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Branstad has the right vision

By Staff | Apr 9, 2010

The Hawkeye State faces a budget crisis brought about in large measure by the failure of Gov. Chet Culver and the Democrats who control the Legislature to keep government spending in line with predictable state revenues. As the 2010 election season gets under way, it is imperative that candidates for governor articulate a detailed plan for rectifying this situation and preventing its recurrence.

Some liberals would argue that the answer is to tax Iowans more heavily so worthy programs can be funded fully and possibly be expanded. The truth, however, is that the people of this state are already spending more on government than they can afford.

Former Gov. Terry Branstad has just released a policy proposal for reducing the cost of government and reallocating resources. The goal is to bring about state budgets that adequately fund necessary programs while being realistic about what Iowa taxpayers can reasonably bear.

“It is time to stop playing shell games with taxpayer dollars, stop erratic budget fixes and start talking honestly about the state’s finances,” Branstad said in announcing his game plan. “This proposal will end bad budget practices and again bring fiscal responsibility to the state.”

Here are the key elements in Branstad’s approach:

  • “End bad budget practices such as (a) using one-time money for ongoing expenses; (b) implementing new spending programs midyear; (c) creating new automatic or ‘standing’ appropriations; (d) shifting program funding to property taxes or fees; and (e) diverting funds authorized for a specific objective to other purposes. …
  • “End the practice of passing a new budget every year and replace it with a biennial budget process. …
  • “Develop a five-year financial plan for state government that uses sound estimating practices to match anticipated revenues and expenditures. …”

This sensible budgetary strategy warrants serious consideration.

Branstad’s time as governor was an era when difficult problems were addressed with unusual competence. No-nonsense common sense was the order of the day. Perhaps that’s why – according to data released by Branstad – when he was governor, state spending averaged $1,700 per person while under Culver that has jumped nearly 18 percent in constant dollars to $2,000 per person. It may also explain why in 1999 Branstad ended his remarkable four terms as governor with a $900 million state surplus. That’s in sharp contrast to the nearly $1 billion shortfall now predicted under Culver.

In seeking a return to the state’s top office, Branstad is not relying on nostalgia for an earlier era. As his budget proposal makes clear, he is thinking clearly about the future, not romanticizing the past. If, however, when Iowans go to the polls they are influenced in part by accurate memories of the professionalism that characterized Branstad’s time as governor that would be a good thing.

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