CEDAR RAPIDS — Conceding it likely would make some Republicans mad, Iowa gubernatorial hopeful Ron Corbett on Tuesday attacked Gov. Kim Reynolds’ handling of the state budget and said she could face the same fate as “Big Debt Chet” at election time.
Corbett, who is competing with Reynolds for the 2018 Republican nomination for governor, was referring to former Gov. Chet Culver.
Corbett charged that the “fiscal steps the governor is taking are going in the wrong direction.”
“Principled fiscal conservatives do not borrow one-time money from their rainy day fund to meet ongoing, operational expenses,” he said at a campaign luncheon in Cedar Rapids.
Corbett, the former speaker of the Iowa House who is closing out an eight-year run as mayor of Cedar Rapids, also took Reynold to task for not yet proposing reforms to the state’s income tax system, which both have called outdated and uncompetitive.
As speaker of the House from 1995-99, Corbett made tax cuts a part of his agenda every year. During that time, the Legislature cut income taxes 15 percent across the board. he said.
“If we’re going to grow as a state, Iowa needs to be competitive for people to stay here and for people to move here,” he said. “That’s one our biggest challenges — we’re not growing fast enough.”
Corbett is campaigning on creating a simpler income tax coupled with a sales tax increase.
He proposes eliminating nearly all deductions for people making more than $10,000 a year. At the same time, his plan calls for raising the sales tax by a penny — with three-eighths of a cent going to water quality improvements and outdoor recreation projects.
That would allow the state to eliminate Iowa’s top tax bracket of 8.98 percent, which Corbett called “sticker shock” to businesses and individuals considering a move to Iowa. Under his plan, Iowans would pay a flat 3 percent income tax.
The Reynolds campaign suggested Corbett is “playing political games” while she is “focused on building a better Iowa for all Iowans.”
Reynolds spent Tuesday morning “fighting for Iowans,” a campaign spokesman said, by testifying in Washington, D.C., about the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“A strong RFS helps keep our agriculture economy humming and is good for all Iowans,” the spokesman said.
Reynolds’ handling of the budget was part of Corbett’s answer to a frequent question on the campaign trail: Is she vulnerable in 2018?
He thinks she is — not only in the primary, but “even more vulnerable in the general election.”
Describing himself as coming from the “tax-cutting wing” of the GOP, Corbett said he’s disappointed that Reynolds hasn’t put forward a tax overhaul plan.
“It’s not like the governor hasn’t championed causes,” he said. “She’s done it on STEM (science, technology, engineering and Math). She’s done it on Future-Ready Iowa. But she has not championed income tax modernization.”
Corbett said Reynolds should call a special session of the Legislature to deal with a projected $104 million budget shortfall.
Lawmakers already borrowed $131 million to get through the fiscal year that ended June 30. Corbett blamed bad fiscal projections and a “wait-and-see” approach of Reynolds and former Gov. Terry Branstad, who turned over the reins to Reynolds in May.
“If the current projections hold true of this $104 million, Gov. Kim Reynolds will be borrowing $104 million — twice what Gov. Chet Culver borrowed,” Corbett said.
Culver, a Democrat, served from 2007-11. He borrowed $47.5 million to balance the state budget.
“And what was the nickname of Gov. Chet Culver?” Corbett asked. “Who actually coined the nickname for Gov. Chet Culver? It was Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. They referred to him as ‘Big Debt Chet.’ And he was a one-term governor.”