Iowa House cuts off debate, approves collective bargaining bill

Three days into floor discussion of a bill to reduce public employee bargaining rights, Iowa House Republicans voted to cut off debate on House File 525 yesterday. At least 80 percent of more than 100 amendments proposed by House Democrats had not been discussed yet. The House proceeded to reject the remaining Democratic-proposed amendments in a quick series of votes, and the final bill passed 57 to 39. The House Journal (pdf) contains details on yesterday’s debate, including all the roll calls. Most of the votes went along party lines. I was surprised to see one House Republican (Gary Worthan of district 52) vote with the whole Democratic caucus against final passage of the bill. I wonder whether he accidentally pressed the wrong button there, because he voted with the rest of the Republicans on ending debate and lots of amendments.

House Democrats were outraged by the Republican maneuver and the fact that the House switchboard wasn’t working Friday morning (which House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said was an oversight). Jason Clayworth noted at the Des Moines Register, “Limiting debate without the prior agreement to both parties is rare but not unique. Democrats, for example, limited debate in 2009 on another union bill known as prevailing wage that would have setting standards for minimum pay and benefits on government projects.”

Paulsen said the bill “addresses the cost of government in Iowa” by “leveling the playing field for taxpayers.” I am so tired of Republicans scapegoating public employees for our budgetary constraints. Iowa is in better fiscal condition than more than 40 other states. In any event, there is “no correlation between state budget shortfalls and union negotiating laws”:

“The thing that’s driving budget shortfalls is the impact of the national economy on state revenues,” said Elizabeth McNichol of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group in Washington, D.C. “It’s definitely other factors driving these shortfalls,” rather than union agreements, she said. […]

Five states – Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – prohibit public employee union negotiations. Each of those states faces budget shortfalls that cumulatively amount to almost $20 billion, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Council on Teacher Quality say.

Texas, one of the states prohibiting public union negotiations, has one of the largest projected budget shortfalls for next year, figured as a percentage of the current budget.

Iowa is among states with one of the lowest projected shortfalls for next year.

Forty-five states face budget shortfalls for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Of the five states that do not face budget shortfalls, each allows some type of public employee union bargaining.

Iowa’s public employees are paid less than their private sector counterparts when education levels, experience and hours worked are taken into account. Republicans tell us modest raises (about 3 percent per year) for state employees are unaffordable because they would cost $414 million over two years (if non-contract employees get the same pay increases). Yet David Osterberg pointed out this week,

The Iowa House has proposed cutting state income taxes by 20 percent. That would cost $350 million in 2012 and $700 million per year subsequently.

The governor has proposed lowering the top rate on the corporate income tax. That would cost $130 million in 2012 and $200 million per year subsequently.

The Senate and House have proposed adopting “bonus depreciation” rules. These new breaks for business would cost the treasury between $27 million and $83 million in 2011 and $99 million and $141 million in 2012.

While Republicans are selling House File 525 as a way to control government spending, the bill appears to be designed to undermine organized labor. It would shred binding arbitration and create new incentives for state employees not to join a union. In a statement yesterday, Iowa House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, “Like Wisconsin, Republicans in Iowa will stop at nothing to take away rights from police officers, fire fighters, state troopers, teachers, correctional officers and other hard-working Iowans. This bill to end collective bargaining is worse than the bill approved in Wisconsin earlier today.” After the jump I’ve posted excerpts from a House Democratic Research staff analysis on the bill.

Senate Democratic leaders have made clear that House File 525 is going nowhere in the upper chamber this year. If Republicans gain a majority in the Iowa Senate in 2012, they will certainly revive this kind of legislation.

Members of Congress rarely comment on news from the Iowa legislature, but both Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) released statements on yesterday’s Iowa House vote. I’ve posted those after the jump.

MARCH 14 UPDATE: Iowa Senate Labor Committee Chair Wally Horn confirmed that this bill won’t make it out of committee in the upper chamber and is therefore dead for the 2011 legislative session.

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First look at Dave Funk as a Polk County supervisor candidate

I heard the rumor, Civic Skinny heard the rumor, and now The Iowa Republican blog reports that Dave Funk will soon be the Republican nominee for supervisor in Polk County’s third district.

The two Republican Polk County supervisors aren’t up for re-election this year, and the GOP isn’t fielding candidates against Democratic supervisors John Mauro and Angela Connolly. As a result, the third district race between Funk and two-term incumbent Tom Hockensmith will determine control of the five-member board of supervisors. Democrats have had a majority on that body for decades.

Without question, Funk is the best candidate Republicans could have recruited for this race. Two pictures tell that story after the jump.

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House Democrats may not have the votes for "fair share"

John Deeth attended the League of Women Voters’ forum in Coralville on Saturday, and he buried an interesting nugget toward the end of his liveblog:

Chris Bonfig asks about HF 2420; Mascher, Dvorsky, Schmitz, Lensing, Bolkcom yes; Jacoby, Marek no. Jacby: “The first part of the bill is marvelous, the [second] part needs some work.”

