Iowa Senate approves government reorganization bill

Last night the Iowa Senate passed Senate File 2088, which would reorganize state government, after four hours of debate. All 32 Democrats in the chamber voted for the bill, along with three Republicans: Shawn Hamerlinck, Larry Noble and Pat Ward.

Click here for the full text of the bill. According to analysis by the Legislative Services Agency, Senate File 2088 would reduce state spending from the general fund by $74 million in fiscal year 2011 and $36 million the following year (here’s the link to the fiscal note on the bill). In addition, “Other funds, including local government pots of money, would save $44 million next budget year and just under $14 million the following year.” Jennifer Jacobs posted some of the key provisions and amendments at the Des Moines Register’s blog.

Unlike the 1985 state government reorganization, the current bill does not merge any state agencies. It doesn’t close any of Iowa’s four mental health institutes, but downsizes the one at Clarinda. That switch outraged legislators from southwest Iowa, because the Iowa Department of Human Services had recommended closing the Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute in southeast Iowa instead.

Senate File 2088 requires bulk purchasing and centralized payroll and technology systems for most state agencies but exempts the three state universities from those provisions.

Rod Boshart recapped one of the more contentious episodes during last night’s debate:

The debate stalled when 11 majority Democrats joined the 18-member GOP minority in supporting an amendment to block a proposal to move the community empowerment program for early childhood education from the neutral state Department of Management to the Department of Education.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, switched his vote to be on the prevailing side then called a closed-door caucus after which senators voted 31-19 to reconsider the issue and approve the move of empowerment to the education agency by a 27-23 margin.

I wasn’t familiar with the Iowa Community Empowerment program, which is geared toward families with children under age six. Since early education programs are part of the Iowa Empowerment Board’s mission, it seems logical to bring the program to the Department of Education.

The original bill had eliminated the Property Assessment Appeal Board, but an amendment to keep that body intact passed by 46 to 4. Politically, that was a smart vote for the senators. Many Iowans are likely to see property tax increases this year, so it’s not a good time to make it more difficult for citizens to challenge their assessments.

Several Republicans have expressed doubt that the bill would guarantee the promised savings. Democrats rejected a number of Republican amendments, including one that would have increased health insurance costs for state employees and one that would have required a two-thirds vote in the legislature to approve any state bonding. (Such a threshold would have prevented last year’s passage of the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative.) A complete bill history, including all amendments considered, is here.

Earlier in this session, the Iowa Senate approved Senate File 2062, a separate bill on early retirement incentives. That measure is expected to save about $57.4 million in fiscal year 2011, “including a $26.4 million savings to the state’s general fund.” That bill passed on a bipartisan 41-7 vote. The full text is here, and the bill history is here.

UPDATE: Over at Iowa Independent, Lynda Waddington reports,

Mental health advocates haven’t gotten everything they wanted in relation to new state policies governing psychiatric medications for individuals receiving state assistance. But they scored a big win Monday night when the Iowa Senate approved new language that ensures existing patients’ medications won’t be automatically switched in order to save the state money.

Read her whole story for more details and background.

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Culver "Condition of the State" speech thread

Governor Chet Culver addresses the Iowa House and Senate this morning. Kathie Obradovich’s latest column emphasizes that Culver has broken with tradition this year by not submitting his draft 2011 budget to lawmakers before the big speech. (The governor submitted a draft budget for fiscal year 2010 in late December 2008.) Obradovich concludes that Culver needs to be in the “spotlight” without focusing on the budget.

She doesn’t mention other factors that seem likely to have delayed the budget draft. The Tax Credit Review Panel, which Culver appointed after the film tax credit fiasco, only just submitted its recommendations on January 8. I can’t imagine how the governor’s staff would put together a draft budget without knowing which tax credits deserve to be continued, scaled back or eliminated. Another possible source of delay is the State Government Reorganization Commission made up of Iowa House and Senate members, which voted on a list of cost-saving measures last month. Those measures would affect assumptions on state spending in the coming fiscal year.

Republican former governor Terry Branstad bragged to Obradovich that he always submitted his budgets early, adding that state legislators now face a shorter session without having the budget in hand.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal told Radio Iowa this week that lawmakers will move a major bill on reorganizing state government before they start work on next year’s budget. It makes sense, because you can’t make accurate spending projections without knowing how state agencies will be restructured.

I’ll update this post later with more details of Culver’s speech.

UPDATE: The Burlington Hawk Eye posted the transcript. He asked legislators “to pass a supplemental appropriations bill early this session to restore some of the cuts to the Department of Public Defense” (Culver cut the current-year budget across the board in October.) For the fiscal 2011 budget, Culver asked lawmakers “to fully fund community college job training, and to adequately fund the Department of Workforce Development. And, to create more ‘green collar jobs,’ of the future, to fully fund the Iowa Power Fund.” Longer excerpts from the speech are after the jump.

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