Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa — Setting modest goals, such as pursing legislation on Internet access and bullying, the Iowa Legislature on Monday opened the 2014 session of the 85th General Assembly.
Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives and the Democratic-majority state Senate on Tuesday will begin reviewing Gov. Terry Branstad's budget plan.
The session is expected to be less substantive than last year's, when lawmakers reached bipartisan agreements to cut property taxes, invest in education and expand access to health care for low-income residents. This year the session has fewer scheduled days, and because it is an election year, lawmakers likely will be motivated to finish their work quickly. Branstad also is expected to announce plans to seek a sixth term.
Branstad has announced a list of policy goals, which legislative leaders have generally endorsed, including expanding Internet access, supporting veterans and cracking down on school bullying. Full details on those proposals will be released with his budget plan.
"I think we can see there's a developing consensus to deal with a very focused agenda," Branstad said Monday during his weekly news conference. "I'm as encouraged as I've ever been. The state's financial house is in order."
The state expects a budget surplus of nearly $900 million, but Branstad has said most of the money is needed to pay for the policies approved last year.
Both parties also are expected to focus on more divisive issues, but such measures face long odds of winning approval in the divided legislature. For example, Democrats are likely to push proposals to boost the state minimum wage, while Republicans will pursue tax cuts.
Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, of Hiawatha, said he expects his GOP colleagues to seek a reduction in income taxes.
"We're going to talk about it and we're going to talk about it a lot," Paulsen said during a breakfast for Republicans held in Des Moines before the start of the session.
Democratic Senate President Pam Jochum, of Dubuque, called for an increase to the minimum wage in Iowa, currently set at $7.25 an hour, during her opening remarks after the Senate convened.
"Raising the minimum wage will help everyone by helping Iowa's lowest paid workers," Jochum said.
While this is expected to be a light year for policy in the legislature, it will be a major political year in Iowa, with an open U.S. Senate seat and two open U.S. House seats, the governor's race and some competitive state legislative races.
Branstad expressed optimism that 2014 would be a good year for Republican candidates in Iowa.
"This is a year when the wind's at our back," Branstad said during the GOP breakfast. "That doesn't necessarily mean we're going to win. We've got to nominate strong candidates. We need to be disciplined, we need to be focused, we need to work hard."
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