Iowa Public Television

 

Sen. Mike Gronstal

posted on April 20, 2007

>>

Yepsen: UNDER THE DOME AT THE IOWA STATEHOUSE, THE FIRST SESSION OF IOWA'S 82ND GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS IN ITS FINAL DAYS. WE GET ASSESSMENTS FROM THE LEADERSHIP IN THE IOWA SENATE WITH MAJORITY LEADER MIKE GRONSTAL 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; AND BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA, THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE.

ON STATEWIDE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION, THIS IS THE FRIDAY, APRIL 20 EDITION OF 'IOWA PRESS.' HERE IS DAVID YEPSEN.

Yepsen: FRIDAY, APRIL 27, IS SUPPOSED TO BE ADJOURNMENT DAY FOR THE 2007 LEGISLATIVE SESSION. NOW, WHETHER OR NOT IOWA'S 150 ELECTED SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES HIT THAT TARGET DATE IS NOT KNOWN AT THIS HOUR BECAUSE A NUMBER OF LATE-SESSION ISSUES HAVE YET TO BE SETTLED BEFORE ADJOURNMENT. THE BIGGEST ITEM, OF COURSE, IS THE BUDGET FOR FISCAL 2008, WHICH GOES INTO EFFECT ON JULY 1 OF THIS YEAR. WELL, JOINING US TODAY FOR A PROGRESS REPORT IS SENATOR MIKE GRONSTAL, A DEMOCRAT FROM COUNCIL BLUFFS WHO SITS AS MAJORITY LEADER IN THE IOWA SENATE. SENATOR, WELCOME BACK. IT'S ALWAYS GOOD TO HAVE YOU WITH US.

Gronstal: HAPPY TO BE HERE.

Yepsen: ALSO WITH US AT THE 'IOWA PRESS' TABLE ARE KAY HENDERSON, NEWS DIRECTOR WITH 'RADIO IOWA,' AND MIKE GLOVER, SENIOR LEGISLATIVE AND POLITICAL REPORTER WITH THE 'ASSOCIATED PRESS.'

Glover: SENATOR, THE NEWS THAT'S TRANSFIXED THE NATION IS THE SHOOTINGS AT VIRGINIA TECH UNIVERSITY. WHAT SHOULD THE LEGISLATURE DO TO RESPOND TO THOSE SHOOTINGS? YOU'VE DECIDED NOT TO ALLOW OR REQUIRE CAMPUS POLICE TO CARRY GUNS. WHAT SHOULD THE LEGISLATURE DO IN RESPONSE TO THAT?

Gronstal: I THINK IT'S REAL IMPORTANT THAT THERE IS NO PROHIBITION ON UNIVERSITY SECURITY PERSONNEL. REAL IMPORTANT FOR PEOPLE TO KNOW THAT. THERE WAS A PROPOSAL IN THE SENATE TO REQUIRE ALL OF THE SECURITY PERSONNEL TO CARRY WEAPONS.

Glover: AND YOU DECIDED NOT TO DO THAT.

Gronstal: AND WE DECIDED NOT TO DO THAT. WE THINK IT'S APPROPRIATE TO TALK WITH THE REGENTS TO EXPLORE WITH THEM WHAT THEY THINK ARE THE APPROPRIATE STEPS TO TAKE, AND WE'LL BE HAPPY TO TAKE THE RECOMMENDATIONS AND DEAL WITH THEM. I THINK IT IS AN INCREDIBLE TRAGEDY, AND I THINK -- I THINK ANYTHING WE CAN DO TO IDENTIFY WAYS TO TRY AND PREVENT THIS -- IT WOULD APPEAR THERE WERE SOME DANGER SIGNS IN THE CASE OF VIRGINIA TECH. SO I THINK WE OUGHT TO TAKE A CLOSE LOOK AT THAT, MAKE SURE WE HAVE ENOUGH RESOURCES TO DEAL WITH THOSE KINDS OF WARNING SIGNS AT OUR INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION.

Glover: BUT ISN'T THERE SOME RESPONSIBILITY TO ACT?

Gronstal: AND I THINK IT'S ENTIRELY APPROPRIATE TO ACT, BUT I THINK WE'VE GOT TO TAKE RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE BOARD OF REGENTS, FROM OUR REGENTS INSTITUTIONS ON WHAT THOSE APPROPRIATE STEPS ARE.

Glover: SO WHAT STEPS WILL YOU TAKE?

Gronstal: WE HAVE INITIATED THOSE DISCUSSIONS WITH PEOPLE AT THE REGENTS AND AT THE UNIVERSITIES, AND WE'LL BE HAVING THOSE DISCUSSIONS IN THE COMING WEEK.

Henderson: THIS PAST WEEK THE IOWA SENATE ACTED ON A BILL THAT CREATES THIS IOWA POWER FUND ABOUT WHICH GOVERNOR CULVER TALKED ABOUT AS HE WAS RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR. IT OCCURRED TO ME THAT DEMOCRATS, WHEN TERRY BRANSTAD WAS GOVERNOR, WOULD HAVE HOWLED TO THE MOON IF YOU HAD GIVEN HIM SUCH A FUND WITH SO LITTLE STRINGS. WHY ARE SO FEW STRINGS ATTACHED TO THAT MONEY?

Gronstal: WELL, FIRST OF ALL, I THINK DEMOCRATS WORKED WITH GOVERNOR VILSACK A FEW YEARS AGO TO CREATE THE IOWA VALUES FUND THAT ALSO HAD A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF MONEY, $50 MILLION A YEAR, $20 MILLION A YEAR IN CREDITS, ABOUT $35 MILLION A YEAR IN BUSINESS ASSISTANCE THAT ALSO DID NOT HAVE --

Henderson: FUNNELLED THROUGH THE DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.

