Friday, January 30, 2009

The Slippery Slope

Even though our governor has gone on record, repeatedly, against this issue, it looks like it's sticking around. Need to make up that deficit (yes, it is a deficit, despite what some may tell you) somehow. Maybe we'll see some party fireworks in the near future.....

Seen Around the Capitol This Week

Senator James Hahn (R-Muscatine) talking to Community College students.

Senator Shawn Hamerlinck (R-Davenport) talks with a Davenport group.

Republican Leader Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) at his weekly press conference.

Senator David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) talks with NW Iowa Community College students.

Herd at the Capitol today: "I can't find where my Twitter is."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lets Talk Turkey

The Governor’s budget went public this week and people at the Capitol are still trying to wrap their brains around it all. Before we jump into the details lets keep in mind that legislative Democrats are the ones who spent Iowa into this mess. They are quick to blame ole George W. Bush on the woes of economy and getting us in this economic mess, but so we’re clear, the Democrats in Iowa have been spending money like it is going out of style. For every dollar taken in, they’ve spent $1.50. At that rate, it’s no wonder we need to dip into our reserve funds and the 6.5% cut the Big Lug is proposing is the tip of the iceberg.

The Governor’s budget eliminates the following seven funds:
Senior Living Trust Fund, Healthy Iowans Tobacco Trust, Crime Victim Compensation, Attorney General’s Forfeiture Fund, Property Tax Credit Fund, Gambler’s Treatment Fund, Child Care Tax Credit Fund

He’s increasing spending by 2.4% or $147.7 million. Total General Fund expenditures: $6.211 billion for FY 2010. Someone explain to us how all this talk of tightening belts and doing more with less fits into this spending increase.

He’s shifting funds around: $200 million from reserves, $6.5 from the Gambler Assistance Fund (then he’ll eliminate it) and $10 million from the Federal Economic Stimulus and Job Handling Fund. Shifting monies does not mean replenishment will ever happen.

He also doesn’t want to give Medicaid as much money as last year. $22.9 million less to be exact.

The Governor is banking on the feds handing us money from the economic stimulus package which is fine, but we can’t do this every year, so lets not get used to it.
Here is a tribute to what we all wish for, even governors:

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Flood Bill Breakdown – What you won’t hear

One of the first major bills of this legislative session just passed in the Senate. HF 64 takes $56 million from Iowa’s reserve funds and puts it toward disaster relief. Here’s the breakdown: $10 million going towards individuals affected by flooding. Residents may apply for grants of up to $2,500 going toward replacing lost personal items. The bill also devotes $24 million total in the form of forgivable housing loans for housing assistance and the final piece of the bill is $22 million total available in the form of grants to assist local municipalities.

A big part of this bill is the establishment of the Rebuild Iowa Office. The office was established after the floods and has been borrowing staff from other departments. This bill puts in place 32 full time employees through this office with no end in sight as to when the office will disband. Seeing as this was a 500 year flood, you’d think it would be reasonable to assume that Iowa could use the office, get rid of it and not see it for another 50 years. Not so, the bill sets it up into perpetuity.

The office will be charged with finding “innovative” financing alternatives. Take that for what you will.

What about any left over money? It is possible. Senate Republicans offered and amendment that would require leftovers to go towards small businesses since they get the short end of the stick on this issue. It was voted down.

Another strenuous point in the bill is the $2,500 for individual assistance. No stipulations other than to get it, you have to be affected by the floods. The money will come in the form of voucher debit cards. This is ripe for abuse as we all know from Hurricane Katrina.

We still don’t know a dollar amount of the damage statewide. No one seems to want to cough up the numbers. You’d think that might be important when talking about funding something. There are still millions of dollars sitting in the RIO coughers (from the feds) waiting to get into the hands of Iowans.

Regardless of what you think of the bill, victims have waited a long time to get some relief from the state. It could have happened much sooner and hopefully all the bureaucracy written into the bill can easily be weeded through so those in need came pull through. I guess we’ll wait and see how it all unfolds.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Small Towns Get the Shaft

The Local Option Sales Tax bill passed in the Senate tonight. It would mean areas hit by disasters can expedite the referendum process by giving the residents of disaster areas the power to vote on imposing a tax to help meet local needs, not necessarily flood relief.
If this is for flood damage, why are they making it so hard for small towns that were impacted by the flood to get this money?

Small towns will have to pool with larger towns to get in on the action. Since the process is expedited from 120 days down to 30, these smaller downs won’t have enough time to get their resources together. Why should small towns have less ability to apply for flood relief damage?

This tax allows Polk, Johnson and Linn to help themselves to this tax. And besides, why do we want to tax these areas hit hardest by flooding? Since when do taxes ease any sort of burden?

