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Branstad Pitches Job Plan

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Governor's Desire To Cut State Worker Benefits Stirs Debate

By Joe Foreman, Editor

Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposal for creating jobs and balancing the state budget received mixed reaction during his swing through southwest Iowa last week.

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    Branstad conducted town hall meetings in Glenwood and Council Bluffs Thursday afternoon as part of his statewide “ Jobs For Iowa Tour.” Approximately 75 people attended his meeting in the basement of the Glenwood State Bank.
    Some in the audience liked what they heard from the Republican governor. Some did not.
    “We have 106,000 people out of work in Iowa. We have some work to do,” Branstad said. “We have to be more attractive in Iowa to entrepreneurs.”
    Branstad told his audience he’d like to create 200,000 new private-sector jobs in Iowa by promoting a business-friendly climate. Branstad said Iowa’s business tax rate is currently ranked 45th worst in the nation and the state is ranked No. 2 nationally for both urban commercial property taxes and rural commercial property taxes. Iowa’s top corporate income tax rate is the highest in the nation, he said.
    As part of his proposal, Branstad is working to replace the Iowa Department of Economic Development with a public-private partnership called the Iowa Partnership For Economic Progress.
    Branstad said he’ll need the support of the state legislature to put his agenda in motion.
    “We need the support of the legislature,” Branstad said. “My goal is to put into place the problem solvers and get the economy going.
    “We’ve got to balance our own budget. I want to present an honest budget, one where we spend less than what we take in.”
    A balanced budget, Branstad believes, will require concessions from state workers. He blamed his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, for negotiating a sweetheart deal for state workers after the November 2010 election. Branstad said the union contract includes a 15 percent salary increase over the next two years and no out-of-pocket health insurance costs for the majority of state workers.
    “I didn’t get to negotiate that contract,” Branstad told American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union representative Ed Martin. “We don’t have the money.
    “Currently, 84 percent of state employees are paying nothing for their health insurance. I don’t think that’s fair.”
    Martin, one of several employees from the Glenwood Resource Center in attendance at the meeting, said Branstad is trying to balance the budget on the backs of state employees, as he did during the early 1990s during his first stint as governor.
    “For years, we have been giving concessions,” Martin said.
    A handful of sign-carrying AFSCME representatives were stationed outside Glenwood State Bank during Branstad’s appearance. They said their intent was to send a message to the governor.
    “We don’t want another 1990s,” Marsha Abercrombie said. “That’s when we had massive layoffs.”
    Kenneth DeLashmutt said he doesn’t want to take a reduction in benefits from his job at the GRC.
    “I don’t want to see anything change, really,”  DeLashmutt said. “I’m paying medical bills up the wazoo.”
    Inside the meeting, audience member John Scherle challenged Branstad to take on the union and whomever else it takes to get spending under control.
    “Let’s get it on,” Scherle said. “You do what you have to do to balance the books and we’ve got your back.”
    After his meeting in Glenwood, Branstad made a similar appearance in Council Bluffs. Most of the opposition to his budget-balancing plan at that meeting came from representatives and employees from Council Bluffs’ three casinos. Branstad has proposed raising the state’s tax rate on casinos from 22 percent to 36 percent. Casino management contends that the tax rate hike would force the layoff of thousands of employees statewide and could even put some casinos out of business.