Gronstal: AND THIS POWER FUND BOARD IS A MECHANISM WHERE RESPONSIBLE IOWANS ARE GOING TO BE APPOINTED TO THIS BOARD, AND THEY ARE GOING TO WORK WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. THEY'RE GOING TO HAVE A DUE DILIGENCE COMMITTEE, AND I THINK ALL OF THOSE THINGS ARE IN PLACE. THIS IS AN EFFORT TO MOVE IOWA FORWARD. I'VE GOT TO TELL YOU, THE KEYSTONE OF THIS SESSION, KIND OF THE BIG THEMATIC THING I THINK WE'VE DONE IS I THINK WE'VE APPEALED TO A NEW GENERATION OF IOWANS, A NEW GENERATION OF IOWA KIDS IN HIGH SCHOOL AND IN COLLEGE THAT ARE STARTING TO SAY IOWA IS A HAPPENING PLACE, IOWA IS A PLACE WHERE I HAVE A FUTURE, AN ECONOMIC FUTURE IN CREATING JOBS. AND I THINK THIS POWER FUND IS A PIECE OF THAT. I THINK WE'VE CAPTURED KIDS' IMAGINATIONS ABOUT BEING A WORLD LEADER IN RENEWABLE ENERGY, A PLACE THAT IS GOING TO LEAD THE WORLD IN TERMS OF ENVIRONMENT, GLOBAL WARMING, AVOIDING FOREIGN ENTANGLEMENTS BECAUSE WE NEED OTHER COUNTRIES' OIL. I THINK IOWA KIDS ARE REALLY EXCITED ABOUT IOWA'S FUTURE.

Yepsen: SO, SENATOR, IN TERMS OF THIS POWER FUND, YOU CAN ASSURE US THAT THIS ISN'T GOING TO TURN INTO SOME DEMOCRATIC SLUSH FUND WHERE THE GOVERNOR IS HANDING OUT THIS MONEY TO ALL OF HIS PALS?

Gronstal: IT HAS -- IT HAS A DUE DILIGENCE COMMITTEE INSERTED IN IT. THEY ARE REQUIRED TO CONSULT WITH AND GET ADVICE FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. THIS IS NOT A SLUSH FUND. THIS IS ABOUT MOVING IOWA FORWARD, KEEPING US ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF A RENEWABLE ECONOMY AND ENERGY INDEPENDENCE.

Yepsen: THIS FUND IS GOING TO MAKE LOANS FOR ETHANOL PLANTS?

Gronstal: THIS FUND IS GOING TO DO A HOST OF THINGS.

Yepsen: BUT ISN'T THERE ENOUGH PRIVATE CAPITAL AROUND?

Gronstal: NO, FOR SOME THINGS THERE ISN'T ENOUGH PRIVATE CAPITAL AROUND, CLEARLY. AT THIS POINT IN TIME, IF IT COMES TO ETHANOL PRODUCTION FROM CORN, THERE IS ENOUGH PRIVATE CAPITAL, THERE ARE MARKETS OUT THERE, THERE ARE MECHANISMS TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN. BUT IF YOU WANT TO STAY ON THE CUTTING EDGE, YOU NEED TO BE INTO THINGS LIKE CELLULOSIC, MAYBE PRODUCING BUTANOL INSTEAD OF ETHANOL. WE'VE GOT TO STAY ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF THOSE THINGS, AND THAT'S THE PIECE THAT THIS POWER FUND IS ABOUT. IT'S NOT ABOUT JUST BUILDING A WHOLE BUNCH MORE CORN AND ETHANOL PLANTS -- IT'S ABOUT STAYING ON THE CUTTING EDGE, CELLULOSIC, BUTANOL, AND OTHER THINGS THAT WE MAY NOT EVEN KNOW AT THIS POINT.

Glover: AND HOW MUCH OF THIS -- HOW MUCH OF THIS FUND WILL GO INTO JUST PURE RESEARCH ON RENEWABLE ENERGY?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT'S A DECISION THAT THIS BOARD SHOULD MAKE. ONCE WE GET THIS BOARD ASSEMBLED AND THESE PEOPLE TOGETHER, I THINK THAT'S A JUDGMENT THEY SHOULD MAKE. AND IF -- AND IF PEOPLE BELIEVE THERE ARE NEEDS AT OUR UNIVERSITIES FOR ADDITIONAL RESEARCH AND ENDOWED CHAIRS OR THOSE KINDS OF THINGS, THEY OUGHT TO GO TO THIS BOARD AND MAKE THAT CASE.

Yepsen: I WANT TO SWITCH GEARS WITH YOU, SENATOR, AND TALK ABOUT THE FINAL WEEK OF THE SESSION HERE. WHAT'S LEFT TO DO? WHAT'S ON YOUR MUST-DO LIST FOR THE COMING WEEK?

Gronstal: WE HAVE -- WE HAVE ESSENTIALLY EIGHT BUDGET BILLS TO FINISH BEFORE THE SESSION IS OVER, AND I THINK ALL OF THE ONES THAT THE SENATE WAS SUPPOSED TO START ARE IN PLAY. WE HAVE BROUGHT OUT -- LAST NIGHT WE BROUGHT OUT THE FINAL STANDINGS BILL, WHICH IS KIND OF TRADITIONALLY THE CATCH-ALL BILL AT THE END OF THE SESSION THAT KIND OF FINISHES THE SESSION. THAT BILL CAME OUT OF COMMITTEE LAST NIGHT RELATIVELY EARLY EVENING. SO THE MAIN THING WE HAVE LEFT TO DEAL WITH IS THE BUDGET, TO PASS THE POWER FUND.

Yepsen: WILL YOU SPEND TOO MUCH MONEY?

