House Republican Leader Christopher Rants says the state’s budget probably is teetering into the red and that’s the reason Governor Culver, a Democrat, doesn’t want to call legislators back to Des Moines for a special session.
"The legislature should have been in special session in July, August or in September. It’s not going to happen now. Maybe it’ll happen after the election," Rants says. "But the only reason it hasn’t happened before the election is because they don’t want you to know that the cupboard is bare because there is no money. It’s gone. Now, they can tell you the reserves are full, but they also know that they don’t want to use those right now because they want to balance the budget next year."
Rants has advocated emergency action on flood-related issues now rather than waiting ’til lawmakers reconvene in regular session in January. The governor has instead reallocated $40-million in the state budget to provide emergency flood relief to property owners.
"Part of this ‘Jump Start’ program is designed to provide additional loans to businesses to try to get them back on their feet, yet the governor’s own ‘Rebuild Iowa Commission’ says in its report that small businesses are unlikely to take on more debt…they already have enough credit problems," Rants says. "…I don’t want to throw stones at what the governor is doing…but it doesn’t go far enough."
Rants says his quarrel isn’t with the price tag, either. "Forty million dollars is a large pool of money, but considered in the large scope of the problem you’re dealing with, $40 million isn’t so large any more," Rants says, "not when you look at how many homes have been lost, how many businesses that are still closed today, the number of communities that have been impacted."
According to Rants, the governor has "unilaterally" made a decision to scoop money from various programs, like 10-million out of the Vision Iowa program which awards grants to community tourist and cultural attractions.
"You have a lot of communities across the state that had previously applied for (those) grants…that are now seeing that money taken away from them," Rants says. "Now maybe that’s a legitimate thing to do, but it’s been done with no debate. It’s been done with no warning, no plan on whether those communities will ever see those dollars."
House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, defends the governor’s action. "The governor does have the authority to do transfers and he did it with the idea of immediately helping flood-impacted areas," Murphy says.
Murphy agrees with Culver that a special session is not necessary. "I think we’re getting some immediate relief to communities that need it in regards to the flooding quite frankly because of inaction at the federal level," Murphy says. "There was money that was approved in July that the state has still not received to do assistance in areas like Cedar Rapids."
Murphy says the state’s budget is sound and as a result there is more cash in the state’s reserve fund than ever before. The two men made their comments during a forum at the Independent Insurance Agents of Iowa annual meeting in Des Moines.