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The Condition Of Iowa: Welcome to Fantasy Island!

The Condition Of Iowa: Welcome to Fantasy Island!

islandToday Iowa’s Governor Culver walked up to the brink of his career, looked down, and jumped.  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.  All of these sound like great sound bites to attract viewers, but Chet needed a compelling message and earnest delivery.  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.  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).  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.  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.  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).  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.  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.  His answer to critics: “Our budget has been balanced every day”.  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.  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.  This amounts to cost-shifting, and it will quickly catch up with us.  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.  The problem: when that money is gone we won’t have anywhere else to go.  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.  His solution, funding training programs, is wrong.  What’s needed are changes in government policies to help businesses be more productive and consumers to have more resources to stimulate economic growth.  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.  This was not just a surprise for the school districts… the collective “gulp” from Democratic lawmakers was palpable.  It will be interesting to see if that’s an increase over the original spending level or the post-10% reduction.  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.  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.  Forcing schools to use up their cash reserves doesn’t help either.  Culver and the legislature need to grasp that the state can’t necessarily solve every education problem.  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.  But trying hard and succeeding can be two entirely different things.  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.  What do we really need the government to do for us?  Unfortunately, there is an awful lot of money being spent on Iowans “wants”.  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”.  You’d think he might want to combine this tour with his upcoming campaign… oh, wait…

2010 Iowa General Assembly Preview

2010 Iowa General Assembly Preview

gavelMonday is the first day of the 2010 session of the Iowa Legislature.  Over the past month or so I’ve had an opportunity on my internet radio show The Conservative Reader Report to discuss the upcoming session with a few local Republican House Members, including Peter Cownie, Erik Helland, and Chris Hagenow.  All of them had the same message we’ve been hearing via the press: this year’s session will be about the Budget.

These Republicans also stated their support for giving Iowan’s the right to vote for a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage, despite the fact that it appears unlikely such an opportunity will exist in the 2010 session. Mike Grandstall has already stated that he will not allow a bill that will define marriage as one man and one woman.  The liberal media is all about calling it discriminatory and that it is “against same-sex marriage”, but the biggest furor should be over one simple thing: Democrats being “against”  the right of Iowans to vote on this important issue.  It is ironic that the Democratic Party, the supposed party of “Yes”, is now the party of “No”.  And this on something less trivial than the typical money spending that Republicans typically try to stop, but on a most fundamental right of Iowans, and clearly desired by a majority of Iowans, to vote on this issue directly.  Instead, the majority party chooses to abrogate the rights of Iowans.

Also on the table are potential opportunities to bring back some labor union priorities, Fair Share apparently being on top of the Governor’s list (he and other Dems owe the unions a lot, and they have not done much to deliver so far).  Other priorities include Prevailing Wage, and Doctor Shopping.

Getting back to the budget, it was encouraging to see today’s Des Moines Register editorial recommending, along with “preserving healthcare for low-income Iowans”, among other things, that the Legislature take a hard look at Tax Credits and consolidation, but most important:

“…the discussion also should include suggestions about what state government can do without…”

How long can it take to figure this one out?  And the Register even made some good suggestions:

“…the Power Fund? Economic-development programs? Services that could be turned over to private contractors?”

And they said, (gasp!) that schools would have to get by with less!

This is certainly a start.  Perhaps the approach that the Editors are seeking is to “make a list and lets see what we can drop to get the budget balanced”.  The notion that budgeting is a hard process involving a balance between what we can afford and what we want is the unfortunate result of coveting what others have.  Greed and selfish desire drive this kind of thinking.

Unfortunately, our current legislature and administration’s thinking about the role of government is that it exists to make sure everyone gets their share of the pie… that everything that has ever looked like a legitimate government service or department must be viable.  Try to stuff everything into a bag, and then pull out a few odds and ends to make it fit the budget.

The typical conservative view is that government exists to address the real needs of the people that cannot be filled by individuals and business or non-profits.  Life (defense, security, emergency services), liberty (justice, rule of law), and property/pursuit of happiness (infrastructure, free-market capitalism).  Most of what government needs to address can be fit in these categories.  Some would say that anything on top of that is optional.  But why should they be optional?  All that does is promote the idea that there is a government trough available at least in good times, and as we’ve seen, also in bad times.

