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State Rep. Kraig Paulsen on the Upcoming Legislative Session

posted on November 19, 2010

Majority rules. Republicans at Iowa's House of Representatives polishing an agenda makeover. We're getting insight on those agenda priorities from the newly elected Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives Kraig Paulsen on this edition of Iowa Press.

Borg: Well, it hasn't yet happened but there will soon be some major moving at the Iowa Statehouse. November's election is bringing republican Terry Branstad back to the governor's office. Democrats in Iowa's legislature are also adjusting to power reductions. Still controlling the state senate, by only two votes now, the House of Representatives is getting set for a major switch. During the most recent General Assembly democrats were ruling there with a 12-seat majority but that is gone now. Come January the convening of the 84th General Assembly will see republicans holding a 20-seat margin, 60 to 40 and that means Hiawatha republican Kraig Paulsen is replacing Dubuque democrat Pat Murphy as Speaker of the House of Representatives. Congratulations Representative Paulsen and welcome back to Iowa Press.

Paulsen: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

Borg: It's not speaker yet but it soon will be.

Paulsen: That's the plan.

Borg: Speaker-in-waiting.

Paulsen: There we go.

Borg: All right. And across the Iowa Press table Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Glover: Speaker-elect Paulsen, one of the first things you're going to face is a new governor, Terry Branstad and during the campaign that governor promised to cut state spending by 15% over a five-year period. Can you do that? And give me some examples of the things you're going to cut.

Paulsen: I think absolutely and that is one of the things I think house republicans are particularly looking forward to as we did campaign on very similar messages. It wasn't necessarily coordinated but the things that interest house republicans also interest Governor Branstad.

Glover: What are some of those cuts?

Paulsen: Well, I think some of the cuts you're going to see -- we're going to use the amendments. We offered over half a billion dollars worth of reductions over the last two years. That will be the leaping off point. We'll look at anything from the state vehicle fleet, we've talked about the Power Fund, maybe this is a year that sabbaticals, we don't need to pay teachers to take sabbaticals. Like I say, that is the leaping off point. What that bill looks like in final form, of course, remains to be seen.

Glover: And one of the things that is beginning right now is negotiations with state workers over a new contract. Can you achieve the type of budget cuts that you folks are talking about without getting some concessions from state workers? And what are you looking for in the new contract?

Paulsen: Well, it is my understanding the contract is done now and I'm awful disappointed that those negotiations were completed. We're looking at -- that is adding $100 million to each budget as we go forward. We're already looking at a $600 million shortfall in the Medicaid spending, we've got a $239 million promise we've made to property tax payers that was taken away these last two years and we've got to figure out how we're going to get through that. It's going to be a tough budget year.

Henderson: So, what are you going to do?

Borg: Just a minute, Kay. I'm going to follow up on what you just said. You're disappointed because the state workers contract, you say, has already been -- you wouldn't have been in negotiations anyway so what effect might it have been?

Paulsen: Well, it should have been in negotiations. Governor Culver should have permitted Governor Branstad to complete those negotiations just like Governor Branstad showed Governor Vilsack that courtesy twelve years ago. Regardless, what is done is done and we'll have to move forward. But you're going to see -- I think back to your question if I understood it -- you're going to see a deappropriations bill of the current year's budget extremely early in session.

Henderson: Will that lead to layoffs?

Paulsen: Will it lead to layoffs? I think it's going to lead to layoffs in certain areas. For example, if we go in and, of course, the senate would have to concur and it would have to be signed, but we've been very clear that we're very disappointed in the, for example, the Power Fund. We've asked repeatedly, how many jobs have been created? What have you done with the taxpayer's dollars? Is it to good use? And we can't get an answer out of them. That is not an acceptable use of taxpayer dollars.

Glover: How big a deappropriation bill? You say you're going to have one early. How big will it be?

Paulsen: Well, the objective is several hundred million dollars.

Glover: Get a little tighter on that. Several hundred million dollars is a wide range. How big?

Paulsen: I think it will be somewhere between two and three hundred million dollars is my expectation.

Henderson: Let's shift to preschool. That was a debate that the two candidates for governor had during the past campaign and it will be up to legislators to effect whatever changes Governor-elect Branstad suggests. What are you prepared to do in regards to state funding for preschool?

