Iowa Public Television

 

Mike Gronstal

posted on November 2, 2007

Borg: WITH IOWA'S POLITICAL SPOTLIGHT DISPROPORTIONATELY FOCUSING ON PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS RIGHT NOW, THE RAPIDLY APPROACHING STATE LEGISLATIVE SESSION ISN'T GETTING ITS USUAL ATTENTION. YOU'LL RECALL THAT ABOUT A MONTH AGO, THOUGH, HERE ON 'IOWA PRESS,' WE DID RECEIVE A LEGISLATIVE PREVIEW FROM LEADERS OF THE IOWA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, AND TODAY WE'RE GETTING AN UPDATE FROM THE LEADER OF THE SENATE'S DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY, MIKE GRONSTAL FROM COUNCIL BLUFFS. SENATOR GRONSTAL, WELCOME BACK TO 'IOWA PRESS.'

Gronstal: THANKS FOR HAVING ME. A NICE NEW SET THAT YOU HAVE HERE.

Borg: YES, AND WE'RE ENJOYING IT. THANKS FOR THE COMPLIMENT. ACROSS THE TABLE, STATEHOUSE REPORTERS, 'DES MOINES REGISTER' POLITICAL COLUMNIST DAVID YEPSEN AND 'ASSOCIATED PRESS' SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER MIKE GLOVER.

Glover: SENATOR, LET'S TAKE A STEP BACK AND LOOK AT A BROAD BRUSH AS WE APPROACH THIS SESSION. WHAT'S THE AGENDA THAT DEMOCRATS ARE PURSUING? WHAT DO YOU WANT THIS SESSION TO BE REMEMBERED FOR?

Gronstal: LOOK, I THINK THERE'S A HOST OF ISSUES THAT WE'RE GOING TO WORK ON OUT THERE. BUT PROBABLY THE BIG ONE THAT WE REALLY WANT TO MOVE FORWARD ON, MAKE SOME ACCOMPLISHMENTS ON IS IN THE AREA OF HEALTH CARE. I THINK IOWA IS UNIQUELY POSITIONED TO ACCOMPLISH SOME GOOD THINGS. WE HAVE THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF PEOPLE IN THE COUNTRY INSURED IN THE STATE OF IOWA. WE HAVE AMONGST THE BEST QUALITY OF CARE FROM PROVIDERS OUT THERE, YOU KNOW, IN THE TOP TEN, MAYBE THE TOP FIVE IN TERMS OF QUALITY OF CARE, AND WE HAVE AMONG THE LOWEST COSTS IN COUNTRY. SO YOU TAKE ALL OF THOSE FACTORS TOGETHER, AND IOWA IS IN A UNIQUE PLACE OF OPPORTUNITY TO BEGIN TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM OF HEALTH CARE.

Glover: PARDON THE CYNIC IN ME. YOU HAVE THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF INSURED IOWANS, YOU HAVE THE BEST QUALITY MEDICAL CARE, AND YOU HAVE THE LOWEST COST IN THE COUNTRY. WHAT'S THE PROBLEM YOU'RE TRYING TO SOLVE?

Gronstal: THE PROBLEM IS THE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF IOWANS, SCORES OF THOUSANDS OF IOWANS THAT DON'T HAVE ACCESS TO COVERAGE, THAT'S THE PROBLEM. FOR MANY FAMILIES OUT THERE, THEY ARE ONE JOB OR ONE BAD CIRCUMSTANCE AWAY FROM LOSING THEIR HEALTH CARE COVERAGE, SO THERE'S A REAL CHALLENGE. THERE WAS JUST A REPORT YESTERDAY SINCE I BELIEVE 2000: 90,000 IOWA KIDS HAVE LOST ACCESS TO COVERAGE THROUGH THEIR EMPLOYERS. SO THERE ARE REAL PROBLEMS THERE. AND THERE'S THE ADDITIONAL PROBLEM OF THE UNINSURED, THAT'S THE MECHANISM THAT IS GROWING OUR HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUMS. PROBABLY THE SECOND BIGGEST DRIVER OF HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUM INCREASES IS OUR UNINSURED MARKET.

Yepsen: WHAT DOES THIS FEDERAL CONTROVERSY OVER S-CHIP, THE STATE CHILDREN'S HEALTH INSURANCE PROGRAM, DO TO WHAT YOU FOLKS IN THE LEGISLATURE ARE TRYING TO DO?

Gronstal:, OBVIOUSLY THAT WILL PROVIDE SOME CHALLENGES, AND IT WILL BE GOOD FOR US IF THEY'RE ABLE TO PROVIDE ENOUGH RESOURCES TO COVER SOME MORE PEOPLE UNDER THAT PROGRAM. THAT BATTLE IS GOING ON AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL. IF THEY DON'T FIND A RESOLUTION TO THAT, THAT WILL BE A REAL CHALLENGE FOR IOWA. BUT LIKE I SAY, I'VE GOT TO TELL YOU, IOWA IS THE KIND OF PLACE WHERE WE CAN TACKLE THIS PROBLEM. THERE'S SOME REAL OPPORTUNITIES IN HEALTH CARE, THERE REALLY ARE. THINGS LIKE DISEASE MANAGEMENT. DAVID, IF THEY'D HELP YOU AND ME LOSE A LITTLE BIT OF WEIGHT AND GET OUR BLOOD PRESSURE DOWN, WE WOULD SAVE THE SYSTEM TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS.

Yepsen: WHAT'S THE GOVERNMENT'S ROLE IN DOING THAT?

