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The numbers aren’t pretty

By Staff | Oct 9, 2009

Most people don’t really understand governmental budgets. That’s why it’s important to listen carefully to experts who keep track of the numbers and know what they mean.

In Iowa, the office headed by State Auditor David A. Vaudt is charged with the responsibility for providing to government officials and the public independent, accurate and timely audits of the financial operations of state and local governments.

The state auditor, not surprisingly, spends much of his time analyzing the budget developed by the Legislature and the governor.

Vaudt was in Fort Dodge a few weeks ago as the keynote speaker for a meeting of the Iowa Association of Community College trustees. The overview he provided of the Hawkeye State’s finances should concern all Iowans.

The most important truth taxpayers should know about the 2009-2010 state budget is that a great deal more money will be spent than will be received in tax revenues.

Vaudt said $1.14 is being spent for every $1 in revenue. The roughly $6 billion budget will have a $1 billion deficit. Federal stimulus monies will offset about $200 million of the shortfall, but the remainder essentially is being finessed through borrowing.

Taxpayers should realize that the governor and the Legislature have relied too heavily in developing budgets on one-time sources of money that leave unanswered how financing will be handled in the future.

Vaudt told his Fort Dodge audience that state officials have borrowed from specialized accounts to pay for ongoing spending. He gave as an example the Senior Living Trust Fund, an account that was set up to help senior citizens remain independent and avoid nursing homes. Vaudt said $600 million was taken from that account in recent years and placed in the state’s general fund to pay for other state programs.

For now, Iowa’s finances are in better shape than some other states. That it is possible to make that claim – even though the state has a huge deficit – is sobering. It serves to underline just how bad the situation is elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Gov. Chet Culver and the Democrats who control the Legislature have shown little willingness to make the hard spending choices that are needed urgently. They are setting the stage for a future budget crisis by failing to face up to economic realities.

That’s why voters should pay close attention to what Vaudt has to say about this state’s finances. The perspective he provides can help citizens ask the needed tough questions of present officials and those who are seeking office.

The budget deficit Iowa faces won’t be easily addressed.

“This is reality and we have to face it head on,” Vaudt said.

Just how candidates for office propose to address that reality should be assessed carefully by voters as the 2010 election season unfolds.

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