Don't believe everything Republicans tell you about spending cuts

Yesterday the Iowa House State Government Committee voted down a Republican plan to cut state spending by $290 million in the coming year. State Representative and gubernatorial candidate Chris Rants offered the plan as an amendment to the government reorganization bill. He said his party was trying to “work in a bipartisan way” and make “tough decisions” to balance the budget for the coming year. All twelve Democrats on the House State Government Committee voted against the GOP amendment, while the nine Republicans voted for it. Later the same day, the committee approved the reorganization bill on a 20-1 vote, with only Rants opposed.

We are sure to hear more from Rants and other Republicans about how big, bad Democrats rejected their good ideas for spending cuts. A closer look reveals funny math in the Republican “plan.”

The biggest line item is “$92.3 million, end all state benefits to adult illegal immigrants.” The Iowa House Republican caucus claims this number comes from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. The implication is that the state of Iowa hands out $92.3 million in cash to illegal immigrants.

But that’s not the case. From a report by the Legislative Services Agency on “Undocumented Immigrants’ Cost to the State” (pdf file):

The only government services that illegal immigrants are eligible for are elementary and secondary public education and emergency health care.1 Most citizens do not gain direct benefits from a majority of government spending. Instead, government programs are intended to benefit society as a whole through maintenance of a healthy economy, satisfying public health and safety concerns, providing basic infrastructure, etc. Although undocumented immigrants do not receive most direct benefits, the total benefit of State spending is assumed to accrue to undocumented immigrants at the same rate as legal residents.

The LSA divides total spending from the state general fund by the state’s total population to calculate roughly how much in “benefits” each Iowa resident receives annually. This isn’t a cash payment from the state to residents; it represents each individual’s share of benefit from the state paying for schools, roads, and so on.

Iowa House Republicans arrived at the $92.3 million figure by dividing total general fund expenditures by the number of undocumented immigrants currently estimated to be living in Iowa. They call the remainder “benefits” that illegal immigrants receive. But there’s no magic wand we can wave to make immigrants stop benefiting indirectly from what state government does. The same LSA report noted:

Undocumented immigrants qualify for few services at the State level, and those for which they do qualify are largely mandated by federal law or the Courts. Therefore, decreasing undocumented immigrant eligibility for State spending does not appear to be a viable policy option. Additionally, if the assumption that undocumented immigrants accrue benefits even without receiving direct services is considered valid, attempting to reduce direct State expenditures on undocumented immigrants would have a minimal effect.

By the way, proof of citizenship and identification are already required for Iowans participating in Medicaid and HAWK-I (the children’s health insurance program).

Scoring points against undocumented immigrants may be good for Rants politically, but that won’t help the state of Iowa save $92.3 million in the coming year. That one item represents nearly a third of the Republican-proposed spending cuts.

I’ve posted the full list of cuts after the jump. Some ideas may have merit, but most of them reflect skewed Republican priorities for state government. GOP legislators want to save $45 million by reducing access to pre-school for four-year-olds. They also want to invest less in renewable energy production and energy efficiency measures by eliminating the Power Fund and the Office of Energy Independence, which would $25 million. Many Republicans never liked the core curriculum, so it’s no surprise they’d like to save some money by delaying its implications. The Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll in November indicated that Iowans support higher spending on renewable energy research and development and are divided over whether to cut funds for expanded free pre-school.

Some of the smaller Republican-backed cuts would please conservative interests. The religious right would love to eliminate the family planning waiver. Rants has always been a good friend to tobacco companies, who would love to see the state scrap the “Just Eliminate Lies” anti-smoking campaign. There’s also $4 million saved by cutting “taxpayer-funded lobbyists,” which sounds great until you realize that would leave corporate groups unchallenged as they lobby for bills that might counter the public interest. Anyway, last year taxpayer money for lobbying totaled about $1.8 million, and a lot of that didn’t come from the state general fund. Municipalities, county agencies and associations like the League of Cities hire lobbyists too.

Cost savings from a Republican-backed amendment to a state government reorganization bill:

$92.3 million, end all state benefits to adult illegal immigrants

$62 million, combine the administrative functions at the three regents universities

$45 million, shift voluntary preschool responsibilities to Empowerment

$25 million, eliminate Culver’s Power Fund and Office of Energy Independence

$18.5 million, sell and privatize the state vehicle fleet

$15 million, sell or lease the Iowa Communication Network

$10.5 million, delay implementation of the core curriculum one year

$6 million, cancel all regents university sabbaticals for one year

$5 million, reduce funding for office supplies, service contracts, equipment purchases

$4 million, eliminate taxpayer-funded lobbyists

$2.25 million, eliminate Just Eliminate Lies anti-smoking campaign

$2 million, eliminate family planning waiver

$2 million, eliminate empty shelter care beds

$1 million, eliminate Rebuild Iowa Office, shift responsibility to Homeland Security

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