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Iowa Supreme Court Overturns Same-Sex Marriage Ban; GOP Pushes for Amendment - Page 4 PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 03 April 2009 13:27
Budget Cuts Expected to Spur Hundreds of Layoffs

A health-and-human-services budget that cuts $112 million and serves the most vulnerable populations of the state will lead to a reduction of 250 to 400 Department of Human Services employees.

"We're talking about ... field operations -- everything from case managers, direct services, and administrative," said Senator Jack Hatch, chair of the legislature's joint health-and-human-services budget subcommittee.

A proposed spending plan that cuts 12.8 percent to most areas of public health, human services, elder affairs, and veterans affairs cleared its first hurdle this week with an 8-6 vote by the subcommittee. The budget reduces money for field services by $6.2 million, which translates into a $13-million decrease because of federal matching money.

Representative Dave Heaton (R-Mount Pleasant), said he was concerned about the impact on field staff and those who work at institutions such as the Toledo Juvenile Home, Eldora Training School; Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders; mental-health institutes in Cherokee, Clarinda, Independence, and Mount Pleasant; and the Woodward Resource Center.

"Those who hired last will be laid off first," Heaton said. "These are the workers who have direct contact with our clients, and I'm really concerned about the impact it's going to have."

Meanwhile, the legislature's joint justice-system budget subcommittee this week approved a proposed budget that cuts $21.3 million from corrections, public safety, and the judicial branch. Iowa's judicial branch and Department of Public Safety would take a 1.8-percent across-the-board cut, while other areas of the justice system would see larger cuts up to 9 percent.

At least one lawmaker called the additional 1.8-percent, $2.9-million cut next year to the judicial branch unacceptable.

"In a civilized society, it is unacceptable to be shutting down our courthouses," said Senator Rob Hogg, a Cedar Rapids attorney and a Democrat. "It interferes with the administration of justice. This budget is unacceptable."

Hogg noted that courthouses in Iowa's 99 counties are already closing eight times this fiscal year between February and June. He predicted that under the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2010, courthouses would have to lay off employees plus undergo the maximum 20 furlough days.

Subcommittee chair Representative Todd Taylor (D-Cedar Rapids) acknowledged that additional cuts to the judicial branch would cause layoffs and additional furloughs next year. But "I would argue that federal stimulus dollars could come back and we could define them as public safety," he said.

Under the justice-system budget, the state prison in Fort Madison would take an 8.1-percent cut and would lose a minimum-security facility called "Farm 3," while the prison in Clarinda would take an 8.6-percent cut and lose a minimum-security facility called "The Lodge."

"Those seem like the things that we ought to keep funding," said Representative Richard Anderson (R-Clarinda). "We're shooting ourselves in the foot."

Meanwhile, education would take an 8.33-percent across-the-board reduction in Fiscal Year 2010, under a plan approved by a joint education budget subcommittee. Certain funds would be cut entirely, including appropriations for the Senior Year Plus program, the Jobs for America's Grads program, the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities program, and community-college interpreters for the deaf.

The All Iowa Opportunity scholarships would take a 36.48-percent reduction, while funding for college work study would be cut entirely to the tune of $980,075. Work-study funding, like many other areas facing cuts in the education general fund, could be eligible for federal stimulus dollars.

Finally, State Auditor David Vaudt wrote a letter this week to chairs of the legislature's administration and regulation budget subcommittee, protesting a proposed 26.6-percent budget cut to his office. Vaudt said coupled with the 3.5-percent reduction imposed this year, the office would be taking a total cut of 30 percent.

"This drastic reduction, along with other language included in the appropriation bill to control AOS [auditor of state] operations, would not only hamstring AOS's ability to serve as the taxpayer's watchdog, it would also result in several extremely detrimental consequences for Iowa," he wrote.

Vaudt said consequences could include the state losing its AAA bond rating, billions of dollars of federal funds being placed in jeopardy, local governments being prevented from freely using the state auditor for their routine audits and investigations of misappropriations, and breaking the legislature's commitment to ensure that another CIETC salary scandal never happens again.