Next Monday the Iowa legislature will convene for its 2010 session. Budget dilemmas abound for lawmakers. The governor ordered a 10%, across-the-board cut in the executive branch budget in October. The judicial and legislative branches instituted similar cuts, but the 2010 legislature will have to come up with an even smaller spending plan for the state government budgeting year that begins July 1, 2010.
House Speaker Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, says the legislature will not pass a tax increase. “The largest tax increase ever done in the state’s history was in 1992. That was a $250 million tax increase,” Murphy said during a December appearance on Iowa Public Television. “…We actually have about a $465 million shortfall and, because of that, a tax increase isn’t going to cover the problem that we’re in.”
This past spring, Murphy and the top leader in the state senate appointed a committee to come with ideas for reorganizing state government and, in December, Governor Culver touted a consultant’s report which made a variety of budget-cutting proposals. One proposal which the consultants predict would save up to $60 million would be a plan to encourage the state workers who are eligible to retire to leave state government. Critics of previous early retirement programs complain some state workers retired, but then were hired back to do the same job. Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton says that’s a concern.
“The assumption is that 1,100 employees will retire. That’s an average of $53,000 per employee. The work that they’re allegedly doing now, who will pick up that work? Are they doing work? Will we have to rehire people?” McKinley asks. “…When we’ve seen this in the past where we’ve given early retirements, it’s cost a lot of money, We’ve had people leave jobs that had expertise that was missing and we would have to go back in and then hire them as consultants.”
Governor Culver says he’s open to forbidding retired state workers from reentering the government workforce. “We need to find the savings and that might mean for certain employees they can never come back,” Culver says. “So we’re going to be very smart about how we structure this.”
The Iowa General Assembly is set to convene on Monday, January 11 and Governor Culver is scheduled to deliver his “condition of the state” address on Tuesday, January 12.