Legislators — both Democrats and Republicans — are raising questions about the $50 million in “savings” the Iowa D.O.T.’s director says he can wring out of the agency’s budget this year.

Governor Branstad directed the D.O.T. to come up with that amount, rather than raise the state gas tax, and redirect the $50 million to road construction. Representative Ralph Watts, a Republican from Adel, makes this observation about the numbers: “I’d put it in the area of conceptual savings and not hard savings that I can drive a stake into and nail it down.”

Watts directly challenged Iowa D.O.T. director Paul Trombino to defend his plan.

“How reasonably sure are you that you can do any of these?” Watts asked Trombino during a House Transportation Committee meeting late last week.

Trombino laughed, then replied: “Number one we wouldn’t have put forward them if we didn’t feel very confident that they offer us an opportunty towards enhancing the dollars that we have (for road construction). Secondly, there are some line-items here that are not conceptual, that we’ll see real-time dollars and we’ll see it in the short-term.”

Trombino’s boss, the governor, is aggressively defending the plan — and suggesting there will be “more than” $50 million in savings within the next year.

“Paul Trombino is very professional,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “…Considering the job he’s done just since he got here in May, you saw what he did in western Iowa with the damage to Interstate-680 and to the roads and bridges out there. In 34 days we rebuilt that road and we’ve gotten full reimbursement from the federal government, so when he tells me something, I believe it.”

But key legislators say part of the proposed $50 million in savings can’t be accomplished in the next 18 months. For example, one proposed change in managing and staffing the state’s weigh stations for trucks is controversial and would require debate and approval in the legislature this year for implementation in 2013.