Gronstal: WILL WE SPEND TOO MUCH MONEY? YOU CAN PROBABLY MAKE A CASE THAT PERHAPS PENT-UP DEMAND OVER THE LAST, YOU KNOW, DOZEN YEARS HAS PRESSED US IN SOME AREAS TO SPEND. MAYBE A LITTLE MORE THAN SOME OTHERS ARE COMFORTABLE WITH.

Yepsen: EIGHT TO TEN PERCENT IS --

Gronstal: WELL, I THINK THAT OVERSTATES IT.

Yepsen: WELL, WHAT IS YOUR FIGURE?

Gronstal: WELL, LET ME PUT IT TO YOU THIS WAY, DAVID. ON EVERY INDICATOR THAT DAVID VAUDT WOULD SAY IS A KEY INDICATOR FOR A FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE BUDGET, WE'RE IMPROVING. WE'RE IMPROVING SIGNIFICANTLY OVER WHAT WE'VE DONE IN PREVIOUS YEARS. SO WE ARE DOING MUCH BETTER. MORE MONEY IN THE RESERVE FUND. I'D LIKE TO SAY WE'RE GOING TO HAVE -- WE'RE GOING TO HAVE MORE MONEY IN SAVINGS THAN WE HAVE EVER HAD IN THIS MILLENNIUM.

Yepsen: BUT YOU CAN'T GIVE ME A FIGURE ON YOUR SPENDING INCREASE?

Gronstal: IT'S ABOUT -- MY NUMBERS ARE IT'S ABOUT 7.2 PERCENT. AND THERE ARE A SET OF FUNDS THAT WERE NEGLECTED. I DON'T THINK -- I DON'T THINK IT WAS ACCEPTABLE FOR IOWA TO FALL TO 42ND IN TEACHER SALARIES AND WE ARE GOING TO REVERSE THAT TREND AND THAT TAKES MONEY.

Yepsen: SO YOU'RE COMFORTABLE WITH A SPENDING RATE THAT'S TWO TO THREE TIMES THE RATE OF INFLATION?

Gronstal: I THINK THIS PARTICULAR -- AS LONG AS WE'RE IMPROVING ON THE ECONOMIC INDICATORS, AS LONG AS WE'RE PUTTING MORE MONEY INTO SAVINGS, AS LONG AS WE'RE REPAYING THINGS LIKE THE SENIOR LIVING TRUST FUND THAT TWO OR THREE YEARS AGO WAS SITTING AT $16 MILLION, WE ARE NOW GOING TO HAVE IT AT $145 MILLION. AND WE'RE STARTING TO PAY THOSE THINGS BACK, AND WE'RE DOING A BETTER JOB THAN WE HAVE ANY YEAR IN THIS CENTURY.

Glover: ONE OF THE THINGS THAT YOU'VE GOT TO DEAL WITH YET IS YOU PROMISED IN THE LAST CAMPAIGN THAT YOU'RE GOING TO DO SOMETHING TO REFORM, TO HELP WITH COMMERCIAL PROPERTY TAXES. WHAT WILL YOU END UP DOING IN THAT?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT'S -- I THINK THAT'S ONE OF THE MORE VEXING ISSUES WE HAVE. WE HAVE A RELATIVELY SMALL AMOUNT OF MONEY SET ASIDE IN THE BUDGET, $25 MILLION, AND I WOULD SAY CONSENSUS BOTH IN THE SENATE AND BETWEEN THE SENATE, THE HOUSE, AND THE GOVERNOR AT THIS POINT IS ELUSIVE. IT IS NOT EASY TO FIND THAT CONSENSUS RIGHT NOW. AND AGAIN, IT'S A PRETTY SMALL PART OF THE PROBLEM. WE'VE GOT -- WE'VE GOT PERHAPS A BILLION-DOLLAR PROBLEM THAT WE'RE TRYING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE WITH THAT BILLION-DOLLAR PROBLEM WITH $25 MILLION.

Glover: ANOTHER ISSUE THAT YOU'RE TRYING TO DEAL WITH IS TOUGHENING THE STATE'S LAW ON SEX OFFENDERS. WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH THAT?

Gronstal: I BELIEVE NEXT WEEK WE WILL MOVE A BILL THROUGH THE SENATE THAT CREATES SAFETY ZONES. YOU KNOW, OUR LEGISLATION THAT WE HAVE ON THE BOOKS NOW FOCUSES ON WHERE THE OFFICIAL RESIDENCE OF A SEX OFFENDER IS. TO SOME DEGREE, I DON'T CARE WHERE THEY LIVE. I CARE WHERE THEY'RE HANGING OUT, WHETHER THEY'RE HANGING OUT NEXT TO -- NEXT TO MY KIDS' ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. SO THIS BILL REFOCUSES THE ATTENTION ON NOT SO MUCH WHERE THEY LIVE AS WHERE THEY GO DURING THE DAY. SO SAFE ZONES --

Henderson: SENATOR, SO WILL IT SUPPLANT THE 2000 RULE?

Gronstal: NO, I THINK IT WILL BE IN ADDITION TO THE 2000-FOOT RULE.

Glover: THERE'S BEEN TALK AT THE STATEHOUSE ABOUT INCREASING THE STATE'S GASOLINE TAX. WILL THAT HAPPEN?

Gronstal: I -- I THINK THERE WAS -- I THINK THERE WAS REAL INTEREST IN TAKING A LOOK AT THAT STUDY. I WOULD SAY THAT IN THE WANING HOURS OF THIS SESSION, THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO THAT IS PROBABLY LIMITED.

Glover: LET'S FLIP THE POINT. YOU TALKED ABOUT THE THINGS THAT YOU'RE GOING TO ACCOMPLISH IN THE NEXT WEEK. WHAT AREN'T YOU GOING TO ACCOMPLISH IN THE NEXT WEEK? WHAT'S GOING TO FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS?

