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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 19, 2017

Boulton calls Iowa budget crisis ‘unnecessary, manufactured’

State senator hears about Kirkwood funding cuts, prison staffing shortages
Jul 17, 2017

By James Q. Lynch, The Gazette

 

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa’s “unnecessary, manufactured” budget crisis will have long-term consequences on education, public safety and overall quality of life, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Sen. Nate Boulton said after listening to public employees’ stories about the impacts of budget cuts and collective bargaining changes.

Boulton rejected Gov. Kim Reynolds’ claims that cuts in 2018’s $7.269 billion general-fund budget — an increase of $9 million or 0.12 percent over the previous year — will not affect services.

“Those statements just cannot be taken on face value. We see every day the impact of these cuts,” the freshman Des Moines Democrat said at his Faces of Iowa’s Budget Crisis roundtable at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library.

State agencies have laid off employees and, according to a retired correctional officer at the event, employees are not being replaced when they leave.

“Right now, with the collective bargaining law the way it is, everyone who can get out is getting out and they are not replacing them,” Marty Hathaway said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature removed nearly all public employee collective bargaining rights early in the 2017 session.

“It’s just devastating,” Hathaway said.

When 74 inmates at the Fort Madison State Prison were involved in a racially motivated riot last week, there were just four correctional officers on hand. At times, he said, one officer monitors 400 inmates.

“That’s not good odds,” Hathaway said. “Given the staffing situation, something more will happen in the system.”

Iowa started a new fiscal year July 1 facing the likelihood of a special legislative session to deal with lower-than-anticipated revenues. Already, lawmakers made $118 million in cuts and transfers and took $131 million from state reserves.

State fiscal analysts downgraded revenue projections by another $104 million earlier this month.

The crisis is the result of Reynolds’s “mismanagement of the budget (and) it’s prioritization of corporate giveaways,” Boulton told more than 30 people who attended the session.

Although state aid to K-12 schools was increased 1.11 percent, or $40 million, Boulton said it has been below the rate of inflation for seven years while corporate tax breaks have doubled.

The collective bargaining changes will make it harder to recruit the next generation of teachers, Boulton said. Will students graduating from college with a teaching certificate “go into a rural Iowa school district knowing they will not be able to bargain for anything in excess of a wage increase that only can keep up with inflation for the rest of their career?”

Debra Barry, Linn-Mar teacher-leader program coordinator and former classroom teacher, called the loss of bargaining rights “catastrophic” — and not just for teachers.

“We feel guilty sometimes as teachers or as workers, saying, ‘Gosh, that’s going to affect my paycheck,’” Barry said. “We don’t want to sound whiny because we know everybody has concerns about their paychecks, but it does impact students.”

Boulton also heard about funding cuts that resulted in Kirkwood Community College letting go 22 full-time employees and the Sexual Health Alliance of Linn and Johnson Counties being able to offer services to reduce unintended teen pregnancies.

In addition to Boulton, former Iowa City Mayor Ross Wilburn, Rep. Todd Prichard of Charles City, former Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire, former Des Moines school board President Jon Neiderbach, John Norris, former aide to Sen. Tom Harkin and Gov. Tom Vilsack, and Coralville nurse and union President Cathy Glasson are seeking the Democratic nomination. Des Moines businessman Fred Hubbell is expected to formally announce his candidacy in the near future.

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