Paulsen: Well, this is -- actually it's an interesting question on the heels of the Power Fund because this is another question that I have personally asked and so have several of my members of the Department of Education is, okay, you've got this $90 million. What has happened with it? How many teachers have you hired? How many kids are impacted? In what school districts? And the answer we get back is well, we don't have those detailed answers. Again, that is not acceptable stewardship with the taxpayer dollars. House republicans support preschool, we have supported preschool, we supported it primarily through the empowerment process and creating some of those partnerships and impacting in particular those families that needed help. I think that is the direction that we look at.

Henderson: So, essentially it's means testing. If you are low enough income you would get help in providing preschool for your child. Are there other areas of the state budget where you would effect a means test? In other words, people who could afford it would pay whereas people who could not will get a subsidy?

Paulsen: Well, I guess we do a lot of means testing in the budget. I mean, in the healthcare arena in particular. There's nothing that comes to mind that is on the surface of what we're discussing right now.

Borg: You mentioned just a moment ago teacher sabbaticals. You mean in K-12 teacher sabbaticals you're going to zero in on a small aspect of the budget like that?

Paulsen: Well, in particular that and I don't remember the dollar amount that was, it was not a dollar amount that is going to solve the budget problem but you stack enough of those little pieces together and you start to have real money. Primarily that was an amendment we offered I think in the last session with regards to the Regents institutions.

Borg: And you also mentioned the state vehicle fleet. Does that mean that might be privatized, that is, turning over to a commercial interest to lease vehicles to the state? And where else might you be privatizing in state government?

Paulsen: I think that what we've found out when we researched the state vehicle fleet is the state maintains a much larger vehicle fleet than it can justify by the numbers and its usage. So, some of those vehicles don't need to be there. Do we keep, in particular, the special purpose vehicles? Well, we're not going to lease special purpose vehicles. And, again, I'm talking about the general purpose fleet here. I'm not talking about the DOT trucks on the side of the road, so on and so forth. But a sedan is a sedan and if we're not using it in a manner that effectively pays for itself then we either need to look at do we reimburse mileage to those employees that are using it or do we go out and find a private organization that we can rent it from for a day or two?

Borg: Where else might, in state government, that concept be implemented?

Paulsen: Well, there's probably several. I don’t have another one off the top of my head. That is one of the examples, though, that is out there and we're going to be diving through that and looking through it just like we did the last two years. That's one of the ideas that came up.

Glover: You have made it clear that the house in the upcoming session will pass a resolution calling for a statewide election to write into the constitution a ban on gay marriage. How quickly will you go to that?

Paulsen: We haven’t put together the calendar of how those things play out exactly. It will be sooner than later and house republicans have committed to Iowans that we will let them resolve this divide between the legislative branch and the judicial branch.

Glover: And another issue that has come up in regards to the constitution is voters removed three justices from the Iowa Supreme Court in the last election, there has been a suggestion that the method the state uses to pick judges ought to be changed. That would require a constitutional amendment. Are you planning on taking that up?

Paulsen: I would fully expect a discussion to take place on that. I don't know that we want to throw an entire system out based on these three judges or any other particular judge or justice. But I do think it's fair that we review the process from time to time and this has kind of driven that discussion and I'm fairly confident we'll have that discussion.

Henderson: Some of the republicans who were on the ticket this past November 2nd advocated a law in Iowa that would be similar to Arizona's in regards to immigration. Do you intend to advance an immigration law in the Iowa House?

Paulsen: I think what you'll see on that front is, first of all, continuing to address where we have employers that are knowingly hiring illegal immigrants. That is one piece of it. Another piece is when people come in to receive services from the state whether that is through Medicaid or whatever it is we need to make sure that they are eligible and that is going to obviously affect some illegal immigrants, it's also just going to affect some people where we have fraudulent claims being made. But we absolutely need to make sure that someone is eligible before they are receiving state dollars.

Borg: Do I remember that in the past you have indicated that there might be some changes pending in the way that Iowa's abortion laws read right now in terminations, early terminations of pregnancies? Is there likely to be something out of the House of Representatives on that?

Paulsen: Well, actually it is interesting. First of all, the house republican caucus is a pro-life caucus, I don't think there's any question about that. But that is not something that was discussed a whole lot on the campaign trail. But subsequent to Election Day we had this doctor moving in from Nebraska who has really elevated the whole discussion. I mean, I have quite a few constituent's contacts and quite a few of my members contacting me saying, you know, this is something we probably need to look at. I would guess that we do address that issue.

Henderson: So, what would be the way to address it?

Paulsen: I don't know exactly what that looks like right now. I know there are several different ideas being discussed.

Henderson: What about the way doctors are prescribing the so-called abortion pill, RU486? There are some people who are upset about that.

