Been out most of the day following around legislators touring the flood zone and meeting with residents. But I couldn’t miss out on our Gazette editorial board meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy.
Quickly, the highlights:
* Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said some kind of flood recovery legislation will move quickly, by late January or early February. It may include direct assistance from the state’s Economic Emergency Fund, aka, the rainy day reserves. He wouldn’t say how much moneywould be available, assigning it only the shadowy value “X.” Stay tuned.
* Gronstal clearly did not like persistent questioning from the board on why leaders blew off calls for a special session last fall to deal with recovery needs. He blames the feds, arguing they would have withheld funding if the state had used its resources. So patience was prudent.
Gronstal said at one point he wanted to call a special session to loan Cedar Rapids money from the rainy day fund, which the city would then pay back with FEMA dollars. But FEMA said, according to Gronstal, that if the state made the loan, FEMA would not cover the city’s payback.
“We were told point blank on the phone,” Gronstal said. Lt. Gov. Patty Judge was also on that call, he said.
That doesn’t explain why they waited months to consider the badly needed direct aid they’ll now be considering. Huh.
*Murphy, D-Dubuque, said there is little political consensus on any effort to provide cash-strapped local governments like CR with new ways to raise tax revenues. He also said indecision by Cedar Rapids leaders on a local option sales tax makes it less likely the Legislature will feel the need to act.
*Murphy said a state gas tax increase has a “50-50” chance. It’s now a job-creation effort, by the way. He cited estimates that a nickel gas tax hike would create 5,000 infrastructure-related jobs. It would also raise more than $100 million for roads, bridges and such.
He also said a gas tax hike could pass even if the Obama administration drops a load of infrastructure stimulus cash on the state, for roads, bridges and such.
*And if you like your budget balanced, and you want flood recovery bucks, you’d better be prepared to embrace “innovation,” Murphy said.
And by that he means things like leasing out the lottery for a couple years to private investors in exchange for a boatload of cash, up front. If the budget situation gets worse, Murphy said what looks like a wacky idea now might look like prudent “innovation” by the time lawmakers need to finish the budget in April.
*What sort of session will it be? Gronstal used the words “daunting” and “challenging” each twice in his opening few sentences. So now you know.