The top republican in the Iowa House is sending democrat Governor Tom Vilsack a message: choose teachers or state workers. House Speaker Christopher Rants, a republican from Sioux City, says the state budget’s too tight to give both teachers and state workes a pay raise. “A lot of the discussion that you saw recently this fall leading up to the end of the year focused on decline of (Iowa) teacher salaries in relationship to the national average, and I said ‘Did you see that decline for AFSCME, the state employees union?'” Rants says. “I firmly believe that these two issues are linked together.” State spending on schools has taken a hit the past few years in large part because of the negotiated increases in state worker salaries, according to Rants. When it comes to general state aid for K-through-12 public schools, Rants says he’ll press for a four percent increase.That was last year’s increase, and Rants calls it a “reasonable figure.” Rants conceeds some fiscal conservatives may question whether the state can afford such an increase, but he says the state can’t afford to take a backwards step when it comes to schools. Rants says it sets up a dilemma for Vilsack, who is in pay negotiations with the unions that represent state workers. “There just isn’t enough money to go around, so it’s time to make a pick. It’s time to make a choice,” Rants says. “What is your number one priority?” Rants rhetorically posed that question to Vilsack this morning during taping of the Iowa Public Television program, “Iowa Press.” If Vilsack’s number one priority is education, then Rants says he can’t afford to negotiate pay raises for state workers. Rants says while a union contract must be honored — and negotiated pay raises, promotions and benefit packages must be granted, the legislature has the option of not setting aside enough money to pay all state workers — forcing layoffs. That has happened the past few years, and Rants says it’ll happen again if AFSCME — the largest union representing state workers — gets its request for a five percent pay raise, the union’s opening bid in contract negotiations. Rants says it would cost three-hundred-million dollars to provide that pay raise to all state workers, and the state can’t afford it if policymakers hope to increase teacher pay and provide schools more general state aid. “I would hope that the governor and AFSCME realize that,” Rants says. A spokesman for the governor says Vilsack “appreciates the committment” Rants is prepared to make to education. Matt Paul, Vilsack’s press secretary, says “Vilsack looks forward to working with the legislature when it convenes” (on Monday).
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