DES MOINES | Linda Upmeyer said Tuesday she is optimistic about state budget negotiations that will take place during next year’s legislative session, her first as speaker of the Iowa House, despite many circumstances that have aligned to present challenges.
Upmeyer, who was elected speaker of the House in August after Kraig Paulsen announced he would step down from the post and resign from the Legislature after the 2016 session, expressed her optimism in an interview Tuesday.
After she's sworn in when the session starts in January, Upmeyer will become the first woman to be Iowa House speaker.
Crafting the state budget always is a daunting task and doing so in 2016 will require overcoming several additional hurdles:
• State revenue gains have not increased over last year, when budget negotiations stalled, extending the legislative session for weeks.
• Gov. Terry Branstad’s veto of $56 million for one-time public education expenses upset many Democrats and may have poisoned the well for the 2016 session.
• Legislators are sometimes more cautious in general election years, which 2016 happens to be.
• The three-legged state budget negotiating table will include new faces from the House and the governor’s office, because Branstad has a new chief of staff and legislative liaison.
Despite those challenges, Upmeyer said she thinks budget negotiations do not have to be more difficult next year.
“Sometimes, after you’ve had similar people around the table for a while, you kind of predict and assume and have trouble moving beyond certain preconceived notions about how something must be done. But I really think this is an opportunity to sort of do a reset,” Upmeyer said.
Upmeyer said House Republicans will continue to use the same budgeting principles they have since taking command of the chamber in 2011: They will not budget to spend more than the state collects in revenue and will not fund annual expenses with one-time cash infusions.
It was the latter rule that led Branstad to veto the $56 million set aside by the Legislature for public schools. Branstad said he thought the money would, indeed, be spent on annual expenses, despite the fact legislators from both political parties said otherwise.
Upmeyer said House Republicans supported the additional money after superintendents gave examples of projects that would not require multi-year funding by schools.
“Based on that, we were comfortable (approving the $56 million allocation),” Upmeyer said. “However, reasonable people can disagree, and I understand that the governor is a different branch of government, and he can view that the way he chooses to view it. That’s fine. But I think that was entirely consistent with our principles, and it was not going to be built into the base.”
Upmeyer said the House Republicans’ analysis shows $173 million in additional revenue this year, but built-in spending increases will consume those funds.
“So we’re going to have to look at the budget and be very thoughtful about funding priorities,” Upmeyer said. “And we will do that.”