Gronstal: TO HELP -- I'VE GOT TO TELL YOU, WE'VE GOT THIS HEALTH CARE COMMISSION, EVERYBODY IS AT THE TABLE, CONSUMERS, INSURANCE COMPANIES, PROVIDERS. THIS IS NOT SOME LITTLE GROUP OF PEOPLE THINKING UP A PLAN TO IMPOSE ON EVERYBODY. THIS IS AN OPEN SYSTEM AND WE'RE INVITING PEOPLE TO PARTICIPATE. BUT I'VE GOT TO TELL YOU, IOWA IS THE KIND OF PLACE THAT CAN TACKLE THIS PROBLEM. IF WE CAN'T TACKLE IT, WHO CAN. SO I'VE GOT TO TELL YOU, I'M REALLY EXCITED ABOUT OUR OPPORTUNITIES IN HEALTH CARE.

Glover: WELL, WHAT HAPPENS --

Gronstal: WE'VE GOT TO FOCUS.

Glover: WHAT HAPPENS REALISTICALLY IF DEMOCRATS WHO ARE RUNNING CONGRESS AND PRESIDENT BUSH CAN'T AGREE ON A CHILDREN'S HEALTH INSURANCE BILL? WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE'S NO BILL? WHAT'S THE IMPACT ON THE STATE?

Gronstal: IT WILL BE A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON THE STATE AND WE WILL STRUGGLE THROUGH AND WE WILL END UP WITH A STRONGER DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY IN THE U.S. CONGRESS. WE WILL END UP WITH A DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENT, AND WE WILL TACKLE THIS PROBLEM AND SOLVE IT. REPUBLICANS AREN'T LISTENING. PEOPLE ACROSS THIS COUNTRY WERE SAYING HEALTH INSURANCE IS BECOMING UNAFFORDABLE. THE REPUBLICANS HAVE QUIT LISTENING. THEY PICKED THE WRONG FIGHT ON THE WRONG TURF. THEY SHOULD NOT BE DENYING HEALTH CARE TO MILLIONS OF AMERICAN KIDS.

Yepsen: SENATOR, WHERE DO YOU GET THE MONEY TO DO THIS? TALK ABOUT THE STATE'S FINANCES FOR A MOMENT. WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS OF THE STATE -- WHAT IS THE CONDITION OF THE STATE'S FINANCES, AND IS THERE MONEY AVAILABLE FOR THE STATE TO MAKE ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTIONS IN HEALTH CARE?

Gronstal: IT'S A QUESTION OF PRIORITIES, DAVID. IT'S A QUESTION OF US COMING IN AND SAYING WE'RE GOING TO FOCUS ON THIS ISSUE AND TACKLE IT. STATE FINANCES ARE, I'D SAY, FAIR. THEY'RE BETTER THAN THEY'VE BEEN IN A LONG TIME. IN SPITE OF CHRISTOPHER RANTS -- AND, LOOK, I KNOW IT'S HIS JOB. IT'S HIS JOB TO SAY THE SKY IS FALLING. I UNDERSTAND THAT. BUT IT'S A LITTLE DISINGENUOUS WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT THE BUDGET. WE PUT $156 MILLION BACK INTO THE SENIOR LIVING TRUST FUND THAT THE REPUBLICANS HAD SPENT DOWN TO ESSENTIALLY ZERO FROM 300 MILLION. SO WE PUT MORE THAN HALF THAT MONEY BACK. WE FILLED UP OUR RESERVE FUNDS, $600 MILLION MORE THAN EVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE STATE. WE'VE STARTED TO PAY FOR THE PROPERTY TAX CREDITS OUT OF THE GENERAL FUND WHERE THEY BELONG. WE'RE CLEANING UP OUR FINANCES. IT'S BEEN A CHALLENGE. WE HAD TO CLEAN UP THE MESS THAT THE REPUBLICANS LEFT US.

Yepsen: EXCUSE ME, SENATOR. THE LEGISLATIVE SERVICES AGENCY, WHICH IS A NONPARTISAN GROUP OF FOLKS, TELLS US EVERY YEAR YOU'VE GOT ALL THIS BUILT-IN EXPENDITURES. YOU'VE GOT ALL THESE THINGS THAT YOU PROMISED TO DO -- YOU'VE GOT $4- OR 500 MILLION MORE THAN WHAT YOUR REVENUE PROJECTIONS ARE. IF THAT'S TRUE, WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT HEALTH CARE?

Gronstal: WHICH IS ABOUT THE SAME NUMBER THAT IT WAS LAST YEAR WHEN THE REPUBLICANS HAD CONTROLLED IT. AND THE YEAR BEFORE, IT'S ABOUT THE SAME NUMBER THERE. WHEN IT'S ALL SAID AND DONE, LISTEN TO THOSE NUMBERS: 600 MILLION PUT BACK IN SAVINGS; 156 MILLION PUT BACK INTO THE SENIOR LIVING TRUST FUND. WE'RE CLEANING UP THE MESSES THAT THE REPUBLICANS LEFT US. AND I KNOW IT'S THEIR JOB TO SAY THE SKY IS FALLING, BUT WE'RE GOING TO MOVE FORWARD ON THAT. AND THERE WERE THINGS WE NEEDED TO DO. TEACHER SALARIES AT 41ST IN THE COUNTRY WERE UNACCEPTABLE, AND WE'RE GOING TO BE AT 25TH. AND THAT TAKES MONEY AND THAT TAKES ADDITIONAL SPENDING.

Yepsen: HOW MUCH MONEY FOR HEALTH CARE?

