Iowa gov squeezing $1.7B from budget over 5 years

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2009 4:55 PM

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver announced plans Tuesday to trim $1.7 billion in state spending over the next five years, including the sale of state property and centralizing computer networks.

Culver said the plan is at the heart of his effort to wipe out a projected budget shortfall without raising taxes.

"Why can't we look at reforming the way state government does business?" Culver at a meeting of the Iowa Taxpayer's Association meeting in West Des Moines. "I believe we can do all of these things if we have the political will."

He said he would cut $713 million in spending through executive orders he will begin issuing next week, and will push the Legislature to approve another $941 million in cuts when it convenes in January.

"These changes will not be easy," he said.

Some lawmakers said they would consider the governor's proposal.

"The time is right for Republican and Democratic legislators to come together to approve changes during the 2010 session that will provide better services to Iowans, cut government bureaucracy and save taxpayer dollars," said Sen. Staci Appel, D-Ackworth, who heads a committee studying reorganization of state government.

That panel is expected to issue its recommendation later in the week, and Appel said Culver's proposal will add momentum to the effort to streamline state government.

Republicans said they are willing to work with majority Democrats to approve a package, but said they have pushed for many of the changes in the past.

"I'm pleased that he's going to come to the table and we're going to talk about government reform," said House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha. "A lot of the ideas were stuff we proposed last year. I'm pleased that he's ready to start working on them now."

As an example of the efficiencies Culver is pushing, he said the state owns about 8,000 acres of land, and he is pushing to sell up to 10 percent of that. He said the state once operated farms near state prisons worked by inmates, but that practice has stopped and the land can now be sold.

The governor also said he will cut into the state's vehicle fleet, sell other surplus property and launch new efforts to collect unpaid bills and taxes.

A major portion of his plan includes consolidating data centers and purchasing efforts to increase efficiency through bulk purchasing.

Culver also identified another $37.6 million in potential savings he wants to study further. Those include a proposal to put state workers on a four-day work week, working 10 hours a day, and launching an employee wellness program.

The 90 separate issues Culver identified ranged from consolidating mail delivery, to making state workers pay for driver safety courses they are forced to take because of traffic violations.

He also would require state agencies to join a master purchasing pool and ask the Legislature to approve an early retirement incentive program.

The package Culver unveiled recommends streamlining services offered at the state's four big mental health institutions, but does not include a recommendation for closing any of them. That issue likely will be revisited, aides said.

"That's on the table for future discussion," said spokeswoman Erin Seidler.

Culver warned that the cuts he's pushing will be painful.

"I understand the consequences of these cuts are real," said Culver. "No one likes them, including me."

The governor said its been 25 years since any effort was made to restructure state government and the issue is ripe for discussion.

"My efficiency and reform initiative is progressive and fair, while at the same time going further than any prior study or set of recommendations," the governor said.