Our government should stop spending money on things that that the government simply does not need to be doing and can instead be done by business, non-profits and individuals on their own.  Instead, our government will continue to bloat because everyone seeks the opportunity for free money from the government.  What is needed is real discipline.

And don’t believe that your taxes won’t get raised… as long as the Legislature is unable to bring spending down to an appropriate level they will need to find ways to “raise revenue”… that is, raise taxes.

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I might take some heat for this.  I agree that the NRA recommendations for changes to Iowa handgun laws would be beneficial to the citizens of the state, and I hope we can get them brought through the legislative process soon.  However, I also agree with the Register that in 2010, this will simply be a distraction.  And in 2010, with a Democratically controlled Assembly, we probably won’t see it pass anyhow.  It would be best to wait until 2011 when the balance of power is likely to shift back to the right a bit.

However, I don’t take the same position on the Marriage Amendment.  It would not hurt to allow this to hit the floor and get discussed and voted on in both houses this year… it will still need to be approved in the 2011 session before it can go to the voters.  Delaying it a year does only that… delays it.  The sooner the people of Iowa have an opportunity to vote on this the sooner we can put it behind us.

I’m also glad to see the Register continue to argue for transparency.   I don’t think that either party historical has a corner on promoting more open government, but Republicans have tried last year to get some good legislation through to ensure the public would have easy access to information about what our government is doing, but was rejected by the Majority.  It really is time to open the doors and make the data available to all.

Fleecing The Ones You Love

Fleecing The Ones You Love

In full harmony with the wreckless abandon that led to two northeast Iowa communities getting a combined total $100,000 in relief money for weather related damage that never happened to them, news that Cedar Rapids residents who need relief are going to take second place to other community projects.

There are some great Des Moines Register reader comments at the story site above.  Many questions, most pointed being “What is being done to ensure the next flood doesn’t cause this kind of damage?”, are being asked.  And while I can certainly agree that when rebuilding from the ground up one would want to start afresh instead of just rebuilding the same structure in the same location, one can also rebuild in phases, designing facilitities to ensure that basic services and features are available while leaving additional work for later years or donations to provide additional space.

And that is all well and good for things like the Library.  Museums can wait a bit.  I would go so far as to say that Iowans as a whole, as generous as they are, would rather see any money going to building homes, levies, drainage systems, etc. instead of non-essentials (though desirable) such as a museum. 

Also, in rethinking the Libraries that need to be rebuilt, I can undestand needing to provide additional space for internet workstations.  But with all of the content that available digitally, how much paper-based primary sources for research are really needed?  I can see liesure reading material as important, but there should be a lot of content that can be left for internet access these days, it seems. 

All that said, this topic should be about priorities and limits.  Identify the things that truly need to be fixed or replaced (like peoples homes, especially if they are living in FEMA housing), but I don’t agree with spending state money, during such hard times economically, on non-essentials.  Let the private donors solve that for now, and wait for better times to fund more cultural projects.

But government won’t change their direction just because I say they should.  Or even if the majority of Iowans say they should.  That is, until those Iowans show up at the voting booth and find better leaders.

Iowa: The “Fleece Me” State

Iowa: The “Fleece Me” State

free-moneyMore evidence that we need to put better controls on our government.  And before you discard this discussion as “more of the same government stupidity” that we’ve become accustomed to writing off as just “how the system works”, stop and read through this.  And really think about it.

I am loath to speculate on what specifically happened here, that is, how Rebuild Iowa managed to send $100,000 out to the towns of Dunkerton and Fairbank despite the lack of need or request for the money.  The story makes it sound like they just, well, used National Weather Service information. 

But I can’t wait to hear what the Governor’s office has to say about it.  If anything.

As you may know, Rebuild Iowa is a state project to coordinate spending the money allocated by the Legislature to help Iowa communities recover from the weather-related damage of 2008.  From the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier story:

Tina Potthoff, a spokesperson for Rebuild Iowa, said the Iowa Legislature approved the funds with no application process and with Gov. Chet Culver’s blessing. The money came from the state’s general fund.

“Since it’s state money, it comes with less restrictions than federal money,” Potthoff said. 