Gronstal: I DON'T THINK WE KNOW THAT YET. WE'LL GET A REVENUE ESTIMATE IN DECEMBER. THAT'S THE ONE BY LAW WE BASE OUR BUDGET ON, AND WE'LL BE MOVING FORWARD ON THAT. I'M NOT TELLING YOU WE'RE GOING TO COME IN NEXT SESSION AND SOLVE AND COME UP WITH A MECHANISM TO PROVIDE ACCESS TO EVERYBODY IN IOWA THAT DOESN'T HAVE ACCESS TO HEALTH INSURANCE, BUT WE ARE GOING TO START DOWN THAT PATH.

Yepsen: WILL THE LEGISLATURE PASS A LAW THAT NOT WITHSTANDS THAT REQUIREMENT THAT YOU FOLLOW THE DECEMBER REVENUE ESTIMATE? USUALLY THE LAW SAYS ONE THING, AND THEN YOU GUYS COME IN AND SAY WE JUST BYPASSED --

Gronstal: I THINK YOU'D ADMIT THAT YOU WOULD WERE SURPRISED THAT IT WAS THE REPUBLICANS THAT WERE THE FIRST ONES TO NOT WITHSTAND THE LAW.

Yepsen: YOU'RE MAJORITY LEADER NOW.

Gronstal: WE ARE GOING TO MAKE OUR BEST EFFORT TO ABIDE BY THE LAW, JUST AS WE MADE OUR BEST EFFORT TO REFILL THOSE TRUST FUNDS, TO PAY BACK THE SENIOR LIVING TRUST FUND, TO PAY FOR THE PROPERTY TAX CREDITS OUT OF THE GENERAL FUND. WE NEED -- WE HAVE THE MOST FISCALLY RESPONSIBLE BUDGET SINCE THE REPUBLICANS TOOK --

Yepsen: YOU STILL HAD TO NOT WITHSTAND THOUGH, DIDN'T YOU.

Gronstal: -- TOOK -- TOOK CONTROL OF THE LEGISLATURE.

Glover: LET'S LOOK AT ANOTHER ISSUE THAT'S GOING TO FACE THIS LEGISLATURE, AND THAT'S THE ROADS AND TRANSPORTATION NETWORK IN THE STATE. THERE IS A LOT OF STUDIES OUT THERE THAT SHOWS THE STATE IS SHORT OF MONEY TO MAINTAIN ITS TRANSPORTATION NETWORK. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF OPTIONS THAT YOU HAVE TO REFILL THAT POT. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

Gronstal: I THINK THE LEGISLATURE IS GOING TO TAKE A VERY SERIOUS LOOK AT THE RECOMMENDATIONS. WE HAVE AN INTERIM STUDY COMMITTEE THAT'S WORKING ON THIS. WE HAD A BIPARTISAN EFFORT LAST SPRING WITH SENATOR PUTNEY AND SENATOR RIELLY TO GO OUT ACROSS THE STATE. THEY HAD SOME PUBLIC HEARINGS AND TALKED ABOUT INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS. WE ARE TALKING WITH BOTH OUR LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND OUR LOCAL CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE ABOUT WHAT THE TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS ARE. I THINK IT'S LIKELY THAT IF WE CAN WORK ON THIS IN A BIPARTISAN WAY THAT WE WILL MOVE FORWARD AND DO SOMETHING.

Glover: WELL, YOU KNOW WHAT THE OPTIONS ARE. WHAT ARE YOUR CHOICES AND WHAT'S YOUR MOST LIKELY?

Gronstal: MY JOB ON THE CHOICES -- I HAVE SOME PREFERENCES. MY JOB IS TO HELP ALL OF US WORK TOGETHER AND WORK WITH THE GOVERNOR TO FIND CONSENSUS ON A PACKAGE THAT MAKES SENSE. I PERSONALLY, YOU KNOW, FROM MY PERSPECTIVE THINK THE PICKUP TRUCK FEES IS AN IMPORTANT MECHANISM TO DEAL WITH. MAYBE THAT'S BECAUSE I DRIVE A GEO METRO AND I'M PAYING $300 AND THESE GUYS ARE PAYING $65. SO THAT'S ONE MECHANISM I LIKE, BUT THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS IS ONE OF ABOUT 150 PEOPLE FINDING RESOLUTION.

Glover: DO YOU TAKE INCREASING THE GAS TAX OFF THE TABLE? IS THAT NOT REALISTIC IN AN ELECTION YEAR?

Gronstal: YOU KNOW, I THINK THERE'S -- I THINK THERE'S SOME SENSE THAT WE'D LIKE TO MINIMIZE THE AMOUNT OF GAS TAX THAT WE'LL DO. I DON'T KNOW THAT IT'S COMPLETELY OFF THE TABLE. BUT LET ME ASSURE YOU THIS, WE'RE NOT GOING TO RAISE THE GAS TAX 10 CENTS.

Yepsen: SENATOR, ONE IDEA THAT YOU FLOATED LAST YEAR, LAST SESSION IN 2007, WHICH WOULD HAVE ADDRESSED SOME OF THE INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS, WAS ALSO ADDRESSING SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS, AND THAT WAS THIS WHOLE IDEA OF MAKING THE LOCAL OPTION SALES TAX FOR SCHOOLS, WHICH HAS NOW BEEN PASSED IN 99 COUNTIES, A STATEWIDE SALES TAX, WHICH WOULD ALSO GIVE YOU SOME ADDITIONAL REVENUE FOR THE ROAD USE TAX FUND. ARE YOU GOING TO PUSH THAT IDEA AGAIN IN THIS SESSION?

