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Budget negotiations continue in Iowa Legislature; lawmakers hope to adjourn soon

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Budget haggling continued in the Iowa Legislature Monday, as lawmakers seek a compromise financial deal for the next fiscal year.

Leaders in the Republican-led House and Democratic-majority Senate were working to resolve their differences. The two sides must agree on an overall spending level and how much new money to provide for K-12 education. A compromise could include an increase in basic aid for schools, plus a one-time payment.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Council Bluffs Democrat, says he would "love to get done" with the budget this week, which would mean they could adjourn. But he cautioned that might not be possible. He said the education compromise was a concept that had been "discussed on both sides with some interest."

Legislators must resolve the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 before they can conclude the session; daily expense payments for lawmakers ended May 1. Budget bills are moving through the legislative process and were being discussed in negotiating committees Monday.

Rep. Chuck Soderberg, a Republican from Le Mars who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said there were limited new dollars available, making for tight budgets.

"I think this year, if there's a message, it's living within our means," he said, noting that in the House proposal many departments face a budget cut.

The major sticking point this year has been how much money is available to spend. Senate Democrats and Gov. Terry Branstad support using some surplus money to balance the budget, but House Republicans say the state should not spend more than the projected revenue for the coming fiscal year.

With the Senate and Gov. Terry Branstad proposing overall general fund budgets of about $7.34 billion and House Republicans seeking to spend $7.17 billion, the numbers are not far apart.

Branstad said Monday that he'd like lawmakers to agree on school funding for the next two school years.

"We do not want to have another fight over supplemental state aid next year. Schools this year have had to wait way beyond what's a reasonable time," he said.

Gronstal would not commit to meeting that demand, saying Democrats have their own priorities and "you don't always get what you want."

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