It was herd during debate from the Democrats that this money is not restricted to flood relief in any way. So that means that since the tax doesn’t sunset the money can be used for who knows what next year? Can anyone say Project Destiny?

In Light of the Governor's Recent Budget Announcement......

The news from the Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) last month regarding the state’s finances, while sobering, comes as no shock. Legislative Republicans have been calling for a slow and steady approach to the state’s budget over the past two years. Legislative Democrats, unfortunately, chose not to listen and have run the state’s budget aground.

Legislative Republicans, along with the non-partisan Legislative Service Agency, have been ringing the alarm regarding the Democrats’ budget. The current economic slowdown and downturn was forecast in 2007 yet nobody in the majority party paid attention to the warning siren.

Des Moines Register
“Traditionally, Iowa has always lagged the national economy.”
-Dennis Prouty, director of the Legislative Services Agency 12/13/06

The Gazette
“We’ve got an upward motion. It’s not a real strong motion, and I think from everything I’m reading it could be starting to slow down.”
-Dennis Prouty, director of the Legislative Services Agency 12/13/06

This is the first indication from the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency that the economy would be slowing down. Remember, the individual warning us that the economy, overall, would slowing down is from a non-partisan office.

The Gazette
“Democrats will be fiscally responsible. I think people are going to be very cautious about that. We need to keep that mantra up.”
-Representative Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City 1/7/07

By chanting the desire that Democrats in Des Moines would be fiscally responsible does not mean it will actually happen.

Des Moines Register
“I’ve got some real concerns about how we’re going to accomplish some of the proposals that are around with where the revenue numbers stand.”
-State Auditor David Vaudt 1/21/07

Des Moines Register
“Iowans are right to expect us to be smart with a buck, and to balance our checkbook the same way they do.”
-Governor Chet Culver 1/21/07

If your accountant tells you that he does not know how you are going to balance your checkbook you have got a serious problem.

Telegraph Herald
“We need to be guided in this budget by actual numbers. Numbers don’t lie. Smoke and mirrors games and gimmicks just don’t work.”
-Governor Chet Culver 1/30/07

Telegraph Herald
“Iowa common sense is our best guide for budgeting. Simply put, we cannot spend more than we take in.”
-Governor Chet Culver 1/30/07

Well Governor, if you are the average Iowa family you are right. You cannot spend more than you take in. Unfortunately for the taxpayer you and your tax-and-spend liberal allies operate the State’s checkbook.

Telegraph Herald
“We must always realize we can’t possibly fund all the budget requests made of us. Difficult and painful decisions are required.”
-Governor Chet Culver 1/31/07

Telegraph Herald
“He’s made more promises than he can deliver. It’s a lot of spending.”
-Former House Minority Leader Christopher Rants R-Sioux City 1/31/07

Des Moines Register
“We’ve got to bring this back into balance.”
-State Auditor David Vaudt 2/23/07

Des Moines Register
“I think we’re being responsible, and this is the beginning of the budget process.”
-Governor Chet Culver 2/23/07

Des Moines Register
“They’re hiding the truth from Iowans.”
-Former House Minority Leader Christopher Rants R-Sioux City 2/23/07

While the State Auditor is telling the Governor and Legislature that the budget is out of balance, the Democrats continue their smoke and mirrors games.

The Gazette
“I keep reading articles that a recession is coming. There definitely are indications that things are softening. I don’t see tremendous growth for Iowa.”
-David Underwood, member of the Revenue Estimating Conference 4/7/07

The Gazette
“This certainly is a warning that I think we’re spending too much this session, and that as we see an economic slowdown you’re setting yourself up for a whopper of a tax increase that’s absolutely going to kill job creation in this state.”
-Former Senator Jeff Angelo R-Creston 4/7/07

A full year-and-a-half before the downturn in tax receipts the Democrats were warned by the REC and the Republicans regarding their reckless spending.

The Gazette
“Balancing the budget is my top priority. Keeping our fiscal house in order is a priority and it has not been a part of our budgeting proprieties.”
-Governor Chet Culver 4/24/07

Des Moines Register
“We probably spent a little too much this session.”
-Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal D-Council Bluffs 4/29/07

The Governor and the leader of the Iowa Senate better get on the same page of talking points. How can you keep your fiscal house in order if you have spent too much money?

The Gazette
“We’ve been expecting a downturn in the economy. We’re expecting it will occur at some point. The question is when.”
-Charles Krogmeier, director of the Department of Management 10/10/07

The Gazette
“They’re still going to be hundreds of millions of dollars short in making their budget balance.”
-Former House Minority Leader Christopher Rants R-Sioux City 10/10/07

So a year before the downturn in tax receipts the Democrats were warned again by the REC and the Republicans regarding their spending spree.