Gronstal: IT'S STILL FLOATING BUT I HAVEN'T DRUG IT INTO THE VOTE YET. THE IDEA IS STILL FLOATING. THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE LOOKING AT THAT. IF YOU COULD DO THAT ALONG WITH THAT MECHANISM AND EQUALIZE PROPERTY TAXES SO THAT THE PROPERTY POOR DISTRICTS, THEY DON'T HAVE MUCH HIGHER PROPERTY TAX BILLS, I THINK THERE'S SOME POSSIBILITY OF GETTING THAT DONE. YES, I AM GOING TO TRY AND MOVE FORWARD ON THAT ISSUE, BUT IT'S ONE OF THOSE THINGS THAT'S GOING TO HAVE TO BE DONE IN A BIPARTISAN WAY.

Borg: AS LONG AS YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT EDUCATION, THE REGENTS EARLIER THIS WEEK TOOK THE FIRST STEP TOWARD INCREASING TUITION DURING THE 2008-2009 SCHOOL YEAR BY 3.2 PERCENT. AT THAT TIME THEY SAID IT WAS THE SECOND LOWEST INCREASE IN 27 YEARS, AND THEY WERE FULL OF PRAISE FOR THE APPROPRIATIONS THAT THEY'D RECEIVED FROM THE LEGISLATURE THAT ENABLED THAT. CAN YOU KEEP THAT UP?

Gronstal: I'M HOPEFUL WE CAN KEEP THAT UP. I THINK FOR A DECADE WE PRICED A LOT OF MIDDLE CLASS FAMILIES OUT OF THE MARKET FOR ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION. I THINK THAT WAS A MISTAKE. I THINK THE STUDIES YOU'RE SEEING NOW TALKING ABOUT THE NEED FOR A SKILLED WORK FORCE AND TRAINING -- TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES FOR IOWA KIDS, I THINK YOU'RE SEEING -- I THINK WE'RE PAYING THE PIPER SOMEWHAT FOR THAT NOW. WE'VE GOT -- WE'VE GOT SKILLED JOBS OUT THERE BUT WE DON'T HAVE SKILLED WORKERS FOR THEM, AND THAT'S BECAUSE WE'VE NEGLECTED TO PROVIDE ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION. I THINK BOTH AT THE REGENTS AND AT THE COMMUNITY COLLEGES, WE NEED TO CONTINUE TO KEEP THAT AS A PRIORITY.

Borg: RUTH HARKIN AND MIKE GARTNER AND ROSE VASQUEZ, REGENTS, ACTUALLY VOTED IN FAVOR OF 2 PERCENT FOR IOWA RESIDENTS. OBVIOUSLY YOU WOULD HAVE LIKED TO HAVE SEEN THAT. DO YOU THINK THAT YOU WOULD PUSH FOR THAT? ARE YOU DISAPPOINTED THAT THERE IS A DIFFERENTIAL FOR IOWA RESIDENTS?

Gronstal: YOU KNOW, I DON'T THINK I'LL FOCUS ON WHAT I'M DISAPPOINTED ABOUT. WHAT I'M EXCITED ABOUT IS IT'S THE SMALLEST INCREASE IN 27 YEARS. WHAT I'M EXCITED ABOUT IS OVER TIME -- WE CAN'T FIX EVERY PROBLEM ALL IN ONE YEAR, BUT OVER TIME I THINK YOU'RE GOING TO SEE DEMOCRATS WITH A GREATER COMMITMENT TO HIGHER EDUCATION THAN WHEN REPUBLICANS CONTROLLED THE LEGISLATURE. SO I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO CONTINUING PROGRESS IN THAT AREA. MY COMMUNITY COLLEGE IN SOUTHWESTERN IOWA FROM COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA WESTERN, THEY HAD A ZERO TUITION INCREASE. I THINK THAT IS GREAT NEWS FOR A LOT OF KIDS IN THE STATE -- AND FAMILIES.

Glover: LET'S LOOK AT A COUPLE OF ISSUES THAT YOU TALKED ABOUT IN THE LAST LEGISLATIVE SESSION. YOU HAD A COUPLE OF LABOR ISSUES, THE FAIR SHARE ISSUE OF COLLECTING DUES FROM NONUNION MEMBERS AND THE PREVAILING WAGE OF PUBLIC PROJECTS. I WAS AT THE AFL-CIO CONVENTION THIS SUMMER, AND THERE WAS REAL ANGER AMONG THOSE UNION MEMBERS AT YOU, AT DEMOCRATS IN THE LEGISLATURE, THAT YOU DIDN'T ACT ON THEIR PRIORITIES. ARE YOU GOING TO RESPOND TO THAT THIS SESSION?

Gronstal: I THINK THE SENATE DID ACT ON THEIR PRIORITIES. THERE ARE PEOPLE THAT ARE HAPPY WITH WHAT WE DID, PEOPLE THAT ARE DISAPPOINTED, AND PEOPLE THAT ARE SOMEWHAT NEUTRAL THAT WOULD LIKED US TO DO MORE.