I am certainly glad that we were able to provide necessary funds to help the tornado and flood ravaged communities to recover, but there is an operational principle at work here that is a key to the gutting of our state’s financial resources:

If government money has been allocated, it needs to be spent on something, anything, quickly before someone decides to take it back.

After all, it’s free money, right?

The only problem is that it’s not free.  We are getting a superb opportunity to see how the state government, from the Legislature to the Governor to the folks that have been carelessly given free reign to just spend a huge chunk of money as they see fit (and feel compelled to spend every bit of it), and the folks who are recipients of our state’s enourmous generosity.

I don’t blame the leaders in Fairbank and Dunkerton.  The money is likely to be put to good use and may even help prevent loss of life in the future.  They may, however, become unwitting villains in a story they had no hand in writing.  I hope, for the sake of our state finances, that they decide to return the money to the state and await an appropriate opportunity to finance what things they truly need.  But I also wouldn’t blame them one bit if they kept the money and used it as they saw fit.

The State of Iowa, however, needs better accountability.  We already know that the current leadership of the General Assembly has become drunk with power and the unfettered ability to spend our state into oblivian.  The Governor is the author of what can, at best, be described as a constitutionally unauthorized bond measure that will keep the state in debt for decades.  And the Legislature puts no real constraints on the Governor appointed boards who are authorized to spend millions in tax dollars, in some cases for good cause, but in no case with appropriate public accountability. 

The spending needs to stop, or we will pay for it, either through higher taxes or other increased costs.

We, as the citizens and taxpayers of Iowa, are the ultimate holders of accountability.  We have lost the opportunity to address the legislation that led to this chaos.  We must voice, and continue to voice, our objections to the feckless manner in which our Legislature and Governor have brought us here, and take whatever appropriate action we can, including writing, phoning, and emailing them to voice those objects.  And then vote them out of office.

I would even advocate recall elections.  At this point I have no idea what that involves or what it would cost the state.  The question becomes whether the financial cost of such elections would be outweighed by the continued impact of another year with these folks in power.

Unless of course you actually like this.

Governor Culver’s Polling Is Down

Governor Culver’s Polling Is Down


From the Iowa GOP web site:

Des Moines – The latest Survey USA poll indicates that more than half of all Iowans disapprove of Governor Chet Culver’s job performance.  Jeff Boeyink, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Iowa, said today, “Governor Culver’s free-spending, big debt, and job-killing agenda is out of touch with Iowa values and it is reflected in job approval ratings that are the lowest of his tenure as Governor.  More than half of Iowa voters now disapprove of the Governor’s job performance.”

In the June 2009 poll conducted by Survey USA, only 42% of Iowans approve of the Governor’s job performance, with more than half expressing disapproval. Independent voters are especially critical of Governor Culver, with 56% of those respondents saying they disapprove of his performance and only 35% expressing support for his work.

Boeyink continued, “Governor Culver and majority Democrats ignored the best interest of Iowans during the last legislative session and now they’re paying the price.  Iowans said they were against borrowing more than a billion dollars to pay for short-term projects. Iowans also said they want a vote to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. And, Iowans say they want to keep federal deductibility.  On each and every one of these issues, Governor Culver consistently ignores the will of the people.

“Iowa Republicans are ready, willing, and able to deliver on the priorities of Iowa voters and, if given an opportunity by the voters, will do so,” concluded Boeyink.

Link to the current poll results

As we’ve said here in the past, Iowa’s funamental financial problem is excessive spending.  Misuse of funds (spending money specifically earmarked for infrastructure on non-infrastructure projects) is a close second. 

The 2009 Legislative Session garnered a significant amount of attention from Iowans specifically because of the inability of the Democratically General Assembly to cut the Governor’s budget (despite Republican recommendations that would have saved millions, many of which came from public comment).  Throwing the public out of a public forum, with no reaction from the Governor’s office, certainly did nothing to enhance the public’s perspective of Democrats respect for those that sent them to serve in Des Moines.

Democrats have an additional opportunity in 2010 to make the lives of everyday Iowans better… or worse.  Continued disregard and apparent contempt for the needs and resources of Iowans may end up guaranteeing a backlash in November 2010. 

We really want to see what’s best for Iowans and it would be great if Iowans can have input into the process.  What is too bad is that the fate of Iowans’ futures are tied to the politics of reelection.

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