Lawsuit claims Iowa governor illegally transferred state funds (updated)

State Representative Chris Hall filed a lawsuit today, charging Governor Kim Reynolds and Department of Management Director David Roederer “conspired together to unlawfully appropriate and misuse state funds.” The ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Appropriations Committee is seeking to void “all actions taken as a result of the unlawful Official Proclamation signed on September 28, 2017,” which transferred $13 million from the Iowa Economic Emergency Fund.

That order allowed Reynolds to cover a projected budget shortfall at the end of fiscal year 2017 without calling a special legislative session. But State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald warned the governor that the planned transfer “would not be in compliance with Iowa law.” Hall’s petition, enclosed in full below, points to the same Iowa Code provision Fitzgerald cited in his letter to the governor.

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Auditor Mary Mosiman vouches for "stable" and "responsible" budget

Sounding more like a Republican loyalist than a hard-nosed fiscal analyst, State Auditor Mary Mosiman told reporters this week that Iowa’s budget for the year beginning July 1 is “stable” and “responsible.”

Mosiman also asserted that Iowa has “practically eliminated using one-time revenue sources for ongoing expenditures,” even though Governor Kim Reynolds recently confirmed the state will need to dip into reserve funds a second time to cover a third major revenue shortfall during the current fiscal year.

While speculating on why Iowa’s revenues have fallen well below projections, Mosiman echoed excuses offered by leading Republican politicians, ignoring a new business tax break that has been a far more important factor.

Iowa’s self-styled “Taxpayers Watchdog” may come to regret staking her credibility on the wisdom of GOP budget planning.

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Weekend open thread: Short-sighted elected officials edition

Who knew that when you tell a state agency leader to save another $1.3 million somehow, he might cut some important programs and services? Not State Representative Dave Heaton, the Republican chair of the Iowa legislature’s Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

Who knew that when you impeach a mayor using a kangaroo court proceeding, a judge might order the mayor reinstated while her appeal is pending? Not Muscatine City Council members.

Follow me after the jump for more on those stories. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

I’m also interested to know what readers think about Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen’s request to waive certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act in order to bring Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield back to Iowa’s individual insurance market for 2018. Elements of the “stopgap” measure violate federal law; health care law expert Timothy Jost told the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys that some parts of Ommen’s proposal are “extremely problematic” and not likely “doable.” Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Anna Wilde Mathews and Louise Radnofsky saw the Iowa developments as “a key test of the ability to modify the [Affordable Care Act] through executive authority.” Slate’s Jordan Weissmann agreed.

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Higher education, human services take biggest hit in final Branstad budget cuts

Governor Terry Branstad’s budget director has finally revealed how $11.5 million in “miscellaneous” spending cuts will be spread around state government before the end of the current fiscal year on June 30. As expected, the ax will fall most heavily on higher education and human services–just like Branstad wanted all along.

Elected officials often bury bad news in a late Friday afternoon dump, but Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds went one step further to evade accountability: they didn’t even announce the cuts in a press release. Rather, at around 4:00 pm, Department of Management Director David Roederer relayed the news in a letter to the Iowa House chief clerk and the secretary of the Iowa Senate.

Iowa House and Senate Republicans have plausible deniability after calling for $11.5 million in unspecified “Department Operational Reductions” as part of Senate File 130, the “deappropriations” bill GOP lawmakers approved in late January. Let Roederer do the dirty work.

After the jump I’ve posted the document showing how much the latest cuts will affect each department or agency. For comparison, I also enclosed Branstad’s original spending cut proposal, announced January 10, and a document comparing those planned cuts with the deappropriations bill’s provisions.

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3,000 University of Iowa students will pay the price for Republican budget policies

See important update below: Jon Muller questions whether the University of Iowa “committed an act of scholarship fraud.”

Three weeks after Governor Terry Branstad signed into law large mid-year budget cuts for Iowa’s state universities, some 3,015 incoming or current students at the University of Iowa learned that they will be picking up part of the tab.

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Branstad's budget puts Kim Reynolds on a collision course with Big Ag

Governor Terry Branstad has rarely found himself at odds with any powerful farm lobby group. In 1995 he signed a law banning agricultural zoning, which fueled explosive growth of confined animal feeding operations across Iowa. Since returning to the governor’s office in 2011, he has named several agribusiness representatives to the the Environmental Protection Commission. He signed the probably unconstitutional “ag gag” bill targeting whistleblowers who might report alleged animal abuse. He moved to protect farmers from state inspections for electrical work. He joined a poorly-conceived and ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit seeking to block a California law on egg production standards. He has consistently rejected calls to regulate farm runoff that contributes to water pollution, instead supporting an all-voluntary nutrient reduction strategy heavily influenced by the Iowa Farm Bureau.

Despite all of the above, the governor’s two-year budget blueprint contains an obscure proposal that will draw intense opposition from Big Ag. By this time next year, the fallout could cause political problems for Branstad’s soon-to-be-successor, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds–especially if Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett challenges her for the 2018 GOP nomination.

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