Gronstal: MY JOB AS THE DEMOCRATIC LEADER IS TO MOVE THINGS FORWARD. WE MOVED FAIR SHARE FORWARD IN THE SENATE AND PASSED THAT OVER TO THE HOUSE. YOU DESCRIBED IT AS MAKING THEM PAY DUES. I DESCRIBE IT AS MAKING PEOPLE PAY FOR SERVICES THEY GET. SO I THINK WE'LL CONTINUE TO LOOK AT THOSE ISSUES. HERE'S THE GOOD NEWS: FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THIRTY YEARS, PEOPLE TALKED ABOUT IT. AND I UNDERSTAND PEOPLE'S FEELING THAT IT'S UNFAIR THAT THEY BE REQUIRED TO PAY SOME FEE FOR SERVICES RENDERED BY THE UNION. I THINK IT'S ALSO UNFAIR THAT THE UNION IS REQUIRED TO PROVIDE SERVICES TO PEOPLE THAT DON'T PAY FOR THEM. SO I THINK -- I THINK THAT'S A DECENT DISCUSSION WORTH HAVING. IN THE END THE LEGISLATURE DECIDED WE'RE NOT GOING TO APPLY IT TO THE BUSINESS SECTOR, WE'RE NOT GOING TO APPLY IT TO THE PRIVATE MARKETPLACE, BUT WE RECOGNIZE THAT PUBLIC EMPLOYEES HAVE A SET OF SIGNIFICANT LIMITATIONS ON THEIR ABILITY TO BARGAIN. AND THIS IS ONE THAT WOULD ENHANCE THEIR ABILITY TO BARGAIN, AND WE DECIDED THAT WOULD BE THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

Glover: PUT YOUR PROGNOSTICATOR HAT ON. WILL EITHER ONE OF THOSE ISSUES LAND ON THE GOVERNOR'S DESK NEXT YEAR?

Gronstal: IT'S POSSIBLE. I DON'T KNOW. I REALLY DON'T KNOW.

Yepsen: WHAT ABOUT THE LARGER ISSUE THAT YOU'RE IN FACT TINKERING AROUND WITH THE STATE'S RIGHT TO WORK LAW WHEN YOU DO THAT?

Gronstal: I -- I APPRECIATE THE TENSIONS ABOUT THAT ISSUE, BUT WHAT DID WE DO IN THE END? WE MADE A JUDGMENT NOT TO APPLY IT TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR, NOT TO APPLY IT TO CHAPTER 731 OF THE CODE AND PRIVATE EMPLOYERS, ONLY TO PUBLIC EMPLOYERS. BUT I'VE ALSO GOT TO TELL YOU, IF YOU LOOK -- WHOSE ECONOMY LOOKS BETTER OR WHOSE AVERAGE FAMILY INCOME IS BETTER OF THE STATES AROUND US, THE ONES WITH RIGHT TO WORK OR THE ONES WITHOUT? AND THE ECONOMIC REALITY IS, YOU KNOW, MINNESOTA, WISCONSIN, ILLINOIS, GENERALLY SPEAKING THEIR FOLKS MAKE MORE MONEY, HAVE A HIGHER STANDARD OF LIVING THAN THEY DO IN IOWA. SO IF IT'S SO GOOD, HOW COME ALL THEIR BUSINESSES HAVEN'T MOVED FROM THOSE THREE STATES INTO IOWA?

Yepsen: IF THAT'S THE CASE, THEN, IS REPEAL OF THE IOWA RIGHT TO WORK LAW AN ISSUE IN THE 2008 CAMPAIGN?

Gronstal: IT'S NOT ON THE AGENDA. IT'S NOT ON THE AGENDA. IT'S NOT GOING TO BE --

Yepsen: WELL, YOU JUST SAID YOU'D BE CONSIDERING IT.

Gronstal: WE'D BE CONSIDERING THE FAIR SHARE PROPOSAL THAT WE PASSED LAST SESSION.

Yepsen: SO IT'S TRUE, IF A VOTER IN IOWA VOTES FOR A DEMOCRAT FOR THE LEGISLATURE, THEY ARE IN FACT VOTING TO REPEAL THE RIGHT TO WORK LAW, CORRECT?

Gronstal: DAVID, THAT'S A HUGE EXAGGERATION. THIS DOESN'T APPLY. THE VERSION WE PASSED IN THE IOWA SENATE DOESN'T APPLY TO PRIVATE EMPLOYERS. LET'S SAY ONE OTHER THING HERE. THIS ONLY HAPPENS IF MANAGEMENT AGREES TO IT IN A CONTRACT.

Yepsen: ANOTHER ISSUE, SENATOR, THAT IS IN FRONT OF THE LEGISLATURE IS THE WHOLE QUESTION OF COMMERCIAL PROPERTY TAXES. THE PROPERTY TAXES PAID BY IOWA'S BUSINESS ARE AMONG THE HIGHEST IN THE COUNTRY, IF NOT THE HIGHEST. WILL THIS LEGISLATURE IN 2008 DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT?

Gronstal: IT'S A TOUGH ISSUE. IT'S BEEN AROUND SINCE 1978. IT'S GROWN FROM A PRETTY SMALL PROBLEM TO A BILLION DOLLAR PROBLEM. AND DO WE HAVE A BILLION DOLLARS TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM? NO, WE DON'T. SO WHATEVER WE DO -- AND WE WILL ATTEMPT TO DO SOMETHING ON THIS ISSUE, BUT WHATEVER WE DO IS GOING TO BE PRETTY MODEST AND IT'S NOT GOING TO OVERHAUL THE SYSTEM OVERNIGHT. THAT'S ONE OF THE THINGS WE TRIED TO DO IN THE SENATE LAST YEAR. THE BILL HAD A NUMBER OF FLAWS TO IT. I MEAN I'M NOT SAYING IT'S PERFECT, BUT WE TRIED TO BITE -- TAKE OFF ONE PIECE OF THIS, COMMERCIAL PROPERTY TAXES ON APARTMENTS. WE -- EVERYBODY'S TRIED TO FIND THE GRAND SOLUTION TO THE WHOLE THING FOR THE LAST 28 YEARS, AND SO WE SAID, WELL, WAIT A MINUTE, MAYBE IT'S TOO BIG OF A PROBLEM TO SWALLOW IN ONE BITE. SO WE TOOK ONE BITE, ABOUT $100 MILLION, $94-, 95 MILLION. WE TOOK ONE BITE OF THAT PROBLEM AND TRIED TO DEAL WITH IT. I THINK THAT'S WHAT WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO DO IS BREAK THIS INTO PIECES AND NOT FIND A GLOBAL SOLUTION FOR IT BECAUSE THE GLOBAL SOLUTIONS IS LITERALLY -- IT'S A BILLION DOLLARS OF EITHER SOME OTHER REVENUE TO REPLACE IT OR A BILLION DOLLARS WORTH OF CUTS AND SERVICES AT THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT LEVEL.