Gronstal: I -- I DON'T KNOW THAT ANYTHING IN TERMS OF MY PRIORITIES ARE GOING TO FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS OR THE SENATE DEMOCRATS' PRIORITIES. WE CAME INTO THIS SESSION TALKING ABOUT THINGS LIKE MINIMUM WAGE, STEM CELL RESEARCH, BULLYING IN SCHOOLS, DOING BETTER IN EDUCATION. WE THIS WEEK PASSED AN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION EFFORT, ALL THE WAY FROM EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION TO COLLEGE EDUCATION. WE ARE GOING TO SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVE KIDS' OPPORTUNITIES IN THIS STATE. SO EDUCATION; WE'RE GOING TO EXPAND HEALTH CARE, ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE; WE'VE DONE SOME THINGS TO ENHANCE THE ABILITY TO SMALL BUSINESSES TO ACCESS THE HEALTH INSURANCE MARKET; AND WE PASSED -- WE PASSED A POWER FUND. THAT'S ABOUT CREATING THE KINDS OF JOBS THAT WILL KEEP OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN IN THIS STATE. I'M PRETTY SATISFIED THAT THIS IS GOING TO BE A BANNER SESSION WITH A GREAT RECORD.

Henderson: MORE THAN 30 MEMBERS OF THE IOWA SENATE VOTED TO EXPAND CIVIL RIGHTS PROTECTIONS TO HOMOSEXUALS IN IOWA, YET THAT APPEARS TO BE ONE OF THE BILLS WHICH WILL FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS.

Gronstal: I DON'T THINK THAT'S -- I DON'T THINK THAT'S BEEN DECIDED YET.

Glover: THERE'S ANOTHER MEASURE THAT THE SENATE PASSED WHICH WOULD EXPAND THE POWER OF UNIONS. IT'S CALLED FAIR SHARE. IT WOULD REQUIRE NONUNION MEMBERS OF A BARGAINING UNIT TO PAY A FEE WHEN THE UNION PERFORMS FOR THEM.

Gronstal: I HAVE TO CORRECT YOU. IT DOESN'T REQUIRE ANYBODY TO PAY A FEE. IT ALLOWS THEM TO NEGOTIATE INTO THE CONTRACT A FAIR SHARE CLAUSE. THAT LEGISLATION DOESN'T CAUSE ANYTHING. MANAGEMENT AND LABOR WOULD HAVE TO AGREE TO INSERT IN A CONTRACT, SO SAYING THE LEGISLATION REQUIRES IT IS INACCURATE.

Yepsen: WELL, IT'S AGAINST THE LAW TO DO THAT NOW.

Gronstal: I UNDERSTAND THAT WE'RE ALLOWING THAT. BUT SAYING -- BUT SAYING THIS LAW WE PASSED WILL REQUIRE NONMEMBERS TO PAY DUES IS NOT A TRUE STATEMENT.

Glover: WELL, LET'S NOT SIT HERE AND ARGUE ABOUT THE DETAILS OF THE LEGISLATION. IT PASSED THE SENATE. IS IT GOING TO PASS THE HOUSE?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT REMAINS IN QUESTION AT THIS POINT.

Henderson: WHAT ABOUT LOCAL CONTROL FOR COUNTIES TO HAVE SOME CONTROL OVER WHERE HOG CONFINEMENTS ARE SITED?

Gronstal: I THINK THE BIGGEST ISSUE ABOUT HOG CONFINEMENTS IN THE LEGISLATURE THIS YEAR, AGAIN, THAT'S AN AREA THAT HAS ELUDED CONSENSUS FOR A DOZEN YEARS IN IOWA. I THINK THE BIGGEST CONCERN IS ABOUT WATER QUALITY IN THIS STATE, AND WE DID BRING A WATER QUALITY BILL OUT OF COMMITTEE LAST NIGHT IN THE SENATE. I THINK WE WILL MOVE FORWARD ON WATER QUALITY IN TRYING TO CLEAN UP OUR RIVERS AND STREAMS AND STRENGTHEN THE HAND --

Yepsen: YOU DON'T THINK ODOR IS A PROBLEM IN IOWA?

Gronstal: DAVID, I DIDN'T SAY THAT.

Yepsen: YOU SAID WATER. WHAT ABOUT ODOR?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT'S WHERE THE CONSENSUS IS. I THINK WE CAN FIND SOME GOOD THINGS TO DO ON WATER QUALITY IN THIS STATE. I THINK THAT'S THE AREA WHERE THERE'S CLEARLY AN ABILITY TO GET SOMETHING DONE IN THE LEGISLATURE, AND THAT'S WHAT WE'RE GOING TO PURSUE, EFFORTS TO CLEAN UP IOWA'S WATERWAYS.

Glover: STEP BACK FOR A SECOND AND LOOK AT THE WORK PRODUCT OF THIS LEGISLATURE. WHAT DISAPPOINTS YOU THAT YOU WEREN'T ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH?

Gronstal: I'M KIND OF AN OPTIMISTIC GUY. I DON'T SPEND A LOT OF TIME WORKING ON FIGURING OUT WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN. I TRY TO WORK ON THE THINGS -- AND THERE'S STILL A NUMBER OF THINGS THAT ARE IN PLAY IN THIS LEGISLATURE. I THINK WE STILL HAVE A BETTER THAN EVEN MONEY SHOT AT GETTING SOMETHING ON CIVIL RIGHTS BASED ON -- BASED ON PEOPLE'S SEXUAL ORIENTATION. I DON'T THINK IT'S SPECIAL PROTECTION. IT'S PROTECTION FOR ALL OF US.

Glover: LET'S STEP BACK AND LOOK AT THE LAST CAMPAIGN. PERHAPS THE DOMINANT ISSUE IN THE LAST CAMPAIGN THAT EVERYBODY PROMISED WAS UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE. THIS LEGISLATURE IS NOT GOING TO PROVIDE IT. WHY?

