The Iowa Senate endorsed a state government reorganization plan tonight. After nearly four hours of debate, all the Democrats in the senate along with just three Republican senators voted for the bill.
Senator Staci Appel, a Democrat from Ackworth, was co-chair of a committee that started crafting the plan this past summer.
“This task was daunting, but a necessary step to ensure that all Iowans benefit from an efficient, streamlined and more responsive state government,” Appel said to close last night’s debate.
The last major reorganization of state government operations occurred more than two decades ago when the number of state agencies was pared down to 25. The plan that cleared the senate does not merge any existing state agencies, but does things like require more bulk purchasing, for example.
“When (the) national economy stumbles, we’re tested,” Appel said. “When budget challenges present themselves we have two options: we can make short-term, piecemeal efforts or take up the difficult task of rethinking good governance.”
But Republicans like Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton said there was no mechanism in the bill to ensure the promised savings ever materialize.
“To often we make pronoouncements and there is no way to follow up to see if actually they come true,” McKinley said. “I’m afraid that this is one of those pieces of legislation that we say we’re going to save $340 million or whatever the number is we want to pick out and there’s absolutely no way to verify: ‘Did we, in fact, do that?'”
Governor Culver has said his budget-cutting ideas — including a plan to encourage long-time state employees to retire early — amount to $341 million for the coming year, although Democratic legislators have said the plan that cleared the senate last night would bring about $118 million in savings. The early retirement incentive plan is a separate piece of legislation that will be debated in the Iowa House tomorrow afternoon.
Senator Randy Feenstra, a Republican from Hull, predicted the bill that cleared the senate tonight would do little to truly reform government spending.
“Obviously we can see that we have quite a differentiating view on this,” Feenstra said. “Government reorganization does start with measurements, but it also starts by changing the culture of reckless spending, reckless spending that we have seen over the last few years.”
The bill passed on a 35 to 15 vote. Three of the 18 Republicans in the senate voted for the bill — Republican Senators Shawn Hammerlink of Dixon, Larry Noble of Ankeny and Pat Ward of West Des Moines.
The House State Government Committee will hold a meeting on Wednesday to begin its review of the legislation. One of the issues that will receive scrutiny involves a proposal to close the Mental Health Institute in Clarinda.