Terry Branstad's spending promises don't add up

When Terry Branstad formally announced his candidacy in January, cutting the size of state government by “at least 15 percent” over five years was one of his central campaign promises. He needed to establish credibility with the Republican Party’s conservative wing after his record of growing the state budget by far more than the rate of inflation during 16 years in office.

Branstad repeated his intention to cut state government by 15 percent in his early television commercials and on the campaign trail all winter and spring. He never provided a road map for keeping that promise, however. The budget cuts Branstad has specifically proposed so far (ending the preschool program, family planning funding, and reducing administrative costs at Area Education Agencies) would not reduce state budget obligations by 3-4 percent in the first year, which would be needed to work toward a 15 percent reduction over five years.

Since the June 8 Republican primary, Branstad has continued to hammer Governor Chet Culver on fiscal issues (using false claims), but to my knowledge he’s avoided mentioning that promise to shrink government by 15 percent over five years. Nor have we seen any details about how Branstad would balance the budget while spending no more than 99 percent of projected state revenues.

While campaigning in Marshalltown this week, Branstad made an extraordinary pledge:

Branstad said that if elected governor again, he would look at moving some of the services that have been pushed onto the local governments, particularly mental health and school funding, and making those more state funded. Along with that, he would put on a caveat that mandates those levies be abolished, which he said would provide instant property tax reductions for all classes of property across the board.

He said he did something very similar when he was governor before, but critics have since tried to distort his record on those issues.

“That was property tax relief and they called it spending,” he said.

Branstad is borrowing one of Bob Vander Plaats’ key economic ideas here: helping counties provide property tax relief by having the state assume responsibility for mental health and some educational services. As a campaign tactic, it makes sense, because Vander Plaats nearly matched Branstad’s vote total in Marshall County and carried several nearby counties (click here to download the GOP primary results by county).

But think about this for a minute. Branstad now proposes to have the state take over some big new funding obligations. How would he pay for that? He supports at least $80 million in corporate tax cuts and appears to reject using federal funds or reserve money to help balance the budget.

Maybe Branstad hopes that Iowans will forget his earlier campaign promises. But it’s past time for Branstad to show how he would make the numbers add up. The final budget for fiscal year 2011 is now in effect. Let’s see a rough budget document for fiscal year 2012, which doesn’t dip into reserve funds, cuts general fund spending by 3-4 percent, and has the state take on more responsibility for funding mental health and education services.

Speaking of state budgets, did anyone else notice the Branstad campaign’s silence last week regarding Iowa’s improving fiscal condition? The Legislative Services Agency and the Department of Management both reported better than expected revenues and a larger surplus than anticipated at the close of FY 2010. The Branstad campaign said absolutely nothing. We know his staff keeps track of such reports, because a few days earlier they jumped all over a draft Legislative Services Agency document on school districts and property taxes.

Branstad has a habit of ignoring inconvenient facts. We’re still waiting for him to say something, anything, about numerous documents showing he and senior staffers did Republican campaign work on the public’s dime.

Continue Reading...

Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

Continue Reading...

Layoffs for some, furloughs for others as Culver announces budget cuts

This afternoon Governor Chet Culver announced the next steps toward cutting $565 million from the 2010 budget. I’ve posted the governor’s statement after the jump, and you can find pdf files with more details about the cuts here. (UPDATE: The Des Moines Register posted this chart showing the cuts Culver approved.) Highlights:

Culver is ordering all of the 3,258 non-contract (that is, non-union) employees in the executive branch “to take seven days without pay between now and the end of the fiscal year. I do not believe it is fair for any state employee to not contribute toward our solution.”

Culver approved spending cut plans submitted by 28 department heads and approved, with minor changes, spending cut plans submitted by 6 other department heads. The Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs summarized the impact:

Altogether, the 34 approved plans will save the state’s general fund about $520 million, he said.

The approved plans call for a total of 180 layoffs and the elimination of 229 open positions. The total job loss, so far, is 410.

Here’s where there the layoffs will be: 79 from the Department of Human Services, 35 from the Department of Revenue, 10.8 from the Department of Inspections and Appeals,  13 from the Department of Education, eight from Iowa Public Television, eight from the Department of Public Health, seven from the Department of Economic Development, seven from the Department of Cultural Affairs, four from the Department of Administration, four from the Department of Management, two from the Alcoholic Beverages Division, two from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and one from the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board.

Forty-three state employees tentatively set for layoffs in the Department of Commerce will be spared. The 10 percent across-the-board cut will not be applied to the divisions of banking, credit union, insurance and utilities divisions, which are agencies within the commerce department.

Culver rejected the $45 million spending reduction plans offered by the directors of the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety, saying,

I reject these two plans because I am hopeful that we can find an alternative to laying off hundreds of correctional officers, state troopers and law enforcement personnel.

I am rejecting these plans because public safety is essential to our daily lives.

That is why yesterday I sent a letter to the state’s three bargaining units – AFSCME, Iowa United Professionals, and the State Police Officers Council – who represent more than 16,000 state employees – asking them to join me in negotiations for amending their current contract.  This past Saturday, I met with AFSCME’s bargaining unit – which represents more than 13,000 state employees – to discuss ideas for moving forward.  We followed that meeting with a three hour session yesterday morning and the talks have been very productive.  And earlier today, I met with the State Police Officers Council representatives and those talks were productive.  Finally, I will meet with the Iowa United Professionals union leadership as soon as schedules permits, but our staff has been in daily contact with their representatives.

I seek substantive discussions with all three unions on issues that may impact our state budget cuts.  Our goal is to do everything we can to prevent layoffs related to essential public safety.

If we cannot reach agreement with the unions, then I will implement the layoff plans submitted by these two departments.

Unfortunately, we do not have an endless amount of time in which to reach an agreement and to have it ratified by each respective union. I expect to know by Friday, November 6 whether we will move forward in discussions with the unions or implement the layoff plans.

The president of AFSCME Council 61 issued a statement saying his union will negotiate with the governor in the hope of avoiding layoffs. Both sides are promising not to release any details about the discussion until the talks conclude, but no doubt some proposed alternatives to layoffs will leak out before then.

The Des Moines Register’s Tom Beaumont covered Republican gubernatorial candidates’ ideas for cutting the budget here.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

Continue Reading...
View More...