Gronstal: WE HAVE BEGUN THE PROCESS. WE ARE ENHANCING THE ABILITY OF SMALL BUSINESSES TO ACCESS THE HEALTH INSURANCE MARKET. WE'RE EXPANDING THE COVERAGE OF CHILDREN IN THIS STATE UNDER THE HAWKEYE PROGRAM. WE ARE MOVING FORWARD -- WE ARE MOVING TOWARDS UNIVERSAL COVERAGE. IN THE MEANTIME WE'VE ALSO CREATED A HEALTH CARE COMMISSION THAT IS GOING TO BRING THE PLAYERS TO THE TABLE -- INSURANCE COMPANIES, CONSUMERS, PROVIDERS, SMALL-BUSINESS PEOPLE -- BRING THOSE FOLKS TOGETHER IN A PROCESS OVER THE NEXT YEAR TO -- YOU KNOW, FIFTEEN YEARS AGO IN THE EARLY '90S, WE PASSED SOME SIGNIFICANT REFORMS IN THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE GROUP HEALTH INSURANCE MARKET. FOR ABOUT A DECADE THAT HELPED US KEEP RELATIVELY MODERATE PREMIUM INCREASES IN THIS STATE IN THE OVERALL SCHEME OF THINGS RELATIVELY MODERATE. AND IT WORKED FOR ABOUT TEN YEARS. BUT IT'S BEEN FIFTEEN YEARS NOW, AND IT'S TIME TO REVISIT THOSE KINDS OF THINGS. SO I THINK THERE'S GREAT OPPORTUNITY THERE IN THE FUTURE. BUT DID WE SOLVE THE WHOLE PROBLEM THIS YEAR? NO, WE DIDN'T.

Glover: HOW LONG DO CONSUMERS HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL HEALTH CARE COVERAGE IS EXTENDED TO EVERYBODY?

Gronstal: I THINK HEALTH CARE COVERAGE IS GOING TO BE A MAJOR ISSUE IN THE 2008 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN. I THINK STATES ARE GOING TO CONTINUE TO EXPERIMENT WITH WAYS TO REACH UNIVERSAL ACCESS. I THINK IOWA IS GOING TO BE ONE OF THOSE STATES, AND I THINK AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL, THERE'S GOING TO BE --

Glover: BUT IT'S A NATIONAL PROBLEM?

Gronstal: SIGNIFICANT --

Henderson: YOU SAID THE PROPERTY --

Glover: IT'S BOTH NATIONAL AND A STATE PROBLEM.

Henderson: YOU SAID PROPERTY TAX REFORM IS ELUSIVE. STEPPING BACK, CANDIDATES HAVE BEEN PROMISING TAX REFORM TO VOTERS FOR YEARS. HOW IS IT THAT IN AN ELECTION YEAR, IF YOU PUT IT OFF TO NEXT YEAR, THAT YOU'LL ACCOMPLISH ANYTHING?

Gronstal: I DON'T KNOW THAT I HAVE A MAGIC ANSWER. IF I COULD FIND CONSENSUS THIS YEAR, WE'D PASS SOMETHING THIS YEAR. WE'RE GOING TO -- WE'RE GOING TO PROBABLY DO SOME MODEST THINGS THIS YEAR. BUT AT THIS MOMENT IN TIME, THAT CONSENSUS REMAINS ELUSIVE. AND I THINK SOMETIME BY THE MIDDLE OF NEXT WEEK, WE MAY HAVE A MODEST PROPOSAL. BUT I'VE GOT TO BE CLEAR; WE HAVE SET ASIDE -- THE GOVERNOR HAS SET ASIDE, THE SENATE AND THE HOUSE HAVE SET ASIDE ABOUT $25 MILLION TO SOLVE A PROBLEM THAT'S IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF A BILLION DOLLARS. WHATEVER WE DO IS GOING TO BE AN INCREDIBLY MODEST FIRST STEP.

Glover: AND IF YOU TALK ABOUT PROPERTY TAX REFORM, THAT RAISES THE ISSUE OF OVERALL TAX REFORM. AT WHAT POINT DOES THIS LEGISLATURE TACKLE A TAX SYSTEM THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY IS TILTED?

Gronstal: AT WHAT POINT DO WE? I THINK ONE OF THE THINGS WE DID -- WE DID THIS WEEK AS WELL IS INCREASED THE EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT IN IOWA. I DO THINK IOWA'S TAX SYSTEM IS REGRESSIVE AND LOW INCOME IOWANS PAY A GREATER SHARE. I THINK LOW INCOME IOWANS HAVE GOT THE SHORT END OF THE STICK ECONOMICALLY IN THE STATE. THAT'S WHY WE PASSED AN INCREASE IN THE MINIMUM WAGE. THAT'S WHY YESTERDAY WE PASSED AN EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT, A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE.

Yepsen: SOME PEOPLE SAY YOU'RE TAKING A LOT OF THAT BACK BECAUSE YOU RAISED CIGARETTE TAXES, YOU MAY RAISE THE GAS TAX, THAT IN FACT YOU'RE GIVING LOW INCOME IOWANS SOMETHING BUT, IN FACT, THE DEMOCRATS ARE TAKING IT AWAY FROM THEM TOO.

Gronstal: WELL, WE'VE DONE OUR BEST TO TRY AND HAVE A RESPONSIBLE BUDGET AND END UP WITH A SYSTEM THAT RECOGNIZES THAT LOWEST INCOME IOWANS PAY -- PAY ROUGHLY AT TWICE THE RATE AS HIGHEST INCOME IOWANS.

