Friday, April 20, 2012

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Top Republican and Democratic legislative leaders said Thursday they have narrowed their differences on plans to overhaul Iowa’s commercial-property-tax system, and they predict approval before this year’s session ends.

“We have had good discussions with the governor,” said Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs. “I am more confident than I have been in 30 years that we’re going to get something done on property taxes in this state.”

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said he remains “optimistic we can get something done in a relatively short time frame.”

Gronstal and Paulsen met separately with reporters and conceded that a potential agreement could settle one of the major issues remaining in this year’s session.

All sides agree that Iowa’s business-property taxes are out of line with neighboring states, but Republicans and Democrats take sharply different approaches to solving the issue.

Gov. Terry Branstad and Republicans running the House pushed for an across-the-board cut of 40 percent on business-property taxes spread over a number of years. Democrats in charge of the Senate pushed a smaller package that would target small businesses. The agreement being hammered out combines the two approaches.

Neither side would discuss details, which they said are still being negotiated.

“That’s a sign that both sides are stepping back from some of the things that have divided us,” Gronstal said. “We do not yet have an agreement, but we’re much closer than a lot of people realize.”

“I see fewer ultimatums and people are trying to work toward solutions,” Paulsen added. The package would offer about $250 million in tax relief over a number of years and he said pieces of Branstad’s package are included.

The two sides have gridlocked in the past because they’ve both insisted on getting their own proposal intact, Gronstal said. That mood has shifted, he said, with the clearest sign of progress being that top leaders aren’t saying much publicly about their discussions.

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht agreed that progress is solid, and he agreed a measure is likely to land on the governor’s desk.

Gronstal and Paulsen said they expect the Legislature to adjourn next week, despite there still being some significant hurdles.

Republicans and Democrats also have narrowed their differences concerning overall state spending. Democrats had been pushing to spend about $300 more than Republicans were willing to accept. Paulsen said those differences have been narrowed to “tens of millions of dollars,” but bargaining continues.

Lawmakers stopped receiving expense payments after Tuesday. Ending the payments in the past has added urgency to efforts to wrap up a legislative session.