By Senator Paul McKinley, Iowa Senate Republican Leader
Following last week’s release of Governor Culver’s proposed budget, the Senate’s passage of a government re-organization bill was the most notable event in the Iowa Statehouse this week.
Because Iowa’s budgets are built on the level of spending from the previous year’s budget, lawmakers are faced with an record deficit as a result of too much irresponsible and unsustainable spending. The Legislature cannot adjourn this winter until it has dealt with Iowa’s unprecedented $1 billion self-inflicted deficit. Unlike Washington D.C., Iowa’s Constitution thankfully requires a balanced budget.
With this news, Governor Culver, late last year, hired an expensive out-of-state consultant using taxpayer dollars to offer areas where Iowa could re-organize government. In December, these consultants published a document suggesting Iowa could save $1.7 billion over five years with hundreds of millions of the savings in the first year alone. While the projections and expectations were impressive, there was very little evidence to support the consultants’ claims.
Soon after, a select few of the lawmakers took the consultants’ report and began crafting their own government re-organization bill. With expectations for that bill to bring about savings of $341 million dollars right away, they sent it off to the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency to be analyzed and scored. The non-partisan analysts returned an estimate of approximately $71 million in savings. When that estimate is added to the projected savings from an executive order containing management changes and an early retirement plan, the real amount of savings is actually only a small fraction of what the people of Iowa were lead to believe by Governor Culver and legislative Democrats just weeks ago.
Yet, those numbers are not just being used to discuss the re-organization bill – they are also part of Governor Culver’s proposed budget. This act alone, could become another financial headache for Iowa’s taxpayers. Earlier this week, the governor was quoted in The Des Moines Register telling reporters not to nit pick over the numbers he used in his budget even though they were much more generous than the real numbers used by the non-partisan analysts. He called the tens of millions of dollars in difference between his numbers and the real numbers “a minor difference.”
How many Iowa families or employers could afford another of Governor Culver’s unbalanced budgets and the consequences that would bring? The likely result would be another across-the-board cut which would lead to another of Governor Culver’s job-killing property tax increases.
Nonetheless, the Iowa Senate debated and passed a government re-organization bill this week. Senate Republicans offered over fifteen amendments and provided a different perspective to the re-organization process. Since many of the Democrat proposals are short-term and merely just shift costs around without saving money, Senate Republicans offered amendments that would fundamentally and systemically reform government. Unfortunately, most were defeated on partisan lines.
Our goal is and will continue to be to dramatically and systemically reform government and save the taxpayers more of their hard earned money. With the belief that real government re-organization begins with the understanding that we must end the culture of reckless spending that has permeated state government the last three years, here is just a sampling of the common sense amendments and solutions that Senate Republicans presented during debate.
We offered to sunset all government programs over a four year period. This would allow the Legislature and agencies to see whether each program is producing results. From there, decisions can be made on whether we cut or continue each program.
We also want to force a two-thirds vote on the passage of all bonding bills in the Legislature. In the past few years, it’s been the bond spending that has increased our deepening financial hole. Had this rule already been in place, Governor Culver’s unpopular temporary make-work program would not have been enacted. This idea alone, had it been in place last year, would have saved taxpayers $1.7 billion dollars. We also put forward a proposal that the Legislature pass a Constitutional Amendment that limits state spending to no more than 99 percent of revenues. To Senate Republicans, it’s just common sense not to have the state spend more than it takes in.
Senate Republicans also put forward ideas that would get public employee wages in line with the private sector and require those employees to share in the cost of their health insurance, thereby building a stronger partnership between government and our public employees. We also think it is past time to end the practice of taxpayer funded lobbyists.
In an era where so many decisions seem to happen behind closed doors and there is a deficit of accountability and transparency, Senate Republicans proposed solutions that would give taxpayers new benchmarks so they are more aware of what their government is doing. Just one example would be to have the State Auditor create measurements that oversee the reorganization process.
However, the House of Representatives has yet to begin full debate on their bill and it is likely that they will eventually pass something that is different from the Senate. House Republicans have already indicated they plan to offer an additional $290 million in savings, though it is unclear whether Democrats will accept their plans or vote them down in partisan fashion. Before any bill makes it to the governor’s desk, identical bills will have to pass both chambers so there is much yet to be decided.
Though some aspects of the bill are a positive step forward, Senate Republicans believe we should continue to strive for fundamental, systemic reforms. Republicans will continue to offer our ideas in hopes of improving the bill when it comes back for debate in the Senate. This opportunity still presents a wonderful chance to not only reorganize but also reduce government.