CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Noting “it ain’t perfect,” Democratic legislative leaders defended their 2011 state budget as a spending plan that preserves what Iowans think is important despite limited resources.
“There’s a little baling wire and duct tape in this budget,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said Monday in Cedar Rapids. “It ain’t perfect budgeting.
“I wish it was better, but I think we managed it pretty darn well,” he said.
The $5.3 billion general fund budget the Democratic-controlled Iowa Legislature approved relies on nearly $600 million in one-time sources — $328.4 million in federal assistance and $267.4 million from the state’s surplus reserves — and authorizes $150 million in bonding as part of a $274 million infrastructure package. Still, with nearly $400 million in reserves, Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, say Iowa’s fiscal house is in better shape than 49 other states.
Despite signs Iowa’s economy is improving, the leaders expect 2011 to be another challenging year.
State revenues, which are 4.27 percent lower than a year ago Monday, are improving more quickly than anticipated, Murphy said.
“There’s no question it will be a daunting task next year,” Murphy said. Just as the state didn’t come out of the rural crisis of the 1980s in one year, “it will be a several year process before we can start moving forward like we were in 2007-08.”
It’s too early to know what the 2011 agenda will look like. When lawmakers return to the Capitol in January, they’re likely to bring a host of issues they picked up on the campaign trail. The leaders are quite sure disaster recovery again will be a priority.
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“The proof is not in what you do in the middle of the disaster,” said Gronstal, who believes disaster recovery will be a decade-long process, “but the proof is in what you do to recover afterwards.”
There may not be as much money for disaster recovery next year, but the leaders expect the work on policy changes to continue. They were disappointed in the lack of progress on requiring better planning and watershed management.
“The challenge is to build and rebuild in ways that mitigate the amount damage that occur the next time there a flood occurs,” Gronstal said. “The part that is a tougher sell than providing resources to help rebuild is to convince people to quit building in places where it doesn’t make sense or if you do, build in a way that makes recovery a lot cheaper.”