Iowa legislators don’t want to share the "purse strings" of state government with the executive branch, even in an emergency. Under current law, the governor may propose but the legislature has to authorize withdrawals from the state’s economic emergency accounts. Governor Culver asked legislators for the authority to make withdrawals on his own.
Susan Judkins of the Rebuild Iowa Office says if the legislature’s not in session, the governor has few options. "We want to give the government some flexibility to quickly address needs that we’re seeing as very important,"Judkins says.
Judkins cites the case of last summer’s flooding and tornadoes — disasters which occurred after the legislature had adjourned for the year. "The Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission heard from so many communities that their needs were very strong, but having to wait for the federal dollars to come through just was not addressing them quickly enough," Judkins says.
Culver submitted a bill to legislators which would give the state’s Executive Council authority to spend up to a third of the money in the economic emergency fund if the president declares part of the state a major disaster area. The governor and the state’s five other statewide elected officials serve on the Executive Council.
Senator Bob Dvorsky, a Democrat from Coralville, says the bill’s dead for the year. "I think it raises a lot of concerns on separation of powers. The legislature is supposed to have the power to appropriate money and funds," Dvorsky says. "And I think that bill essentially would have taken away — well, clearly, would have taken away that power and given it to the executive branch not the legislative branch."
Dvorsky, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, argues the governor was able to adequately respond to last year’s disaster without the extra spending authority. "I think that the executive branch actually did a good job and got some things cranked up in working with the local entities. The governor was all over the state working on flood relief, so I think that things did get done," Dvorsky says. "It is frustrating dealing FEMA and feds on some of those things, but I think most of that was due to the feds, not necessarily to the state government."
Dvorsky says Culver’s proposal would have violated the "separation of powers" in state government. According to Dvorsky, legislators might be willing to accept a compromise which would give the Legislative Council rather than the Executive Council authority to tap the rainy day fund. The Legislative Council is made up of 24 senators and representatives. It meets regularly and makes decisions when the legislature is not in session.