(This story was updated at 7:40 p.m. with additional information.)
The new leader of Republicans in the Iowa House says the state should start shedding staff. House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha says the state has hired about 600 new workers in the past two years and most Iowans haven’t noticed the difference.
Paulsen singles out some new hires in the Department of Education. "Thirty-three new folks just got hired at the D.O.E. specifically to write curriculum and tell local schools districts and local school boards exactly what to teach," Paulsen says. "I’m not sure that that raises the bar with regard to what our graduates have."
Paulsen believes that group of state workers, along with others, may have to lose their jobs as policymakers struggle to balance the state budget. "You know, we’ve got two gardeners over at Terrace Hill," Paulsen says. "I don’t know anybody back in my house district that’s busy out hiring new gardeners right now."
According to Paulsen, the gardeners who cultivated the grounds surrounding Terrace Hill, the governor’s mansion, used to come from the state’s prisons — inmates who’d been cleared for supervised work outside prison walls. "For whatever reason, that’s not what the governor wanted and so we added two more (full-time employees) and hired somebody, at a cost that quite frankly — at least it appeared to me — that we could have contracted," Paulsen says. "If you don’t want the prisoners there, then let’s go out and let an independent contract. I mean, the State of Iowa’s not in the business of gardening but there are people out there who are in the business of gardening who could have done that better and at a lower cost."
A spokesman for the governor responded late Wednesday to Paulsen’s remarks. According to Phil Roeder, Governor Culver’s press secretary, the Department of Public Safety did not want prisoners working at Terrace Hill around the First Famly. "The sad truth is it’s unfortunate Rep. Paulsen didn’t raise any of these issues when he had a chance during a recent private meeting with the Governor," Roeder said in a statement emailed to Radio Iowa. "For years, the governors’ spouses and children have been considered politically ‘off limits.’ Both political parties have afforded the first families, including the first ladies and children, much-needed privacy, and have refrained from making them the subject of political shots, regardless of which party was represented in Terrace Hill."
Roeder suggested Paulsen’s comments were unnecessary and even offensive. "The new Republican House leader apparently believes it is okay to denigrate (Mrs. Culver and her children) in the press. His comments are particularly ungentlemanly given that he could have simply picked up the phone and called the governor directly," Roeder said. "It’s unfortunate he’s beginning his tenure with cheap personal shots rather than bipartisan cooperation on real issues."
Paulsen predicted today that Culver, a Democrat, will be forced to consider an across-the-board in state spending in December because state tax revenues continue to fall. "And I could be wrong. I mean, I’m not an economist. I’m an attorney," Paulsen said during an interview with reporters from Radio Iowa and The Des Moines Register. "…But that’s a decision he’s going to have to make before we even show up." Paulsen and other lawmakers are scheduled to "show up" in Des Moines on January 12 to convene the 2009 legislative session.