Union members from across Iowa took proposals for a citizens’ budget to the State Capitol on Jan. 15, stressing that cuts in services and layoffs are no solution to the State’s budgetary crisis. UE represents more than 6,000 working families in Iowa, largely in the public sector.
The annual UE Iowa Political Action Day followed mobilization in the late fall that helped convince a special session of the Iowa Legislature to restore $3 million in cuts from the Department of Human Services, preventing layoffs. More than 50 members of UE locals in the public sector participated in the Jan. 15 grassroots lobbying, visiting the offices of dozens of legislators.
"It was important that we got there at the beginning of the session, to get our agenda out there, to get our perspective in front of the legislature," says UE Local 893 Pres. Bill Austin.
The "Citizens’ Budget Blueprint" presented by the UE members consisted of:
• The "Rainy Day" Fund. The Legislature should make use of the nearly $500 million set aside in the Iowa "Rainy Day" Fund and the state cash reserve.
• Review and reduce corporate welfare. A study conducted as far back as 1997 concluded that the State of Iowa directly granted almost $200 million a year to various corporations and interest groups for their pet projects.
• Revisit Iowa’s tax code. The Iowa Department of Revenue and Finance recently released a report disclosing that tax breaks, credits, deductions, and exemptions in the Iowa tax code cost the state budget nearly $3.86 billion per year! Even a minor adjustment of the Iowa tax code would plug the entire budget shortfall.
• Early retirement proposal for state workers. Significant savings would be realized from a genuine early retirement program achieved through negotiations with state employee unions.
• Reducing state management layers. This process is already underway, but must be done carefully and after real research has been conducted. The elimination of some middle and upper management layers will achieve some significant savings.
• Aid from our federal government. Iowa has every right to expect that our federal government will reimburse our state for many of the additional expenses in the wake of the September 11th terror attacks.
• Low-interest bonds. With interest rates at 40-year lows, it’s time to carefully consider how much current state spending could be shifted to the state bond method of borrowing.
• Establish a statewide public-sector health insurance "pool." With careful research and planning, a state-wide, public-employee health care fund could protect public employers and employees alike with better care at lower prices.
"These are the right things to be demanding," says UE District 11 Pres. Carl Rosen, who attended the Political Action Day with UE Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend. "There’s no way the Legislature should be talking about layoffs when more services are needed," Rosen said.
Legislative responses were across the board, reports Austin. "We met with legislators who were in total agreement with our program. At the same time we met with some Republicans who as much said they disagreed with all of it." Some legislators expressed particular support for the UE position on early retirement and on insurance in particular, Austin says. But the Local 893 president cautions that UE members will have a difficult time advancing alternate budget proposals in the current climate.
Austin points out, "The budget projections are looking bleaker and bleaker." Holding the line in defense of services and jobs will require continual mobilization and further trips to Des Moines by UE members, he says.
The Local 893 executive board, meeting on Jan. 26, voted to concentrate on the early retirement issue.
Austin and Townsend say that in this election year, the Republican majority is likely to hold off on action until the end of session to disadvantage the Democratic governor, Tom Vilsack.
Participants in the annual Political Action Day came from Locals 855 (Hawkeye Community College), 893 (State of Iowa) and 896 (University of Iowa).