Paulsen: I know that there's been some discussion -- you're talking about the telemedicine. Yeah. That brings in a whole interesting discussion of how much telemedicine is going to be permitted at all. I don't know where that goes exactly.

Henderson: And there is also a law in Oklahoma which requires women seeking an abortion to look at an ultrasound of the fetus before they have an abortion. Do you intend to pass such a law in Iowa?

Paulsen: My understanding of the law is that the woman must be permitted the option to see an ultrasound. I just restated -- same thing. Anyway, I think that is something that was talked about on the campaign trail, it was something that was talked about in the gubernatorial debate. I would anticipate that there's some discussion.

Glover: One of the things that this legislature that is coming in will have to do is draw new congressional and legislative district lines to reflect population changes in the census. In past times when you've done that you've used a non-partisan process where the Legislative Service Agency prepares the map and you can either vote up or down. Will you commit now to stick with that non-partisan process?

Paulsen: I have no -- my anticipation is yes, that's what we're going to do. I see no reason to change that and there's no discussion about it.

Glover: And one of the reasons ...

Paulsen: The one piece and I guess the reason why I paused is that as I understand it we're going to have to resolve because right now you have to have 20 senate districts, excuse me, 10 senate districts in a congressional district. That is obviously going to have to change if we go to four seats. So, but I think that is something that we'll work with the senate on and I don't have any expectation of turning the system on its head.

Glover: And it's getting a lot more attention this year because the assumption is Iowa will lose a seat in Congress, we'll go from five to four, which will change a whole lot.

Paulsen: That is, yes, that is my understanding as well.

Henderson: Governor-elect Branstad during the campaign outlined some very specific tax policy changes that he would like to see enacted. Do house republicans intend to embrace those? And do you intend to go beyond them and advance some tax cuts or tax changes of your own?

Paulsen: Well, generally speaking what we intend to do is exactly what we said we're going to do. We're going to focus on jobs and the economy, there's still 114,000 Iowans out of work. We're going to focus on spending, we're going to focus on tax policy and that is one piece of it. And part of that includes making sure that we sit down with the governor's office and find those things that we agree on and can move forward on a common agenda. I have announced my committee chairs this week, he's starting to announce his different department directors and those discussions I think now move forward from here.

Henderson: So, you would expect action in regards to property taxes and to corporate income taxes but not to personal income taxes?

Paulsen: No, I wouldn't agree with that. I think the one thing you're going to see is house republicans are extremely committed to paying back that $239 million property tax increase that Governor Culver and the previous majority passed on to property tax payers. That is the leaping off point and then where we go from there we'll have to see.

Glover: You mentioned earlier that you're going to have some negotiations on some of these things. The senate remains in democratic hands. Have you set up and kind of a process to begin negotiating some of these things with senate democrats? And are you encouraged that some of these things you're talking about can be bargained with them?

Paulsen: I think -- absolutely I'm encouraged. I sat down this week with Senator Gronstal and I have also say down with new leader McCarthy for the house democrats. But Senator Gronstal talked about some of these and what some of the protocols might be. We talked about joint rules, joint committees, things like that and moving down the road and I would say that while obviously Senator Gronstal and I have some profound differences we also understand this is the decision Iowans made and we're ready to go to work.

Borg: One of the decisions that Iowans made was to amend the Iowa Constitution to provide a fund, if there is a sales tax increase, a fund that would also devote a portion of that sales tax increase to water quality and land conservation, things like that. It doesn't have any money unless there's a sales tax increase. As a result of that new constitutional amendment are you hearing any push to pass a sales tax increase so there would be some money there to fund conservation and water quality?

Paulsen: I don’t anticipate doing that.

Glover: And voters did render kind of a mixed verdict this year. They elected an overwhelmingly republican house, a narrowly democratic senate and a new republican governor. Talk for a second -- or an old republican governor who is now a new republican governor. Talk for a second about how voters are going to feel the impact of those changes. How will voters notice?

Paulsen: Well, I think what they're going to see is, I guess what I said before, what we're going to do is we're going to go to work on what we promised to do. I know Governor Branstad is extremely committed to getting Iowans back to work as are house republicans. We're going to see a smaller budget. We're going to find those places of marginal or no benefit to Iowans that are being funded right now and I still believe they exist so I don't think they're going to see any huge cuts in services. But I think they are going to see a more open, more efficient government.

Borg: What has Governor Branstad told you is his top priority in getting through the House of Representatives?

