Branstad against funding AFSCME contract, K-12 increases, passenger rail

UPDATE: Click here for more details on the draft budget the governor presented on January 27.

During his regular weekly press conference, Governor Terry Branstad announced today that state departments would have to take cuts because the state can’t afford the salary increases in the two-year contract Governor Chet Culver approved last year with AFSCME, the largest labor union representing state workers. Branstad added that he’s not worried about facing a lawsuit (like the one AFSCME successfully filed against him in 1991) because the Iowa legislature won’t fund the new AFSCME contract. AFSCME members overwhelmingly voted to approve the contract, which includes salary increases of just under 3 percent in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Branstad wants the union to reopen negotiations.

Citing budget constraints, Branstad said today “he will not request any increase in ‘allowable growth’ in state aid for K-12 school districts base budgets in either of the next two fiscal years.” I believe the Democratic-controlled Iowa Senate will resist that plan.

UPDATE: Doesn’t sound like a way to provide “world-class education” for Iowa kids. Under Branstad’s “no allowable growth” proposal,

a school would not be legally allowed to expand their budgets unless the district sees a surge in enrollment.

Inflation for such things as employee salaries and fuel costs make a no-growth policy virtually impossible for hundreds of Iowa’s district to handle without massive cuts to programs, services and teachers, educational advocates said.

“The only way they can make it up is to cut programs or services and most of the schools have already been doing that,” said Brad Hudson, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association. “Most of the schools have already looked at reductions to music, art and physical education. Now we’re to the point of looking at the elimination of programs and probably larger class sizes.”

Also during today’s press conference, Branstad said he does not favor state subsidies for passenger rail, although he isn’t against communities or railroads subsidizing that service, the Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich reported. Those comments indicate that like Iowa House Republicans, Branstad wants to eliminate about $10 million in state funding needed to secure an $81 million in federal money to extend passenger rail service from the Quad Cities to Iowa City. The federal government awarded the funds last October.

UPDATE: William Petroski has more detail on Branstad’s passenger rail stance:

He noted that the $310 million state-federal project in cooperation with the state of Illinois would include money to upgrade the tracks of the Iowa Interstate Railroad, and he suggested the railroad could be asked to help contribute towards the costs.

“There are two questions: One is the state’s initial requirement and then there is an ongoing subsidy. I am most troubled by the ongoing subsidy. I don’t think we should be in the business of subsidizing passenger train service,” Branstad told reporters. […]

The governor, who will issue his state budget recommendations on Thursday, added that he still hasn’t made a final decision yet about the proposed Iowa City-to-Chicago train.

Branstad continued to advocate for biennial budgeting today. Legislators from both parties are wary of that proposal, because it would in effect increase the governor’s budget transfer powers. The national trend has been away from biennial budgeting, which tends to result in less accurate budget forecasting and greater need for supplemental appropriations than annual budgeting.

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