Glover: ANOTHER BIG BITE YOU'VE GOT TO TAKE IS TO TAKE A LOOK AT THE STATE'S PRISON SYSTEM. PARTS OF IT DATE TO BEFORE THE CIVIL WAR. THERE'S TALK ABOUT REPLACING THE PRISON AT FORD MADISON, TALK ABOUT DOING MORE IN COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS, CHANGE IN STATE SENTENCING POLICY. WHAT DO YOU DO ON PRISONS, CORRECTIONS?

Gronstal: I THINK IT'S LIKELY WE WILL DECIDE TO BUILD A NEW PRISON. PROBABLY -- PROBABLY BUILD FACILITIES IN SEVERAL -- ADDITIONAL FACILITIES IN SEVERAL PLACES. I THINK THAT'S THE LIKELY OUTCOME. WE HAVE AN INTERIM STUDY COMMITTEE THAT'S LOOKING AT THIS. AND THE RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE DURRANT FOLKS HAVE BEEN FORT MADISON, MITCHELLVILLE, AND I BELIEVE SOME ADDITIONAL CONSTRUCTION AT NEWTON. AND SO -- SO I THINK IT'S LIKELY WE WILL -- WE WILL RECEIVE THEIR RECOMMENDATIONS AND GO ALONG WITH SOME OF THEM -- SOME OR ALL OF THEM. AND THEN I ALSO THINK WE'RE GOING TO LOOK AT COMMUNITY BASED CORRECTIONS. I MEAN IT IS CLEAR THAT THE VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE IN OUR PRISONS ARE FOLKS WITH SUBSTANCE ABUSE PROBLEMS. WE NEED TO BEEF UP OUR SUBSTANCE ABUSE SERVICES SO THAT THOSE FOLKS, WHEN THEY SERVE THEIR SENTENCE AND GO BACK TO THEIR COMMUNITY, THEY DON'T JUST START THE SAME CYCLE AGAIN.

Glover: SO TO BE CLEAR, YOU'LL REPLACE THE PRISON AT FORD MADISON, YOU'LL ADD ONTO THE FACILITY AT MITCHELLVILLE?

Gronstal: I THINK THAT'S LIKELY. I THINK THAT'S LIKELY.

Glover: AND YOU'LL GO INTO COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS, AND YOU'LL DEAL WITH SENTENCING POLICY?

Gronstal: I DON'T KNOW HOW FAR WE'LL GET ON SENTENCING POLICY.

Glover: THAT'S A PRETTY BIG BITE IN AN ELECTION YEAR, SENATOR.

Gronstal: I DIDN'T GET ELECTED TO SIT ON MY HANDS.

Borg: THE ISSUE OF SAME-SEX MARRIAGE WAS BRIEFLY OPENED IN IOWA, IN POLK COUNTY, WITH A RULING BY A DISTRICT COURT JUDGE, AND HE'S PUT A STAY ON THAT RIGHT NOW. IS THAT AN ISSUE WITH REPUBLICANS NOW SAYING THIS RAISES THE NEED FOR A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT? WILL YOU BRING THAT UP THIS SESSION TO DEAL WITH THAT ISSUE?

Gronstal: WE THINK IT'S PRUDENT AND WE WILL WAIT UNTIL THE SUPREME COURT RULES AND DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT THE OBJECTIONS OR -- WHETHER OR NOT THE DECISION OF JUDGE HANSON WAS CORRECT OR NOT. WE WILL WAIT AND GET GUIDANCE FROM THE SUPREME COURT AND DECIDE THEN IF WE'RE GOING TO TAKE ACTION.

Yepsen: DO YOU EXPECT THAT DECISION DURING THE 2008 SESSION?

Gronstal: I'VE NOT TALKED WITH COURTS AT ALL ABOUT WHAT THE TIME LINE OF THAT IS. IT -- I'D BE A LITTLE SURPRISED IF IT CAME DURING THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION, BUT IT MAY IN FACT COME WITHIN THE NEXT YEAR.

Yepsen: ANOTHER ISSUE REPUBLICANS ARE STARTING TO TALK ABOUT IS THE TAX CUT. IT WAS TEN YEARS AGO THAT THE STATE, THE LEGISLATURE ENACTED A 10-PERCENT ACROSS-THE-BOARD TAX CUT. THEY THINK THE STATE NEEDS ANOTHER 10-PERCENT ACROSS-THE-BOARD INCOME TAX CUT. WHAT WILL DEMOCRATS DO THAT WITH THAT IDEA?