Paulsen: I'll let Governor Branstad speak for himself. We've spoken and actually we have -- we're getting together again next week to start talking about exactly what are the protocols for how we work together and start building legislation.

Henderson: There were two murders in Iowa this week of convenience store clerks in the northern part of the state. A teenager from Minnesota is accused of the crime. And amidst the coverage of this some folks have started to call for reinstatement of the death penalty in Iowa. Is that on the republican agenda?

Paulsen: We haven't had any discussion on that.

Henderson: Do you think you will in light of these crimes?

Paulsen: I have some members who support it and some who don't but we haven't had any discussion on that.

Glover: And an issue that happened during the Culver administration was he borrowed a lot of money to fund his I-jobs program. That money has been borrowed, the bonds have been issued, some of it has been spent, some of it hasn't been spent. Is there anything you can do with the unspent portion of that? And how do you intend to approach it?

Paulsen: Well, as I understand it in the research we've done on this it's not so much that it's unspent but whether or not it remains uncommitted or unauthorized to a particular project or whether a contract has been let. For those monies that haven't been let my hope is that we can go back and have a discussion that we had last year and we'd want to see it committed to vertical infrastructure, we want the life of the project to outlive the life of the debt and we want some local match so the dollars are left for us.

Glover: Is there any way you can pull that money back and use it for something else or is it committed?

Paulsen: It is borrowed money and that was the criteria. I'm not interested in taking borrowed money or repeating the mistake of what I think of the last year was taking borrowed money and spending it on something that isn't even going to exist a year from now.

Borg: It strikes me that a portion of that I-jobs program, though, is important to the Cedar Rapids area and you're from a suburb of Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha. That is the rehabilitation from the flood there. There is now, Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, a person who has experienced that flooding and sees almost daily still the devastation there. Does that all affect the way that you approach I-jobs in getting some of that money to Cedar Rapids and making sure there is rehabilitation there?

Paulsen: I've said this before -- we could have gotten more money to the disaster victims whether in Cedar Rapids, Linn County or anywhere else on the whole area that was impacted if we'd have used the Rebuild Iowa infrastructure fund for what it was intended. So, does it impact the decision? No, because I think that we could have done that in a more efficient, more effective manner to begin with. Make no mistake that whole area that was impacted by the disaster there's years it's going to take to recover from that and I think the first step is making sure that the monies that have been allocated, have been authorized of which there's several hundred million dollars, at least in the last report I saw, hasn't been sent to the victims. That is the first thing I think you're going to see us address with regard to that is making sure that that money gets dispersed to who it is intended.

Henderson: The federal healthcare reform law passed last spring, some components of it took effect at the end of September. What, as a state legislature, will you be required to act upon in 2011 to respond to what the new requirements of that federal healthcare reform law are?

Paulsen: You know, there's some issues you know better than others and I am not an expert on this.  I know this -- we will go through and look at our options there and forcing Iowans to buy any one particular type of healthcare I know is the wrong thing to do and if there is a way that we can work within the requirements they have laid on us and still conform to that standard that's what we'll do.

Glover: There has been an issue in some states -- there was a state stimulus program, the I-jobs bill, there was a federal stimulus program. In some states governors and legislatures have said, we're not interested in that money, keep it. Where are you on that?

Paulsen: I think all that money -- there doesn't seem to be any discussion of any more of that coming and Governor Culver and the previous majority basically spent it all.  I don't know that there's anything left.

Henderson: But among republican governors there is some discussion at this point about refusing some of the money associated with healthcare reform that will flow down to states. Do you anticipate the state of Iowa saying, we don't want to participate in that particular area of the law?

Paulsen: I mean, that's a discussion we'll have to have. I don't know the answer to that today but I'm sure we'll have that discussion.

Glover: And there has been -- there was a scandal in the Iowa Association of School Boards, there have been some other scandals in groups that used taxpayers money, though they're not government groups. Is there any need to change the state's sunshine law, the open records, open meetings law to give taxpayers better access to how their money is being spent?

Paulsen: I think we continue to look at that. Republicans offered several different proposals to do that over the previous years. I don't think the collecting information on the Iowa Association of School Boards in that situation is completed yet. I do think that is part of the agenda we move this year.

Borg: But might the extension -- you enacted some open records law and open meetings law relating specifically to the Association of School Boards -- might that also be extended, that same concept, to the League of Municipalities and other organizations in the state that have state or public money as dues such as the School Board Association?

Paulsen: That was the discussion we had last year and I think it continues. Where it actually ends up, again, that remains to be seen. But this is what I know is I know my caucus is interested in a more accountable, more transparent government.

