Lawmakers try to link issues involving lakes and passenger rail

(Radio Iowa News) – Two eastern Iowa lawmakers — one Democrat and one Republican — are trying to insert a last-minute deal into a catch-all budget bill that will be among the last items to be voted upon in the 2013 legislative session, but they face strong opposition.

The deal is being touted by Representatives Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, and Dave Jacoby, a Democrat from Coralville. It would ensure Iowa comes up with the $5.5 million in matching funds to keep a federal grant for passenger rail expansion — something Democrats have been supporting. The other half of the deal would impose new limits on the authority Iowa governments have in condemning property for lake development, a proposal that has cleared the Republican-led House several times, but has stalled in the Senate.

Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, supports passenger rail expansion, but doesn’t think now’s the time to make it tougher for governments to acquire land for lakes and, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he blocked senate consideration of that proposal.

“In general, I think the kind of deal-making that’s being suggested there is not really the best way for the legislature to work,” Hogg said today.

The top Republican in the House has repeatedly said passenger rail service from Chicago to Iowa City and, eventually, to Omaha likely would wind up being a financial drain on the state, like Amtrak is to the federal government. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs suggests Kaufmann, the Republican who’s now pushing to link these two proposals, waited too long to show support of passenger rail.

“It certainly would have been nice if some of them had spoken up at some point in time in the last two years in the House,” Gronstal said this morning.

And Representative Chuck Soderberg of Le Mars — the Republican who heads the House Appropriations Committee — suggested the time for deal-making on this rail project has passed.

“I know we don’t have $5.5 million built in the budget,” Soderberg said this morning.

A handful of legislators are at the statehouse today and no votes are scheduled in either the House or the Senate. Instead, key lawmakers are meeting behind closed doors to try to make final decisions on spending, taxes and policy proposals.