Gronstal: WELL, FIRST OF ALL, WE DID CUT TAXES LAST SESSION. WE PASSED EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT FOR LOW INCOME IOWANS FOR THE WORKING POOR, AND WE MADE THAT REFUNDABLE. AND THAT WAS A SIGNIFICANT TAX CUT. WE ALSO DID SOME ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT TAX CUTS LAST SESSION. DEMOCRATS ARE WILLING TO LOOK AT THOSE THINGS. WE ARE NOT GOING TO COME UP WITH A PLAN LIKE THE REPUBLICANS DID IN 1997 WHERE 3/4 OF THE BENEFIT WENT TO THE RICHEST 5 OR 10 PERCENT OF IOWANS. WE'RE GOING TO FOCUS OUR TAX CUTS ON WORKING FAMILIES. AND WE WILL -- WE'VE ALREADY TALKED ABOUT TAKING A LOOK -- INTERNALLY TALKED ABOUT TAKING AN ADDITIONAL LOOK AT THE EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT. BUT WE'RE ALSO GOING TO TALK TO THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY ABOUT IMPEDIMENTS THAT MIGHT BE OUT THERE OR THE INCENTIVES THAT MIGHT BE CREATED. IOWA ACTUALLY HAS A PRETTY AGGRESSIVE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT TAX CREDIT IN THE STATE OF IOWA. SO WE'RE WILLING TO LOOK AT BOTH SIDES OF THE LEDGER ON THAT.

Glover: THE PERENNIAL ISSUE FACING THE LEGISLATURE IS WHAT TO DO ABOUT GIANT CONFINEMENT LIVESTOCK OPERATIONS. A LOT OF LOCAL PEOPLE THINK THEY FOUL THE AIR AND WATER AND WANT SOME SAY IN WHERE THEY'RE LOCATED. WHAT DOES THE LEGISLATURE DO ABOUT THAT?

Gronstal: I THINK -- I THINK WE CREATED AN INTERIM STUDY COMMITTEE ON THE ODOR PROBLEM OUT THERE. I THINK WE'RE GOING TO CONTINUE TO LOOK AT THAT. IT IS A CHALLENGE THAT VEXES IOWA, THE INTERSECTION OF LARGE AGRICULTURE WITH THE REST OF OUR SOCIETY AND THE REST OF OUR AG ECONOMY. IT IS A CHALLENGE, JUST AS YOU SEE SOME CHALLENGES OUT THERE WITH ETHANOL AND SOME TENSIONS ABOUT THE DRIED DISTILLERS GRAIN AND NOT BEING ABLE TO USE AS MUCH OF THAT WITH HOGS AND POULTRY. YOU CAN USE IT WITH CATTLE. THERE ARE TENSIONS IN THE AG MARKETPLACE OUT THERE, AND OUR JOB IS TO TRY AND LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS TO THAT. MOST OF THE SOLUTIONS IN THE PAST THAT WE HAVE PURSUED HAVE BEEN ONES THAT HAVE INVOLVED RESEARCH AND DEMONSTRATION PROJECTS AND HELPING THE AGRICULTURE IN IOWA DEAL WITH THOSE ISSUES AND BEST PRACTICES, THOSE KINDS OF THINGS. SO I DON'T THINK IT'S LIKELY WE'LL COME UP WITH A LOCAL CONTROL DEBATE IN THE LEGISLATURE.

Glover: WHAT DO YOU SAY TO VOTERS -- I MEAN A LOT OF DEMOCRATS WENT OUT THERE AND TOLD VOTERS: I'M FOR LOCAL CONTROL; I'LL GIVE YOU A SAY IN WHERE THESE THINGS ARE LOCATED. VOTERS VOTE FOR DEMOCRATS IN PART BECAUSE THEY'RE TOLD THEY'LL GET LOCAL CONTROL, AND YET THEY DON'T.

Gronstal: I -- I THINK SOME PEOPLE ARE FRUSTRATED WITH THAT. BUT I'D ALSO TELL YOU THAT PART OF WHAT OUR JOB IS TO DEFINE THE PROBLEM. IF THE PROBLEM IS WATER QUALITY, OUT OF FISH KILLS IN IOWA LAST YEAR, ONE OUT OF SIX CAME FROM HOG LOTS. FIVE OUT OF SIX CAME FROM SOMETHING ELSE. SO PART OF THE -- SO PART OF THE CHALLENGE IS WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DEAL WITH. ARE YOU TRYING TO DEAL WITH ODOR OR ARE YOU TRYING TO DEAL WITH THE ENVIRONMENT? IF YOU'RE TRYING TO DEAL WITH THE ENVIRONMENT, SHOOTING AT HOG LOTS ISN'T THE SOLUTION BECAUSE FIVE OUT OF SIX FISH KILLS COME FROM OTHER CAUSES.

Yepsen: SENATOR, I WANT TO GO BACK TO CRIME FOR ONE SECOND. YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU WOULD NOT BE LOOKING AT -- PROBABLY NOT BE LOOKING AT SENTENCING POLICY. DOES THAT MEAN THE ISSUE OF THE 2,000-FOOT RULE ON SEX OFFENDERS IS NOT GOING TO BE ADDRESSED BY THIS COMING LEGISLATURE?

