKE TO ASK YOU ABOUT A LOCAL OPTION QUESTION ON BANNING CIGARETTE SMOKING. GOVERNOR-ELECT CULVER, DURING THE CAMPAIGN, FLOATED THAT IDEA THAT HE MIGHT LIKE TO GIVE COMMUNITIES THE POWER TO ENACT SMOKING BANS. SUPPORT IN THE LEGISLATURE FOR THAT?

Gronstal: I THINK THERE WILL BE SIGNIFICANT SUPPORT IN THE LEGISLATURE. I DON'T KNOW IF -- I CAN'T TELL YOU TODAY THAT THERE'S 26 AND 51. THAT'S KIND OF THE DEFINITION OF MY JOB IS TO FIND 26 AND 51. SO WE'RE -- I THINK WE'RE VERY OPEN TO LOOKING AT THAT. I THINK FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE WHEN WE PASSED OUR ORIGINAL PREEMPTION, I REMEMBER GARRISON BELIEVED THAT IT DIDN'T ACTUALLY STOP LOCAL GOVERNMENTS FROM DOING ORDINANCES AS LONG AS THEY WERE CONSISTENT WITH THE DIRECTION OF STATE LAW, AND EVENTUALLY THE COURT FOUND OTHERWISE IN A CASE. AND SO I THINK THE LEGISLATURE IS PROBABLY GOING TO TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT THAT AND A REAL POSSIBILITY IT WILL PASS.

Yepsen: SENATOR, WE ALWAYS LIKE TO TALK A LITTLE POLITICS. WHAT ABOUT YOUR OWN FUTURE? I MEAN YOU TOYED WITH THE IDEA OF RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR, OPTED TO STAY WHERE YOU ARE. IS THAT -- HOW LONG ARE YOU PLANNING TO STAY AS SENATE DEMOCRATIC LEADER, OR MIGHT WE EXPECT YOU TO RUN FOR SOME OTHER OFFICE?

Gronstal: GEE, THAT'S A TOUGH QUESTION --

Yepsen: DEMOCRATS ARE --

Gronstal: THAT'S A TOUGH QUESTION TO ANSWER, DAVID. I DON'T ANTICIPATE RUNNING FOR CONGRESS WITH THE CURRENT MAP. WITH THE CURRENT MAP, I DON'T ANTICIPATE RUNNING FOR CONGRESS. I'M PROUD TO -- I'M PROUD TO BE IN A PARTNERSHIP WITH CHET CULVER. I THINK HE'S GOING TO BE A GREAT GOVERNOR. I THINK WE'RE GOING TO HAVE A GREAT PARTNERSHIP WITH CHET CULVER AND THE DEMOCRATIC LEGISLATURE. WE'VE HAD GREAT MEETINGS WITH HIM SO FAR. AND, YOU KNOW, THE ONLY REASON I EVER RAN FOR OFFICE WAS TO LEAVE THIS STATE A BETTER PLACE. IT WASN'T FOR THE TITLE. IT WAS TO TRY AND GET THINGS DONE. I'M IN A POSITION NOW WHERE I CAN REALLY GET A LOT OF THINGS DONE.

Glover: HAVING MADE IT CLEAR THAT YOU'RE NOT GOING TO COMMIT POLITICAL SUICIDE, LET'S TURN TO ANOTHER POLITICAL ISSUE. AS THIS NEXT YEAR BEGINS TO UNFOLD, IT WILL SEE THE BEGINNING OF A PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN ON BOTH SIDES OF THE AISLE. HOW IS THAT GOING TO PLAY OUT IN IOWA? HOW DOES THAT AFFECT WHAT YOU DO? HOW DOES THAT AFFECT THE POLITICAL CLIMATE?

Gronstal: CERTAINLY -- CERTAINLY I THINK BOTH PARTIES SEE THE CAUCUSES AS HAVING BEEN INCREDIBLY BENEFICIAL TO BOTH PARTIES' OPERATIONS. IT BUILDS OUR GRASS-ROOTS IN BOTH PARTIES. IT BUILDS OUR GRASS ROOTS --

Glover: DOES VILSACK PRESENCE KILL THE CAUCUSES ON THE DEMOCRATIC SIDE?

Gronstal: ABSOLUTELY NOT. ABSOLUTELY NOT. I THINK VILSACK WILL DO VERY WELL IN THE CAUCUSES, BUT I ALSO THINK THE FOLKS THAT SKIPPED THE CAUCUSES IN 1992 REGRET IT. I THINK THE UNIVERSAL AGREEMENT AMONGST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IS SKIPPING IOWA BECAUSE THEY HAVE A FAVORITE SON IS A MISTAKE.

Borg: ONE THING I CAN'T SKIP IS GETTING OUT ON TIME. THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR BEING OUR GUEST TODAY.

Gronstal: THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Borg: ON OUR NEXT EDITION OF 'IOWA PRESS,' SHIFTING FROM IOWA'S CAPITAL TO THE NATION'S CAPITAL, FROM THE WINNER'S CIRCLE TO A VICTIM OF THE DEMOCRATIC ELECTION SWEEP EARLIER THIS MONTH, IOWA'S SECOND DISTRICT CONGRESSMAN JIM LEACH WILL BE HERE. AND IN PARTICULAR, WE'LL BE SEEKING HIS INSIGHT CONCERNING INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND FOREIGN POLICY. AND NOTE THIS TOO: ONLY ONE BROADCAST FOR 'IOWA PRESS' NEXT WEEKEND. THAT WILL BE AT 7:30 NEXT FRIDAY NIGHT. AND AS THIS NATION PAUSES THIS WEEKEND FOR THANKSGIVING, ALL OF US HERE AT IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION HOPE THAT IT IS A MEANINGFUL TIME FOR YOU. I'M DEAN BORG. THANKS FOR JOINING US TODAY.

FUNDING FOR 'IOWA PRESS' WAS PROVIDED BY 'FRIENDS,' THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION; AND BY THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS.


Tags: Iowa