The Des Moines Register is already commending Governor Chet Culver for putting a hold on the staff reductions for the Departments of Corrections and Public Safety. Governor Culver has asked AFSCME Council 61, the union that represents the largest share of state workers, to reopen their contracts and agree to pay reductions in order to prevent the loss of jobs in these two departments.
Culver made his demands known to AFSCME on Tuesday afternoon and has set a November 6th deadline for the union to respond. While it is good for Governor Culver look for ways to lessen the effect of his 10 percent across-the-board cuts, given the length of time it will take to renegotiate union contracts, it seems odd that the Governor said there wasn’t time to call the legislators back for a special session. By the time Culver’s November 6th deadline arrives, one month will have passed since the Revenue Estimating Conference met and lowered their estimate on state revenues by $415 million, which triggered the current round budget cuts in the first place.
Republican legislators and Culver’s own department heads have suggested close to $400 million in targeted budget cuts that could have been used to prevent cuts in state departments that provide essential services. The only catch is that the legislature would need to be called back is session to make most of these cuts.
To their credit, Republicans began offering those suggestions long before the legislative session concluded. Democratic leaders in the legislature and Governor Culver have refused to reach across the aisle to work with Republicans who have been alarmed at the out of control spending during the Culver administration. Instead, Culver reassured the people of Iowa that everything is going to be alright and hoped the economy would turn around. Well, things are not alright and the economy is getting worse.
Even after the conclusion of the legislative session, Republicans called for a special session that would give the legislature and the governor the ability to make targeted cuts. Again, Culver and his Democratic colleagues refused. Republicans asked for a special session again earlier this month when the REC drastically cut the state’s revenue estimate, but Culver ruled out the idea because he said it would take too long to call the legislators back and get them agree on a plan.
We now know that Culver’s 10 percent across-the-board cuts will take more than a month to be finalized. Would it really have taken legislators over a month to meet and come up with the necessary targeted budget cuts? The real question that needs to be asked is, why is it acceptable to give labor unions close to two weeks to come up with a proposal, but we don’t have the time to let the people’s representatives have a say in how the state addresses its financial crisis.
Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats thinks that Governor Culver is just once again kicking the can down the road.
“When you set priorities, you begin with essential services. You protect people who work in the most dangerous situations to ensure Iowans are safe. Chet Culver needs to learn how to set priorities. Just because he’s delayed a final decision on cuts in public safety and corrections personnel doesn’t mean he’s being deliberate or effective. It simply means he’s dragging out an already bad and unavoidable situation of his own creation,” Vander Plaats said.
Why is Governor Culver so afraid of a special session? Republicans have had their proposal out in the open for public consumption for months now. Most people would agree the state government should find a way to prevent cuts in areas that provide essential services, but shouldn’t the people who are responsible for the state’s purse, the elected legislature, be allowed the opportunity to make changes to the budget?
Photo by Dave Davidson
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