House file 2420, formerly known as House Study Bill 702, is the reworked “fair share” legislation. The idea behind “fair share” is that employees who don’t belong to a union would have to reimburse the union for services provided, such as collective bargaining and handling grievances. A “fair share” bill passed the Iowa Senate in 2007 but stalled in the Iowa House, where the Democratic majority was 53-47 at the time. The current Democratic majority is 56-44, but none of organized labor’s legislative priorities passed during the 2009 legislative session because of opposition from a “six-pack” of House Democrats.

This year’s “fair share” proposal has been scaled back and would apply only to state employees. (Many labor advocates agree with Iowa AFL-CIO president emeritus Mark Smith, who has argued that the measure should apply to all private sector and public sector unions.) Iowa Republicans and business groups are fiercely opposing “fair share,” even though it would not apply to private businesses.

State Representative Dave Jacoby represents a relatively safe district in Johnson County. If he just announced at a public forum that he’s not backing HF 2420, I don’t see much chance of the “six-pack” members supporting the bill. That would leave House Democrats short of the 51 votes needed for passage.

When Jacoby praised the first part of the bill but not the second part, he appeared to be supporting reimbursement for grievance services but not for bargaining services, which are more costly for the union to provide. Click here for the full text of HF 2420. It states that “reasonable reimbursement” for bargaining services “shall not exceed sixty-five percent of the regular membership dues that the nonmember would have to pay if the nonmember were a member” of the union. The bill caps reimbursement for grievance services at ten percent of the union’s regular membership dues.

In February, Iowa House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that a new “prevailing wage” bill is more likely to pass this session than “fair share.” In 2009 the “six-pack” sank a prevailing wage bill, but this year House Labor Committee Chairman Rick Olson prepared a compromise version that would require payment of prevailing wage on a smaller number of projects. Olson told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that the “softer” version of the prevailing wage bill addresses the objections raised last year by conservative House Democrats.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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Wrong time, wrong place for a Democratic primary

Ed Fallon confirmed this week that he is trying to recruit a primary challenger against Governor Chet Culver. Fallon has been sounding the alarm about Culver’s re-election prospects for some time. He now believes Culver will lose to Terry Branstad, and Iowa Democrats would have a better chance nominating someone else for governor.

I voted for Fallon in the 2006 gubernatorial primary and wrote a short book’s worth of posts at this blog on why I supported his 2008 primary challenge to Congressman Leonard Boswell.

This time, I think his efforts are misguided, and I explain why after the jump.  

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Democratic leaders should be listening to Tom Harkin

Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire introduced a resolution yesterday that would change the Senate’s rules on filibusters:

the first vote on a cloture motion – which ends a filibuster – would require 60 votes to proceed, the next would be two days later and require 57. This process would repeat itself until the number fell to 51, or a simple majority.

The idea is to restore the filibuster to its original use (delaying passage of a bill) as opposed to its current use by Republicans (to impose a super-majority requirement for every Senate action). The authors of the Constitution never intended to make the Senate unable to act without the consent of 60 percent of its members. But Republicans used the filibuster more times in 2009 than it was used during the entire period from 1949 to 1970.

However, an unofficial whip count shows Democrats very far from having enough votes to change the filibuster rules. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in effect took the issue off the table yesterday.

Also yesterday, Harkin advised President Obama to use recess appointments for dozens of nominees whom Republicans have been holding up. Unfortunately, the White House announced that the president will not use his recess appointment powers for now, because the Senate confirmed 27 out of more than 60 nominees Republicans are holding up. (The list of those 27 nominees is here.) Although Obama’s statement reserves the right to make recess appointments in the future, he should not have taken that off the table as long as Senate Republicans continue to hold dozens of nominees in limbo.

One of the most controversial nominees is Craig Becker. A February 9 filibuster blocked his appointment to the National Labor Relations Board, because Becker is supposedly too pro-labor. President George W. Bush used recess appointments to name seven of his nine appointees to the NLRB. Of course, they were all anti-labor. It’s past time to bring balance to that board.

UPDATE: Senator Dick Durbin supports Harkin’s filibuster reform efforts. A “senior leadership aide” told Greg Sargent that Durbin is “in talks with a number of other Democratic senators regarding possible changes to Senate rules.”

SECOND UPDATE: A new CBS/New York Times poll found 50 percent of respondents said the filibuster should not remain in place, while 44 percent said they should. I think with more education of the public about how the filibuster obstructs progress, support for changing the rules would grow.

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Recent Chet Culver news roundup (updated)

The Des Moines Register dinged Governor Chet Culver recently for not scheduling as many press conferences and public appearances as Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack did as governor, but Culver’s been active around the state since he submitted his draft budget to the legislature last week.

Lots of links are after the jump, along with an update on Jonathan Narcisse, who supported Culver in 2006 but recently launched his own gubernatorial campaign.

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