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Iowa lawmakers gavel in for 2015 legislative session

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa lawmakers who convened Monday for the 2015 legislative session agree the state has little money for new programs.

Legislators in the Republican-majority House and Democratic-controlled Senate gaveled in at the Capitol in Des Moines.

Gov. Terry Branstad has cautioned that Iowa has limited money for new initiatives, in part because it is still paying for a property tax cut and education spending that was approved two years ago.

The Republican governor said he will unveil a "tight budget" during his Condition of the State address on Tuesday.

"I want to remind the legislature that we can't go back into those bad old days of making unsustainable promises and then having massive across-the-board cuts like we had in 2009, or underfunding school aid or only partially funding things like indigent defense," Branstad said Monday.

Legislative leaders offered different budget priorities Monday, though both sides agreed that resources were limited.

PHOTO: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, center, walks into his weekly news conference during the opening day of the Iowa Legislature, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, center, walks into his weekly news conference during the opening day of the Iowa Legislature, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

"I think we need to look at cuts," said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, who talked about reducing the size of government in his opening statement. "Let's go through and review the programs and see if there are some we can eliminate."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, urged the governor to increase school funding. He said he knows the budget is tight, but that lawmakers should prioritize.

"We do not dispute that next year's budget will be a challenge," Gronstal said. "I would like us to make a decision about what we think is important. Then we will evaluate the rest of the budget and what we can afford."

A key issue on the table this year is how to raise funds for bridges and roads, many of which are deteriorating or deficient. Branstad has said he wants to find a compromise to deal with roads funding and legislative leaders have expressed interest, but no one has committed to a course.

One option is raising the state fuel tax, which is 22 cents per gallon of gasoline, including fees, and hasn't gone up since 1989. In 2011, a commission appointed by Branstad recommended an increase of 8 to 10 cents a gallon to support road funding. Another option is other state or local taxes and fees.

Two other priorities outlined by the governor are cracking down on bullying and expanding broadband Internet access.

The session is scheduled to end May 1, though lawmakers could finish before or after that date.

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PHOTO: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, center, walks into his weekly news conference during the opening day of the Iowa Legislature, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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