Olson challenges Branstad claim on fiscal discipline

Olson: Democrats should get credit for the $1.5 billion budget surplus this year

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DES MOINES – Politicians like to take credit for all good news, but a Cedar Rapids Democratic lawmaker is calling out Gov. Terry Branstad for claiming responsibility for the state’s growing budget surplus.

Rep. Tyler Olson, who has talked about challenging the five-term Republican governor in 2014, said data from the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency and Revenue Estimating Conference (REC) make clear that Democrats in 2009 and 2010 “set the table for the strong financial situation we’re in today.”

Democrats should get credit for the budget surpluses of $1.5 billion this year and $.6 billion in fiscal 2014 projected by the REC, Olson said.

Branstad suggested otherwise in his 18th Condition of the State speech that he delivered earlier this week.

“Perhaps the heaviest lift over the past two years was restoring proper budgeting practices and insisting on strict fiscal discipline,” Branstad said in his Condition of the State speech earlier this week. “I insisted on a two-year budget and we measured all tax and spending decisions through the lens of a five-year budget projection.”

He went on to say that Iowa is currently in the best financial position in history “as a result of the tough choices we made.”

The “we” who made those tough choices were Democrats, who controlled the House and Senate in 2009 and 2010, and Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, according to Olson, who is serving his fourth term. It didn’t start when Branstad returned to office in 2011 after a 12-year absence, Olson said.

As the national recession kicked in, Olson said, the state’s ending balances declined. In 2009 and 2010, the Democratic-controlled Legislature responded to those economic conditions – “largely outside of our control” – and passed very responsible budgets.

Not surprisingly, the Branstad administration disagrees with Olson’s draft of history.

“Anyone who has lived through the past four years knows better,” said Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht. “House Democrats carried Gov. Culver's water as he racked up a $900 million deficit and forced a 10 percent cut to cities and school districts across the state, sending their budgets into chaos.”

When Branstad returned to the governor’s office, Albrecht said, he “put an end to the wasteful spending, eliminated the bad budget practices of the past and is responsible for the state’s surplus thanks to his strong fiscal management of the state’s finances. The governor has restored predictability and stability to state government.”

Olson isn’t arguing with the governor about the current state of Iowa’s finances.

“I agree with the governor that we are in a great spot and we have a lot of opportunity,” he said, “but the state started running surpluses for at least two years before Gov. Branstad took office.”

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