House Republicans and Republican Governor Terry Branstad are in a dispute over the Iowa Department of Transportation’s budget.
“I do think it’s important we have adequate staff so these road projects can move forward expeditiously and we don’t see them held up,” Branstad said today.
House Republicans have rejected the DOT’s request for an extra $10 million to pay negotiated salary increases and maintain current staffing levels. Republican Representative Dan Huseman of Aurelia suggested asking for extra money for salaries comes too soon after the state fuel tax went up a dime-a-gallon.
“There was some people that thought that the timing wasn’t right and maybe there was a little bit of arrogance there,” Huseman said late this afternoon during remarks on the House floor.
Branstad told reporters earlier in the day the DOT should “get credit” for “dramatically” reducing its workforce over the past several years. Without the extra money, the governor said there will be layoffs at the DOT.
“I think it is important that we recognize that as we are able to have more money to invest in the road fund and have more road projects that we need to have the staff to be able to meet the responsibility of the biggest road-building year that we’ve ever had in history,” Branstad said.
DOT officials say as many as 400 staff would be laid off over the next four years if House Republicans do not provide the extra $10 million.
“I question that,” Representative Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, told reporters late this afternoon. “…Something just does not add up there.”
Earlier this week, Democrats in the Iowa Senate sided with Branstad and voted to provide the extra $10 million to the DOT. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal suggested to do otherwise endangers progress on road and bridge projects being financed with new gas tax revenue.
“I’m mildly surprised that the House doesn’t think DOT needs employees to actually go through the bidding process and monitoring process of the new money for road construction in this state,” Gronstal told reporters.
Representative Grassley said he and his fellow House Republicans aren’t “drawing a line in the sand” on this issue, but they want more information from the DOT.
“Saying a reduction of 400 in staff when you’re showing me a document that shows that over the next four years, I don’t think is really being honest with the facts,” Grassley said. “I think if we’re going to discuss it, the facts need to be a lot clearer.”
One Republican in the House is supporting the DOT request for extra salary dollars. Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, told reporters the DOT will have fewer people to inspect projects and road construction will go more slowly if the spending isn’t approved. Byrnes was a key supporter of the state gas tax increase that took effect March 1, 2015.