Henderson: Brenna Findley who ran for Attorney General said that she would dedicate some of the attorneys in the Department of Justice to responding to public complaints about open meetings and open records violations, alleged violations among cities, counties, library associations, all those sorts of things. Do you see the need for a state agency to help Iowans who just find they can't get that information at the local level? Or do you think that the Department of Justice should be more active on that front?

Paulsen: I think there's two pieces on that. One is making sure that Iowans who want to access records that they can do that. But the other piece of that is also I think there's probably some well intentioned local government officials who don't understand the law as well and so giving them a vehicle where they could get the information quicker and be responsive and conform to the law would also probably be helpful. I don't know that we need a new state agency but I do think that some help in that area would be useful.

Glover: Speaker Paulsen, it wouldn’t be an official Iowa Press program if we didn't spend just a little bit of time talking about pure politics. The face of politics in this state is going to change a bit this year, going to go to four congressional districts, we'll probably have some turnover there. You're a relatively young man. What is your future?

Paulsen: What is my future? In 2012 I will be running for the Iowa House of Representatives.

Glover: Anything beyond that?

Paulsen: I haven't thought beyond that, no.

Glover: And what we're about to see the beginning of is a campaign for Iowa's precinct caucuses. It will be a republican show this time. Do you plan on playing a role in that?

Paulsen: We'll see. I'll make those decisions after the session is over. That's the only decision I've made on that right now.

Glover: But that campaign is going to start well before the session ends.

Paulsen: That is correct but I imagine I'll be a little busy.

Henderson: On the program when you were here with Senator Gronstal at the end of October you talked a little bit, both of you, about campaign finance changes at the state level. Last week on this program he addressed that issue again. Have you thought what might advance in the Iowa House in regards to new restrictions or new disclosure in regards to the way Iowa campaigns are financed?

Paulsen: Well, maybe I've slowed them down over there because I hired away the director of the ethics office to be my chief clerk, but I see no reason why we couldn't do more timely reporting of campaign contributions within the state of Iowa.

Glover: But you're not going to make any fundamental changes to campaign finance law because the court decision helps republicans, right?

Paulsen: Did it?

Glover: Well, it seemed to.

Paulsen: I would tell you what I think helped republicans is democrats getting out of control and then we went out and recruited what I think are some fabulous candidates and Iowans are going to get a chance to meet those 22 freshmen I have here as we move forward. I think it had more to do with that. I'm not sure that decision helped out republicans any more than it helped out democrats.

Henderson: One of the big issues in the last election was not about the legislature or the race for governor but was about this judicial retention election. Since that has occurred there have been some key republicans like Bob Vander Plaats and Newt Gingrich who have suggested that the four remaining justices should resign. Do you think that is appropriate for those four remaining justices to resign?

Paulsen: You know what, I'm the head of an independent branch of government, they run another independent branch of government. I'll let them make that decision.

Borg: An issue that came up -- Mike, you had a question ...

Glover: Go ahead.

Borg: An issue that came up during the gubernatorial campaign was labor agreements on state contracts that are negotiated with labor unions prior to the awarding of the contract. The state prison was one of them and the issue there was an Illinois contractor got the job and so on. Is there anything that you see pending now in the House of Representatives that would address that contentious issue?

Paulsen: I'm assuming what you're getting at is project labor agreements.

Borg: That's right.

Paulsen: My understanding is that Governor Branstad is going to address that early on and I would expect that we probably do have some discussion on that and whether or not they're helpful and healthy. Right now it appears to increase the cost of projects.

Glover: A few seconds to go. Governor Culver will deliver a Condition of the State speech at the beginning of the legislature. Will you invite Governor Branstad to come up and deliver a budget message to the legislature?

Paulsen: I would anticipate we'll do that, yeah. We haven't had that discussion but that would be my expectation.

Borg: Thank you very much for spending time with us today. We'll look forward to having you back during the session. On our next edition of Iowa Press we're convening a panel of Iowa political journalists assessing the effects of the elections earlier this month. It's a reporters' roundtable assessing what has happened since the election and forecasts how the new political landscape will be affecting our lives during the next two years. You can eavesdrop, if you will, on that Iowa political reporters' roundtable sharing their insight at the usual Iowa Press times next week, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. And a reminder too that the Internet is your direct link to our Iowa Press staff. Use the e-mail address now at the bottom of the screen, it's iowapress@iptv.org. We'd like to get your comments. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

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