Republican legislative leaders say Democratic Governor Chet Culver should shift more funds around state government rather than layoff hundreds of workers in the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety. House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha says, for example, the governor and his department directors can shut down some programs and shift the money to pay salaries.
“He’s got transfer authority and there’s also transfer authority within departments, that department heads have,” Paulsen says. “And that’s what he should be doing.”
Legislators draft a detailed state budget plan that is signed into law by the governor, but Paulsen argues the governor and his top managers have almost unlimited authority to shift funds around once legislators are not meeting in Des Moines. Paulsen says he’d prefer a special legislative session this fall so lawmakers can make selective cuts in the state budget plan.
“If he’s not going to call us back so that we can go through and identify what the priorities on behalf of Iowans are, then he needs to be doing that,” Paulsen says. “Waiting ’til January for some of these decisions is too long.”
A spokesman for the governor says Governor Culver will use his authority to transfer some funds from one program to another in state government. But Phil Roeder, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, says that authority is limited and won’t negate the need for state worker layoffs.
“Governors have a limited authority to make transfers either within departments or between departments, and there’s a process in place to do that. You have to confirm that there’s a need in one department. You have to confirm that another department actually has surplus funds and then the governor and the department of management have to sign off on a plan to do that,” Roeder says. “At the same time, that is not a replacement for budget cuts.”
With state tax revenue on the decline, Roeder says the governor believes all state agencies must reduce their budgets by 10 percent.
“And after that cut, the option of implementing some fund transfers is possible. It’s something that’s very much on the table,” Roeder says. “It’s not going to eliminate the need to make the across-the-board cut, but it’s at least one tool that may allow us to go back and lessen the impact on certain areas.”
However, Roeder says there just isn’t enough money to transfer from other agencies into the Department of Corrections to avoid some staff reductions in the prison system.
“It’s not going to alleviate every cut and every layoff,” Roeder says of budget transfers within state government. “But it could help lessen the blow to some key priority areas that we have.” And Roeder says the governor and his staff are investigating budget transfers to reduce staff losses in the prisons and in public safety.
Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton says everyone in the country knew the economy was tanking last fall, but the Democratic governor and the Democrats who control the legislature ignored the signs.
“This is a self-made problem and now they’re just kind of washing their hands, blaming either Washington or Wall Street and, heaven forbid, they’re still blaming George Bush on this thing. It couldn’t be further from the truth,” McKinley says. “They are the people who have set the stage for this mess and they’re dealing with it in a rather amateurish manner.”
McKinley says unionized state workers should accept pay cuts, now, to help avoid layoffs. “I’ve been in businesses in this state that are off as much as 75 percent. They’ve had 40 percent layoffs. They’ve taken 20 percent pay cuts. Ten percent, especially when you’ve run spending up 25 percent, is a very manageable thing to deal with,” McKinley says. “But you have to deal with it and show some leadership and some moxie in settting the priorities that Iowans want and need, and that hasn’t happened.”
Paulsen warns there are “major” costs associated with state worker layoffs, as laid off workers will be eligible for unemployment benefits. In addition, the state trooper layoffs will mean fewer speed tickets are written, reducing state revenue from fines and court fees on those tickets. And Paulsen says if the position that’s vacant because of a layoff is deemed essential in a few months, then it will cost even more to rehire someone for that job.
“It’s a big mess,” Paulsen says.
Paulsen and McKinley made their comments this morning after taping a joint appearance on the Iowa Public Television program, “Iowa Press.”
(This story was updated at 3:10 p.m.)