Yepsen: I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE TAX QUESTION FOR A MOMENT. DEMOCRATS IN THEIR PLATFORM FOR YEARS HAVE TALKED ABOUT REPEALING FEDERAL DEDUCTIBILITY AND HAVING LOWER RATES. IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. THERE ARE A LOT OF THINGS THAT DEMOCRATS SAID THEY WERE FOR IN THE CAMPAIGN THAT DON'T SEEM TO BE HAPPENING IN THE --

Gronstal: I DON'T THINK -- I DON'T THINK --

Yepsen: WELL, CONTROL OF HOG LOTS, TAX REFORM.

Gronstal: I DON'T THINK THAT'S TRUE, DAVE.

Yepsen: VOTER OWNED ELECTIONS.

Gronstal: I THINK THE BIG THINGS WE TALKED ABOUT ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL WERE EDUCATION, HEALTH CARE, JOB CREATION, RAISING THE MINIMUM WAGE, STEM CELL RESEARCH, BULLYING IN SCHOOLS, CIVIL RIGHTS PROTECTION, AND WE DID THOSE THINGS. THOSE ARE THE THINGS WE TALKED ABOUT LAST FALL, AND ON EVERY FRONT --

Yepsen: YOU JUST SAID --

Gronstal: ON EVERY FRONT WE HAVE PASSED THOSE.

Yepsen: SENATOR, YOU JUST SAID YOU'RE NOT GOING TO DO MUCH ON HEALTH CARE.

Gronstal: I THINK WE'RE GOING TO DO SOMETHING. I THINK WE'RE STARTING THE PROCESS ON THAT.

Yepsen: I WANT YOU TO TALK TO DEMOCRATS WHO ARE NOT HAPPY WITH THE LEADERSHIP OF THE DEMOCRATS IN THE LEGISLATURE. YOU PROMISED TO DO LOCAL CONTROL. YOU PROMISED TO DO SOMETHING ON TAXES. YOU PROMISED TO DO SOMETHING ON VOTER OWNED ELECTIONS.

Gronstal: AND THE SOLUTIONS TO THOSE PROBLEMS REMAIN ELUSIVE BECAUSE THEY ARE COMPLICATED, BIG PROBLEMS. AND WE ARE GOING TO CONTINUE TO WORK ON THOSE AND LOOK FOR WAYS TO MAKE PROGRESS.

Glover: AND LET'S TALK ABOUT ONE OF THOSE IN PARTICULAR, WHICH IS PUBLIC FUNDING OF ELECTIONS. IT CAME UP LATE IN THE SESSION, AND YOU NOW SAY IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. WHY?

Gronstal: I THINK THERE ARE A HOST OF PROBLEMS WITH THAT LEGISLATION, AND I THINK THERE ARE PROBLEMS WITH THINGS LIKE 527S. YOU CAN LIMIT A MECHANISM INSIDE IOWA. YOU CAN'T STOP SOMEBODY FROM OUTSIDE OF IOWA OF GOING BEYOND WHATEVER THOSE LIMITS ARE INSIDE IOWA. THE BILL ALSO APPROPRIATES $10- TO $15 MILLION OUT OF NOWHERE, SO IT BASICALLY THROWS OUR BUDGET OUT OF BALANCE IF WE IN FACT PASS IT. I THINK THERE ARE A LOT OF PROBLEMS WITH IT. I DON'T THINK IT WILL WORK VERY WELL, SO I THINK WE'RE GOING TO TAKE A GOOD EFFORT AT SOME FURTHER STUDY ON THIS. I CAN TELL YOU I PASSED CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM IN THE LATE '80S AND EARLY '90S, AND NOBODY HATES THE MONEY CHASE MORE THAN THOSE OF US THAT ARE LEADERS. IT'S A PRETTY FRUSTRATING PROCESS. AND I THINK THERE ARE THINGS WE CAN DO IN THE SENATE BUT --

Glover: DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE FRUSTRATION THAT VOTERS HAVE? I MEAN EVERYBODY COMPLAINS ABOUT MONEY IN ELECTIONS AND THEN NOTHING HAPPENS?

Gronstal: SURE. I'M AS FRUSTRATED BY IT AS ANYBODY, BUT I THINK WHEN YOU LOOK AT WHAT THEY DID AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL, MCCAIN-FEINGOLD, SUPPOSEDLY SOME SORT OF CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM, AND AS FAR AS I CAN TELL, ALL IT DOES IS PRESERVES THE ADVANTAGE OF INCUMBENTS. I DON'T WANT A SYSTEM THAT STACKS THE DECK IN FAVOR OF INCUMBENTS. I THINK THAT'S WHAT MANY OF THESE KINDS OF REFORMS IN EFFECT DO.

Henderson: I'D LIKE TO RETURN TO DAVE'S PREVIOUS QUESTION HERE AND TURN IT ON ITS HEAD. YOU HAVE A NEW GOVERNOR IN CHET CULVER. YOU HAVE A NEW LEGISLATURE; BOTH HOUSES ARE CONTROLLED BY DEMOCRATS. HOW HAS STATE GOVERNMENT AND ITS SERVICE TO IOWANS CHANGED, IF AT ALL?

Gronstal: WE HAVE DRAMATICALLY IMPROVED IN THE AREA OF EDUCATION. WE'RE GOING TO GO FROM --

Henderson: BUT REPUBLICANS PROMISED THAT ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL TOO.

