JOHNSTON, Iowa - Top legislative Republicans urged Gov. Chet Culver on Friday to use transfer powers to shift state funds and to renegotiate employee pay cuts as a way to avoid large-scale layoffs in public safety areas.
Rep. Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, and Sen. Paul McKinley, R-Chariton, said Culver should use his authority to move general funds to the state's corrections and public safety departments that are taking the brunt of a 10 percent cut that result in 791 layoffs and purge 530 vacant positions yet this fiscal year.
"He's got transfer authority and there's also transfer authority within departments that department heads have, and that's what he should be doing," Paulsen said. "He has the ability to take whatever dollar amount from this agency or this department and move it over here because it's a higher priority."
The GOP minority leaders said public safety should be at the top of that priority list and steps should be taken to alleviate the need to lay off 515 corrections employees and 53 public safety officers and staff and eliminate another 287 positions in those areas - cuts that represent 863 of the 1,321 state jobs targeted for extinction in proposed agency cuts under review by Culver and his administration. They made their comments during and after Friday's taping of Iowa Public Television's "Iowa Press."
"If he's not going to call us back so that we can go through and identify what the priorities on behalf of Iowans are, then he needs to be doing that," Paulsen said. "Waiting until January for some of these decisions is too long."
Culver spokesman Phil Roeder said the use of inter-governmental transfers is among the options the governor is considering to deal with a fiscal 2010 budget imbalance, but he noted the power is restricted and would not eliminate the need for an across-the-board cut to bring spending in line with shrinking state revenues.
"It's an option that's on the table, but it certainly cannot be treated as a blank check," Roeder said.
Iowa law allows the governor in certain cases to approve moving money from a department that has surplus appropriations to another agency experiencing funds insufficient to meet that department's legitimate expenses. The practice has been relatively limited and Roeder said the governor's legal experts are exploring whether some funds could be moved to shore up "a couple of key areas," such as corrections and public safety.
"The notion that there is the ability to transfer funds at the present time and eliminate the need for an across-the-board cut, that's just not feasible in our opinion and there's nothing we've seen that could back up such a suggestion," he added.
Along with possible transfers, the two GOP legislative leaders said Culver should reopen contract talks with unionized state employees and push to reduce salaries and benefits that they said averaged a 7.5 percent increase this fiscal year.
"If we are facing a public-safety issue, I think that absolutely should be the issue," said McKinley. "They should do whatever it takes to maintain the mission."
McKinley said the state's current budget crisis is the result of Democrats' action to increase spending by 25 percent over three years, not an unexpected fall in revenue collections. He called the 10 percent cut a beginning downpayment on a long-term reform to downsize state government.
"This is a self-made problem and now they're just kind of washing their hands blaming either Washington or Wall Street or heaven forbid they're still blaming George Bush on this thing. It couldn't be further from the truth," he said. "They are the people who have set the stage for this mess and they're dealing with it in a rather amateurish manner."
Paulsen said he was optimistic that Republicans, who are outnumbered 54-46 by Democrats in the Iowa House, can regain majority control in the 2010 election.
McKinley said he detects a growing feeling of "buyers' remorse" among Iowa voters that should bode well for Republicans next year.