In the closing hours of the Culver Administration, Governor Culver’s fellow Democrats in the legislature are scrambling to make changes in the $84 million budget cutting plan Culver submitted more than a month late.
“I’ve talked directly with Governor Culver. We’re in contact with their staff. We’re looking see if there’s a way to fix that before 10 a.m. tomorrow,” says Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal. “If there isn’t we will look for and we will find a resolution to that before the session is over. We’ve also had conversations with Republican leaders on the subject as well.”
Culver was to outline millions of dollars worth of state budget cuts by December 1, but it wasn’t revealed ’til late last week. Only this week have more details emerged, as Culver’s agency directors have begun releasing estimates of state worker layoffs. Senate President Jack Kibbie, a Democrat from Emmetsburg, is a long-time supporter of community colleges and his goal is to shield the colleges from a proposed $ 6 million cut.
“We certainly anticipate addressing that,” Kibbie says. “…We’ve got a problem here.”
Republican legislative leaders say they’re “extremely disappointed” in the way Culver handled this last batch of budget cuts. Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton says legislators just started learning some of the details last night.
“It was almost a dump-and-run action on his part,” McKinley says. “And it isn’t fair to the employees that it affected. It isn’t fair to Iowans that will be adversely affected and it is extremely upsetting.”
Governor-elect Terry Branstad takes the oath of office at 10 a.m. on Friday. The people Branstad has chosen to lead state agencies may draft alternative budget-cutting plans, but they’re under a time crunch, as Culver’s administrators plan for dozens of layoff notices to go out before the end of the month.
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, uses the word “ridiculous” to describe Culver’s budget-cutting plan. “Is that really a proposal that I’m supposed to take serious and ignore what the incoming governor might do?” Paulsen told reporters early this afternoon. “I don’t think so.”
During an interview with Radio Iowa this afternoon, Culver defended the plan. “We’re open to continuing any discussions with other leaders until we leave office but the bottom line is we’re doing our job,” Culver said. “And, yeah, there are consequences when you’re required to cut $84 million, and the legislature gives you that mandate, it’s not pretty.”
Culver suggests lawmakers “didn’t maybe fully understand” the law they wrote which required him to decide which cuts to make, but forbade cuts to large sections of the budget, like spending at the state universities and K-through-12 public schools.
“The incoming administration and the Republican leaders have said they’re going to cut 15 percent of state government beyond this,” Culver said, with a laugh. “So if there’s this debate now and concern at DHS or any of these agencies, what are they going to do when they learn about a 15 percent additional cut?”
Governor-elect Branstad promised during the 2010 campaign that he would cut 15 percent from the state budget over the next five years.