At one point during the budget debate last month, Governor Justice recoiled against any budget compromise that included deep budget cuts. Justice used one of his now famous metaphors to make his point.
“It doesn’t make one hill of beans of sense to me to say ‘you like the desert, and I like Alaska, so we’re going to end up in Iowa.’ Let’s only end up in Iowa if that’s the right place to end up,” he said.
Well, ten days after the end of the regular session of the Legislature (including one additional day to work on the budget), we’re nowhere near a hospitable gathering of the Governor, the Senate and the House in Des Moines.
However, there are at least some road maps that might just lead them there.
The Justice administration and Senate leaders are coalescing around a framework for a budget. The plan, which was unveiled in the final hours of the regular session, includes a lot of what the Governor wants—additional revenue from a sales tax increase, a commercial activities tax and temporary wealth tax, higher fuel taxes and DMV fees to build roads and a pay raise for classroom teachers.
The Senate side of the deal includes a modification of the state income tax, reducing the current five tiers to three and lowering of the rates when certain fiscal benchmarks are met with the possibility of eliminating the tax eventually. Senate supporters believe lowering the income tax will lead to economic growth.
But that route toward a deal doesn’t even show up on the navigation system of House Speaker Tim Armstead. The Kanawha County Republican has told the Justice administration and Senate leaders time and again that higher taxes are a non-starter in the House, even if they are accompanied by possible income tax reductions.
But Justice’s team, while negotiating with Armstead, believes there could be an avenue toward agreement—the House Democrats. Justice is trying to rally support among the 36 Democrats to get behind the Justice/Senate plan. He’s reportedly going to make his pitch to them today.
The Dems will need some convincing. They don’t want to be out front on tax increases without Republican support, fearing that will be used against them in the next election. The Democrats need assurances of a significant number of Republicans.
So here’s the question: How many House Republicans, if any, would be willing to defy their Speaker and support the Justice/Senate plan? The Governor said last week that some Republicans called to urge him to veto the Republican-passed budget (he did), suggesting they might be open to another pathway.
We know the House Republican caucus is not unified—the breakdown over medical marijuana demonstrated that—but it’s difficult to predict how many members the Justice administration could pick up by lobbying individuals.
To continue with the Governor’s metaphor, for now Iowa remains a long distance away. It will be challenging, but not impossible, to get there.