Gronstal: LOOK, I THINK WE HAVE TRIED OVER THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS TO WORK IN A BIPARTISAN WAY TO COME UP WITH SOME RESOLUTION TO THAT ISSUE. I DON'T THINK IN IT'S CURRENT FORM IT PROVIDES THE BEST PUBLIC SAFETY. I THINK THERE ARE WAYS TO PROVIDE FOR MORE PUBLIC SAFETY, EITHER IN ADDITION TO THE 2,000-FOOT RULE OR WITH SOME ADJUSTMENT OF THAT SO THAT WE FOCUS MORE ON DANGEROUS OFFENDERS. BUT IT'S NOT -- IT'S THE KIND OF ISSUE THAT IS HIGHLY CHARGED POLITICALLY. AND IF REPUBLICANS DON'T WANT TO SOLVE POLICY PROBLEMS, IT'S PROBABLY NOT GOING TO GET SOLVED THIS SESSION. WE -- WHEN I BECAME MINORITY LEADER IN 1997, THE QUESTION I ASKED MYSELF IS WHAT DO I WANT TO DO, AND MY NUMBER ONE GOAL WAS ACCOMPLISH GOOD PUBLIC POLICY WHEN I COULD. AND IF I COULDN'T ACCOMPLISH GOOD PUBLIC POLICY, I'D TRY AND COMMIT SMART POLITICS. I THINK THE REPUBLICANS -- I THINK -- I THINK THE NEW REPUBLICAN LEADER IN THE SENATE BASICALLY INDICATED HE'S NOT INTERESTED IN PUBLIC POLICY. HE'S INTERESTED IN GETTING THE MAJORITY. I THINK THAT'S UNFORTUNATE. BUT THERE ARE PLENTY OF REPUBLICANS -- THERE ARE PLENTY OF REPUBLICANS ON THE OTHER -- ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE AISLE IN THE SENATE THAT WE HAD WORKED WITH IN THE PAST, AND I'M GOING TO LOOK FOR THOSE OPPORTUNITIES TO TRY AND WORK WITH THEM TO SOLVE THESE PROBLEMS.

Glover: LET'S TALK POLITICS FOR A SECOND. YOU'RE NOT COMMITTED IN THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN. LOOK AROUND AT THE DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES AND HANDICAP IT FOR ME. WHO'S DOING THINGS RIGHT? WHO'S DOING THINGS WRONG?

Gronstal: THEY'RE ALL DOING THINGS RIGHT, AND I'M NOT GOING TO PICK SIDES. I THINK ANY ONE OF THEM --

Glover: I'M NOT ASKING YOU TO PICK SIDES. JUST HANDICAP IT A LITTLE BIT AND TELL ME WHO'S DOING THINGS GOOD AND WHO'S DOING THINGS --

Gronstal: OBVIOUSLY THERE'S, I DON'T KNOW, TWO AND A HALF FRONT-RUNNERS. THERE'S HILLARY AND BARACK AND EDWARDS, AND RICHARDSON IS MAKING A PLAY TO BE IN THE NEXT TIER.

Glover: SO YOU'RE SAYING EDWARDS IS NOT QUITE ON THE SAME LEVEL AS HILLARY AND BARACK?

Gronstal: THAT'S MY SENSE, YEAH. THAT'S MY SENSE THAT -- AND THIS IS MORE PROBABLY A NATIONWIDE PERSPECTIVE THAN JUST IN IOWA, BUT NATIONWIDE HILLARY AND BARACK ARE KIND OF THE TOP OF THE HEAP. AND THE OTHER PEOPLE, THEY ARE ALL GREAT PEOPLE. JOE BIDEN IS STUNNING ON FOREIGN POLICY.

Yepsen: TALK ABOUT SENATOR CLINTON AND SENATOR OBAMA. SENATOR CLINTON IS TRYING TO ADD NEW WOMEN TO THE ELECTORATE -- THE CAUCUS-GOING ELECTORATE. WILL SHE BE ABLE TO SUCCEED IN THAT?

Gronstal: I THINK THERE'S -- I THINK -- I THINK THERE'S AN UPSIDE FOR HER AND A DOWNSIDE FOR HER.

Yepsen: RIGHT. I'M CURIOUS WHETHER. WHAT ABOUT SENATOR OBAMA ON YOUNG PEOPLE?

Gronstal: LET ME TELL YOU FROM MY PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE. MY DAUGHTER, KATE, WILL TURN 30 IN A FEW WEEKS. AND WHEN SHE WAS BORN IN 1977, I SAID TO MY FRIENDS SHE'S GOING TO BE THE SECOND WOMAN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. OKAY, A PROUD FATHER, SECOND WOMAN PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. AND YOU HAVE TO BE 35 TO BE PRESIDENT, RIGHT? WELL, SHE'S TURNING THIRTY. WE'RE ALMOST OUT OF TIME FOR HER TO BE THE SECOND, YOU KNOW.

Borg: WELL, LISTEN TO WHAT I'M GOING TO SAY RIGHT NOW. FIRST, I'LL THANK YOU FOR BEING HERE TODAY. WE'RE OUT OF TIME AND WE LOOK FORWARD TO HAVING YOU BACK DURING THE SESSION. NOW, LISTEN TO THIS: NEXT WEEK ON 'IOWA PRESS' OUR GUEST IS DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BARACK OBAMA. THE ILLINOIS SENATOR NOW RUNNING, AS WE'VE JUST SAID, A TIGHT RACE WITH SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON AND FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS IN IOWA. WE'LL BE TALKING WITH SENATOR OBAMA AT OUR USUAL TIMES: 7:30 FRIDAY NIGHT; 11:30 SUNDAY MORNING. I HOPE THAT YOU'LL WATCH. I'M DEAN BORG. THANKS FOR JOINING US TODAY.

ANNOUNCER: FUNDING FOR 'IOWA PRESS' WAS PROVIDED BY 'FRIENDS,' THE IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION FOUNDATION;

THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN RAILROADS, DEDICATED TO A CLEAN ENVIRONMENT BY SHIPPING EACH TON OF FREIGHT OVER 400 MILES ON ONE GALLON OF FUEL. AMERICA'S FREIGHT RAILROADS, ON THE WEB AT FREIGHTRAILWORKS.ORG;

THE IOWA BANKERS ASSOCIATION... FOR PERSONAL, BUSINESS, AND COMMERCIAL NEEDS, IOWA BANKS HELP IOWANS REACH THEIR FINANCIAL GOALS.


Tags: Congress Iowa politics