Des Moines Register
"I truly believe we can do what we need to do if we curtail spending."
-Former Senate Minority Leader Ron Wieck, R-Sioux City 1/13/08

Des Moines Register
"You can't increase spending by $1 billion in a year where you just don't have that kind of revenue coming in."
-Former House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City 1/13/08

Des Moines Register
“We're sitting on a ticking time bomb on this budget."
-Former House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City 1/13/08

Des Moines Register
“There will be no shortfall.”
-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines 1/15/08

Des Moines Register
“There is no reason Iowans should fear this economic situation.”
-Governor Chet Culver 1/29/08

A full 10 months before the downturn of receipts Republican Legislators are telling their colleagues that they need to stop their spending spree. The response from Democratic leadership and the Governor: a pat on the head and a “do not worry about it.”

The Hawk Eye
“We will continue keeping our commitment to put together another fiscally responsible budget and fully fund the state’s savings accounts.”
-Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs 4/5/08

The Gazette
“We’re going to try to keep our belt tight.”
-Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs 4/5/08

The Hawk Eye
"My concern is that (these revenues) won't hold up long term. That's why it shouldn't go into ongoing spending. I don't see us being able to maintain long-term growth."
-Former House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City 4/5/08

We are now six months before this downturn yet the Democrats continue to increase their spending with total disregard for the law. To feed their spending frenzy they “not withstand” the law so they can spend additional money. This is all done while we are told they are tightening their belts.

The Gazette
"Spending is just out of hand, and there are a lot of us in our caucus that think that has to stop.”
-Former Senate Minority Leader Ron Wieck, R-Sioux City 4/12/08

The Gazette
“It looks to me like spending more money and growing government is the most important thing around here, and I think we need a new attitude about it."
-Former Senate Minority Leader Ron Wieck, R-Sioux City 4/26/08

At the end of session, Republican Leadership continued to sound the alarm with no response as the Democrats voted along a party line to pass an unsustainable budget.

State Auditor’s Report
The Governor’s proposed 2009 budget “represents a significant step backward in terms of transparency and fiscal responsibility.”
-Auditor David Vaudt 5/28/08

So much for the Governor’s promise of a “no smoke and mirror budget.”

Des Moines Register
"The general caution is that the economy of the country has slowed considerably over the last six months, and Iowa won't avoid that."
-Jeff Robinson, a senior legislative analyst for the Iowa Legislative Services Agency. 8/27/08

Des Moines Register
"We cautioned them that we should be more careful and not overextend the taxpayers. I guess a price will be paid now for the Democrats overspending; if that is inability to deal with flood relief or to have to go back and make adjustments to the budget."
-Former House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City 8/27/08

Still several months prior to the downturn and the Democrats refused to call a special session to deal with this coming crisis.

Des Moines Register
"It will be very difficult for the governor to develop a budget and departments to develop budgets. And the Legislature will have to make some difficult decisions."
-Holly Lyons, fiscal services division director, Legislative Services Agency 10/10/08

Des Moines Register
“It is absolutely delusional to say that everything is fine. It is not fine. Somebody has got to stand up and start telling the truth. I don't care how many times Pat Murphy and Chet Culver say it's fine. These guys are more concerned about their election than they are about the fiscal health of the state."
-Former House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City 10/10/08

The Gazette
"The governor needs to take action now. He has an actual deficit and every day that goes by reduces his options.”
-Former House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City 10/15/08

The Gazette
“Obviously we’re going to have to tighten our belts.”
-Governor Chet Culver 10/15/08

The Governor now tells us that state government will have to tighten it’s belt. Unfortunately for the taxpayer it is a day late and a dollar short. In addition, it seems as though the previous “belt tightening” did not work; the question becomes how tight was that belt before?

Des Moines Register
"As people across the state and around the world face tough economic times, it is critical that government is fiscally responsible and living within its means, just like Iowa families must do each and every day."
-Governor Chet Culver 10/10/08

Governor, families in this state have been living within their means. Iowa’s government has not.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Transparency and Accountability

Transparency and accountability. You’ll hear that a lot in the next few months. Senate Republicans are already using those two lovely nouns as they talk about the government and how it functions. Last week they introduced a bill that would provide both by establishing a web site where the public could log on and see exactly how their tax dollars are being spent. The hope is that these words will catch on and people will start to question things.

So what’s this burgeoning trend all about? Lets shed some light on the matter. Here are the definitions. Transparency: made visible by a light behind it. Accountability: responsible; required to account for. Pretty simple. The more we question our government, the more transparency and accountability we have. The government works for us, after all, and not the other way around.

Remember those two words throughout this session when you hear about how government is growing and flood relief money is being doled out. If you forget, we’ll be sure to remind you.

Heard at the Capitol today: “These bleeding-heart liberals think we need to take care of everyone in Iowa.”