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Iowa Politics Roundup: Overflow Crowds Pack Town-Hall Meetings - Page 2 PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 14 August 2009 13:49

Union Head Preps 'War Room' in Advance of Government-Reorganization Discussion

As Iowa lawmakers prepare to launch a study of how to make state government run more efficiently, the man who represents many of the state's employees is gearing up to find cost-cutting measures that don't include eliminating programs or personnel.

"I don't believe there are any programs that need to be cut that will make state government more efficient," said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61. "I don't believe that there's an excess in staff which in turn will make government more efficient. I believe we have to take a look at some of the things we looked at when Governor Vilsack was in office, and that's how to deliver the services the public deserves and demands in the most efficient manner, and that doesn't always mean eliminating staff or programs."

Homan said he decided this week to "turn his conference room into the war room," bringing in AFSCME members from across the state to form at least four committees that will look for efficiencies in their state agencies.

"They're the experts, not me," Homan said. "I don't go to work in a state agency every day."

The legislature's interim State Government Reorganization Commission will hold its first meeting September 9 in Des Moines. The commission is charged with overhauling state government for the first time since the 1980s, when the number of state departments was reduced from 64 to 24.

Representative Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City), chair of the House State Government Committee, will co-chair the commission. She expects anything the commission decides to do will be met with some resistance, but she still views this as "an exciting time, because budget constraints provide opportunity."

Mascher said the state can't keep doing things the way it's doing them. "Government has done a lot over the years, and it seems like every year we add on a little bit more without ever taking anything away," she said. "This is a good opportunity for us to look at what is working and to make recommendations that we believe will be in the best interest of all Iowans."

Mascher and co-chair Senator Staci Appel (D-Ackworth) both said some cost savings can be found relatively quickly - through joint purchasing and eliminating duplicative boards and commissions, for example - while other systemic changes could take years to have an impact.

Besides bulk purchasing and looking at boards and commissions, Mascher and Appel said they are interested in expanding e-government by providing more forms and documents for citizens online and consolidating data storage.

"We haven't upgraded our systems and consolidated them ever on the electronic side, so I think there's a lot of savings to be found there," Appel said.

Represenative Doug Struyk (R-Council Bluffs) will also sit on the commission. A former bureau chief in the Iowa Department of Agriculture, Struyk said he is "ready to dig into it" and has seen firsthand the result of an inefficient government.

"I remember in late April and early May watching the loading dock in the Wallace Building fill up with computers and printers and I said to my supervisor, 'What's going on?'" Struyk said of his time in the department.

Struyk said he didn't get a good answer from his supervisor and eventually found out from the purchasing department that this happens every year. "People have excess money in their budgets, they don't want people to know they didn't spend it, so they spend it on computers and things," he said. "That to me is a waste of taxpayer dollars. I'm going into it looking for things like that."

Economic Advisers Give Governor Hope About the Economy

A smaller number of lost jobs is among several positive signs that Governor Chet Culver said gave him hope during a meeting of the Council of Economic Advisers.

"I'm encouraged overall from what I heard today in terms of hopefully turning the corner soon," said Culver, who noted that Moody's said Iowa will be one of the first 12 states to recover from the recession. "If you look at where we were, if you look at how deep this recession was, I'm encouraged to see some of the trends showing improvement."

Ann Wagner of Iowa Workforce Development said that while many say this is the worst recession since the Great Depression, that isn't true in Iowa; it was worse in the 1980s. And while June's 6.2 percent unemployment rate was the highest since January 1987, Wagner said: "We're not getting the rash [of layoffs] that we saw in the first quarter of 2008. They seemed to have slowed a bit."

Amy Harris of the Iowa Department of Revenue pointed out that while Iowa Leading Indicators Index fell in June for the 15th straight month, the drop of 0.4 percent was the smallest since October 2008. She said decreases have been shrinking in the last two months, and the index had three positive indicators for the first time since April 2008.

This weekly summary comes from IowaPolitics.com, an online government and politics news service. IowaPolitics.com staff contributed to this report.

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