Today Iowa’s Governor Culver walked up to the brink of his career, looked down, and jumped.Â The lead up to this event were announcements that he would “set the record straight” on the budget, provide “big, bold” ideas for Iowa and a “surprise” for schools.Â All of these sound like great sound bites to attract viewers, but Chet needed a compelling message and earnest delivery.Â Instead, he brought the same “rah-rah” cheer that has kept Iowa spending itself into oblivion, with a severe lack of enthusiasm in his voice.Â And the best word he could use to describe the condition of Iowa: resilient.
Chet’s speech was a big “cheer” for IJOBs, a contentious program at best, and he was heavily defensive of the program bought with our grandchildren’s taxes (if they become gamblers).Â Rightly so, the Governor promoted the “successes” of the past year, many of which Iowan’s should be proud, such as the late year AFSCME agreement and progress in rebuilding from weather-related disasters.Â But while proclaiming that the new budget will be balanced, he provided scant information on how that would be accomplished aside from a priority to “reorganize government”.
And for the hundreds of Iowans who showed up today on both side of the Definition of Marriage issue, not a peep.
Of course, he also did not speak to Fair Share, Prevailing Wage, or repealing Federal Deductability.Â But then, why stir the pot?
It has taken far too long for the Governor to respond to critics regarding his handling of the state’s budget, a problem which started a year ago (or even prior to that, but let’s not digress) when the Governor presented a monstrous budget recommendation which led to the largest spending plan Iowa has ever seen (during a recession no less) and pressed for legislators to borrow $650 Billion (costing Iowans $1.4 Billion).Â The problems this has created didn’t just get dropped on Culver’s doorstep last week… it’s been worsening since the 2009 Legislative session concluded.Â His effort to “set the record straight” on his management of the budget this past year amounted to little more than the usual creative accounting and deflection.Â His answer to critics: “Our budget has been balanced every day”.Â Eyes were rolling throughout the chamber during that line.
As far as his “big, bold” ideas are concerned, there’s no doubt it’s big.Â The Governor is clearly anxious to continue spending money he doesn’t have, and wants the legislature, among other things, to take money from the Roads Fund to pay for increases to the State Patrol and Department of Public Safety.Â This amounts to cost-shifting, and it will quickly catch up with us.Â If we can’t operate from the state’s operating revenues, we’ll have more of the same mess that was created last year by using Federal Stimulus money to finance operating expenses.Â The problem: when that money is gone we won’t have anywhere else to go.Â To fund these great ideas, at the end of the day, we will be raising taxes, whether by repealing Federal Deductability, raising fees, or raising those things actually called “taxes”.
Culver’s number one priority, rightly, is Jobs.Â His solution, funding training programs, is wrong.Â What’s needed are changes in government policies to help businesses be more productive and consumers to have more resources to stimulate economic growth.Â No amount of money poured into training is going to create jobs.
The “surprise” for schools is exactly that… a 2% increase in spending on schools.Â This was not just a surprise for the school districts… the collective “gulp” from Democratic lawmakers was palpable.Â It will be interesting to see if that’s an increase over the original spending level or the post-10% reduction.Â Either way, this increase means even more money will need to be cut elsewhere, and neither the Governor nor the Legislature has shown the gumption to stand up and say what everyone else knows: we have to start completely cutting unnecessary programs.Â But as long as the Governor is “proud” of such things as the fact that we will have the best 21st century Veterans Home, we will be fighting a losing battle.
If the Governor is serious about funding quality education in the state, this plan still does not get us there.Â Forcing schools to use up their cash reserves doesn’t help either.Â Culver and the legislature need to grasp that the state can’t necessarily solve every education problem.Â Far better to work toward real consolidation as Iowa’s school district populations fall, and hold school districts accountable for how they spend state money.
Clearly, our Governor is trying very hard to get Iowa back on it’s feet.Â But trying hard and succeeding can be two entirely different things.Â The Governor, although starting to understand the realities of economics, is still flailing around in hopes of being lucky enough to hit that perfect solution that solves all of our problems at once.
It’s not going to be that easy.
The fact is, we need to cut this budget back to the bones… or perhaps just start over again.Â What do we really need the government to do for us?Â Unfortunately, there is an awful lot of money being spent on Iowans “wants”.Â This should not even be the focus of government, but that’s what it has turned into.
And no one in power in Des Moines has the will to do what’s needed.
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One other point: the Governor mentioned that he and the Lt. Governor (Patty Judge) will be going on an “Iowa Jobs Tour”.Â You’d think he might want to combine this tour with his upcoming campaign… oh, wait…