Gronstal: YEAH, THEY PROMISED IT FOR THE LAST DOZEN YEARS, AND THEY DIDN'T DELIVER A SINGLE THING ON IT. OVER THEIR WATCH, THEY WENT FROM 32ND TO 42ND IN TEACHER PAY IN THIS STATE. REPUBLICANS DIDN'T DO A VERY GOOD JOB OF KEEPING THEIR PROMISES. I CAN TELL YOU WE DID A PRETTY GOOD JOB OF KEEPING OUR PROMISES. SENATE FILE 277, THAT'S THE BILL, GOES DOWN IN HISTORY. THE LAST THIRTY YEARS WE'VE TALKED ABOUT GETTING TO 25TH IN TEACHER SALARIES. THAT BILL DOES IT. WE'VE DONE THAT. SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENTS IN K-12 EDUCATION. BEGINNING STEPS AT UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO PRESCHOOL FOR IOWANS TO MAKE SURE EVERY KID STARTS READY TO LEARN WHEN THEY REACH KINDERGARTEN. DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENTS IN THE AREA OF HIGHER EDUCATION FUNDING. WE'RE NOT GOING TO SEE DOUBLE-DIGIT TUITION INCREASES BECAUSE OF THE BUDGET WE PASSED. AND LET'S FACE IT, A LOT OF OUR STATE GOVERNMENTS, 60 FIRST PERCENT OF ALL STATE GOVERNMENTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY ARE ABOUT EDUCATION. WE'RE RECOMMITTING AS DEMOCRATS TO MAKING SURE EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY IS THERE FOR EVERY IOWAN.

Yepsen: SENATOR, THE GAS TAX HAS BEEN MENTIONED OUT HERE. WHAT IS THE LEGISLATURE GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS ISSUE OF FUNDING ROADS? WHETHER YOU DO SOMETHING THIS SESSION OR NOT, I MEAN THE QUESTION OF COST OF ROAD CONSTRUCTION GOING UP, COMMUNITIES WANTING MORE ACCESS TO HIGHWAYS, WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN?

Gronstal: I THINK -- I THINK WE HAVE A REAL CHALLENGE HERE IN IOWA. THINK WE'VE GOT TO MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHETHER WE WANT -- WE WANT TO HAVE A STRONG COMMERCIAL HIGHWAY NETWORK IN THIS STATE. I THINK THAT'S -- I COME FROM A COMMUNITY THAT'S GOT TWO INTERSTATES -- CRISSCROSSING TWO INTERSTATES IN COUNCIL BLUFFS, AND I THINK THAT'S BEEN A SIGNIFICANT PART OF OUR ECONOMIC REBIRTH OVER THE LAST FIFTEEN YEARS. WE'VE HAD A GREAT ECONOMIC GROWTH IN OUR COMMUNITY. I THINK YOU SEE THAT ACROSS THE STATE. PLACES THAT HAVE GOOD ACCESS TO MODERN TRANSPORTATION ARE PLACES THAT ARE GROWING. PLACES THAT DON'T AREN'T. SO I THINK -- SO I THINK WE'VE GOT TO FACE THE MUSIC ON THIS AND MAKE A DECISION. ARE WE GOING TO LET THE SYSTEM BASICALLY SLOWLY FALL APART? WE'VE BARELY GOT ENOUGH MONEY TO MAINTAIN THE CURRENT NETWORK WE HAVE. WE'RE GOING TO --

Glover: WHEN DO YOU DECIDE THIS?

Gronstal: I WOULD PREFER TO MAKE THAT DECISION THIS YEAR. IT DOESN'T LOOK TO ME LIKE THAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN.

Yepsen: SENATOR, IF YOU DO RAISE THE GAS TAX, WHETHER IT'S THIS YEAR OR NEXT YEAR --

Gronstal: I DON'T THINK IT'S JUST THE GAS TAX. I THINK -- I THINK THAT'S A MISTAKE. I THINK YOU'VE GOT TO LOOK AT -- I THINK YOU'VE GOT TO LOOK AT A COMBINATION OF DIFFERENT SOURCES OF REVENUE. I DON'T THINK YOU LOAD IT ALL ONTO GAS TAXES, SO SOME COMBINATION OF RESOURCES THAT WILL GET SOMEWHERE BETWEEN $150 MILLION AND $250 MILLION A YEAR INTO THIS SYSTEM SO WE CAN IMPROVE, IN PARTICULAR FOR ME, OUR COMMERCIAL HIGHWAY NETWORK.

Yepsen: IF YOU DO ALL THOSE THINGS, HOW DO YOU ANSWER THE INEVITABLE QUESTION -- I MAY EVEN ASK IT -- THAT THERE YOU GO AGAIN RAISING TAXES ON LOWER INCOME AND MIDDLE CLASS IOWANS? THE GAS TAX HITS POOR PEOPLE. WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT?

Gronstal: AND I SAY WE BUILD IN A MUCH STRONGER SYSTEM OF TAX REFORM. I DON'T THINK -- I DON'T THINK LAST NOVEMBER WE RAN ON TAX REFORM, BUT I THINK NOW THAT DEMOCRATS CONTROL THE HOUSE, THE SENATE, AND THE GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, WE CAN TAKE A REASONED, GOOD LOOK AT THAT. WE ATTEMPTED TO DEAL WITH THE FACT THAT SOME OF THE TAXES AND FEES WE'VE DONE THIS YEAR ARE REGRESSIVE, BY YESTERDAY COMMITTING $10 MILLION TO EXPANDING THE EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT IN THIS STATE TO DEAL WITH PRECISELY THAT, THE WORKING POOR IN THIS STATE. SO WE'VE TRIED TO DEAL WITH THAT.

Glover: HOW BIG OF A FACTOR DO YOU HAVE WITHIN THE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS OF THE HOUSE AND THE SENATE? YOU HAVE A RATHER DIVERSE MIX OF DEMOCRATS. YOU'VE GOT URBAN DEMOCRATS PROBABLY THE MAJORITY, BUT YOU'VE GOT A FAIR NUMBER OF RURAL DEMOCRATS. HOW DOES THAT MIXTURE WORK?

