It’s as if Democrats didn’t even have a majority in the State Senate. Republicans achieved nearly a complete victory in legislative negotiations this year when Governor Terry Branstad vetoed many of the compromises Democrats fought for and won. Issuing the vetoes just before close-of-business before the holiday weekend on Thursday, he struck out funding for K-12 education, the regent universities and to keep the Clarinda and Mount Pleasant mental health facilities open.
Those issues took up the vast majority of time during this year’s legislative session. Democrats pressed hard for more K-12 funding, with House Democrats first advocating for a 6% increase, then Senate Democrats a 4% increase, then a 2.6%, and then finally the deal of a 1.25% for this school year, with an additional $55.7 million one-time fund to essentially get it to 2.6%. With Branstad’s veto taking it back down to Republicans’ initial position of 1.25%, the pink slips many school districts handed out this year in precautionary moves will likely now become reality.
Some will look at these developments and wonder what the point of having Democrats control the State Senate is if they can’t deliver even an inadequate compromise for their top priorities. Of course, that would be a ridiculous thought, as they still remain a bulwark against a flood of ultra-conservative measures becoming law in Iowa that would turn us into the next Wisconsin. But running on a message of “hey, it could be worse” isn’t a very inspiring rallying cry for the loyal troops.
As for right now, hopefully Senate and House Democrats will call for a special session to override the vetoes. They probably won’t succeed, but they would still get some very important benefits out of it. For one, it would prolong the news story of Branstad’s vetoes, denying the Governor of his hope to hide away the deeply unpopular actions. Secondly, it would reveal which Statehouse Republicans are actually trustworthy – which really do want to work with Democrats and who was part of the Governor’s plan all along? Force Republican members to take a stand on whether they’d vote to override – if not, then they fully support the 1.25%, and nothing else. Make the Republicans in swing districts own that.
And what about next session? Whatever Branstad achieves in the short-term for his desired policies, the long-term fallout over his vetoes may be more than he realizes. These actions will have serious consequences for the Legislature’s ability to work together on future legislation. How on earth could Democrats ever again believe they’re negotiating in good faith with Republicans, when the Governor will just swoop in at the end and wipe out everything they achieved in a deal? Should Senate Democrats even adjourn until Branstad signs key legislation? How could you trust him otherwise? Will a government shutdown be necessary?
Now comfortably six months into his unprecedented sixth term, Branstad has made clear that he no longer has any intentions of honestly working with those he disagrees with. Branstad has wielded his power questionably in the past, but wiping out all the major concessions to Democrats in a session is really something else. He seems to feel he’s powerful and popular enough that he doesn’t have to respect typical divided powers of government or the basics of sound negotiating practices. Statehouse Republicans real (if unstated) long-term goal is to build up as much funds as possible in the budget surplus so as to justify a massive tax cut benefiting the wealthy and businesses. This more than accomplished that.
What happens in the coming weeks and next session will be even more telling. Branstad claims his only reason for vetoing the $56 million in additional education funding is because he disagrees with one-time funding measures because it creates uncertainty (it should be noted he vetoed it two days into schools’ fiscal year). If that’s really the case, then maybe he should get more involved in the negotiations next year, instead of passively standing on the sideline and acting vague about what he’d sign. How Democrats respond also matters. They may only control one chamber, but that’s still enough to get some accomplishments for their base and allies. If they get snowed again, then many more really will ask, “what’s the point?”
by Pat Rynard