Gronstal: IT WORKS JUST GREAT. THE SENATE DEMOCRATS HAVE GOTTEN ALONG VERY WELL THIS YEAR. WE WORK TOGETHER. WE RECOGNIZE EACH OTHER'S DISTRICTS AND UNDERSTAND EACH OTHER'S DISTRICTS. WE HAVE A GREAT CAUCUS, A GREAT GROUP OF TALENTED PEOPLE THAT HAVE FIGURED OUT A WAY TO WORK TOGETHER AS A TEAM. AND I THINK WE'RE ALL PRETTY PROUD OF THE EFFORT WE'RE ABLE TO --

Glover: BUT DOESN'T THAT MIX OF RURAL DEMOCRATS, DEMOCRATS COMING FROM RURAL SECTIONS OF THE STATE, LIMIT YOUR ABILITY TO MOVE ON A DEMOCRATIC AGENDA?

Gronstal: NO, I THINK WE'RE ALL IOWANS FIRST. AFTER THAT WE'RE FROM -- I MAY BE FROM A CITY AND SENATOR KIBBIE MAY BE FROM A MORE RURAL AREA, BUT I THINK, NUMBER ONE, WE ARE ALL IOWANS AND WE WORK TOGETHER. WE RECOGNIZE THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES THAT EXIST IN A RURAL DISTRICT. WE RECOGNIZE THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES THAT EXIST IN A URBAN DISTRICT OR SUBURBAN. WE RECOGNIZE EACH OTHER'S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES AND THE DISTRICT'S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES, AND WE TRY AND WORK TOGETHER, COME UP WITH AN AGENDA. THAT'S WHY -- THAT'S WHY WE'VE WORKED SO HARD ON TEACHER SALARIES. YOU KNOW, TEACHER SALARIES IS ONE OF THOSE MECHANISMS THAT IF YOU'RE IN A RURAL DISTRICT, YOU REALLY GET THE SHORT END OF THE STICK. YOU DON'T HAVE AS MUCH OPPORTUNITY TO HIRE THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST. SO OUR EFFORTS TO DO MORE IN THAT AREA, I THINK THEY'RE GOING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE ACROSS THE STATE IN TERMS OF EQUITY OF ACCESS TO EDUCATION.

Henderson: SENATOR, YOU ARE SEEN AS SORT OF THE KING MAKER IN THE IOWA LEGISLATURE, AND AS SUCH YOU HAVE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES PHONING YOU UP AND ASKING TO MEET WITH YOUR FOLKS. HOW WOULD YOU ASSESS THE RACE FOR YOUR PARTY'S PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION?

Gronstal: I THINK IT IS STILL WIDE OPEN IN IOWA. AND WHAT ALL OF US LEGISLATORS -- ALL OF THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES COURT ALL OF US. AND WE ARE VERY HAPPY TO HAVE THEM TO COME TO OUR COMMUNITIES AND WE ARE VERY HAPPY TO HELP PRODUCE A CROWD FOR THEM AND OPEN THE DOOR FOR THEM BUT THEY HAVE TO CLOSE THE DEAL WITH IOWA VOTERS. SO THEY CAN COURT US ALL THEY WANT, BUT THEY'VE GOT TO CONVINCE THE RANK AND FILE THAT THEY'RE THE RIGHT CHOICE. AND IOWANS -- IOWA DEMOCRATS TAKE THE CAUCUSES VERY SERIOUSLY ABOUT FINDING A CANDIDATE THAT BOTH REFLECTS THEIR POLITICAL VALUES AND HAS THE ABILITY TO WIN.

Henderson: SO YOU DON'T SEE A TOP TIER AND A BOTTOM TIER?

Gronstal: NOT YET. I THINK WE'LL GET THERE. I THINK WE'LL GET THERE, BUT I STILL THINK FOR IOWA DEMOCRATS, THEY'RE VERY OPEN TO LISTENING TO ANYBODY THAT'S GOING TO WALK INTO THE STATE AND SAY I'M INTERESTING IN BEING PRESIDENT.

Glover: WILL YOU ENDORSE?

Gronstal: WILL I ENDORSE? CERTAINLY NOT ANY TIME SOON. IS IT POSSIBLE I'LL ENDORSE? I CAME CLOSE TO ENDORSING LAST TIME AND BACKED AWAY FROM IT. DON'T EXPECT ANYTHING BEFORE VERY LATE FALL OR EARLY WINTER.

Yepsen: SENATOR, WE'RE OUT OF TIME. THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH US TODAY.

Gronstal: SURE.

Yepsen: WE APPRECIATE IT. AND WHILE THE LEGISLATURE WRAPS UP ITS WORK THIS COMING WEEK, WE'RE HEADED OUT ONTO THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL AGAIN. AND JOINING US NEXT WEEK AT THE 'IOWA PRESS' TABLE IS U.S. SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN OF DELAWARE, A CANDIDATE FOR THE 2008 DEMOCRATIC NOMINATION FOR PRESIDENT. WE'LL TALK FOREIGN POLICY, DOMESTIC POLICY, AND CAMPAIGN POLITICS AT OUR REGULAR 'IOWA PRESS' AIRTIMES: THAT'S FRIDAY AT 7:30 P.M. AND SUNDAY MORNING AT 11.30. OUR GUEST, CHAIRMAN OF THE SENATE'S FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE, JOSEPH BIDEN. I HOPE YOU'LL BE JOINING US. I'M DAVID YEPSEN OF 'THE DES MOINES REGISTER' SITTING IN FOR DEAN BORG ON THIS WEEK'S EDITION OF 'IOWA PRESS.' THANKS FOR JOINING US.

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; AND BY THE ASSOCIATED GENERAL CONTRACTORS OF IOWA, THE PUBLIC'S PARTNER IN BUILDING IOWA'S HIGHWAY, BRIDGE, AND MUNICIPAL UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE.


Tags: Congress Democrats interviews Iowa