Iowa state budget issues become gubernatorial campaign topic

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Gov. Kim Reynolds’ political foes believe the bruised condition of the state budget makes her vulnerable for election in 2018.

That much was clear this past week when the many candidates running for governor raised a ruckus over the revelation that the state will have to borrow another $13 million from its emergency reserves to balance the state budget year that ended June 30.

Reynolds was promoted to governor in May when former Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China. Reynolds, who had been his lieutenant since 2011, plans to run for election in 2018.

She is being challenged by seven Democrats and even a couple of fellow Republicans, and many of those challengers used the budget news to make a case against Reynolds.

Republican Ron Corbett, the mayor of Cedar Rapids; Nate Boulton, a Democratic state senator; and Cathy Glasson, a nurse, labor leader and Democratic candidate, all appeared Wednesday at the Capitol in Des Moines after budget officials briefed reporters on the budget situation.

Ultimately, the state budget was short $14.6 million. Of that, most will be taken from reserves but $1.6 million remained unspent and will be carried forward.

It was the third time legislators or the governor had to add money to cover a shortage in the fiscal 2017 budget; the grand total of make up money and cuts rose to $262 million.

Had that final shortage been more than $50 million, the governor would have been required by law to call a special legislative session. It’s likely Democrats would have used that opportunity to draw attention to the budget issues and criticize Reynolds for her role.

But even without the special session, multiple candidates already or hoping to square off against Reynolds criticized her for the budget woes, even though Reynolds was lieutenant governor when the budget was approved in 2016 — and Democrats and Republicans at that point shared control of the Iowa Legislature.

The state Democratic Party pounced, too.

“She can’t hide from the impact of the Reynolds budget crisis. Iowa families already feel the pain from her mismanagement. Iowans will remember Reynolds’ cowardice and refusal to do her job in 2018,” Troy Price, state Democratic Party chairman, said in a statement.

And it wasn’t just the Democrats. Corbett, one of the Republican candidates challenging Reynolds, also was critical of her budget skills.

“It looked like a lot of smoke and mirrors as they’re trying to cover themselves from too much spending,” Corbett said.

The past year’s budget ran into trouble when tax revenue fell short of expectations. Each year spending is based on estimated income as determined by a nonpartisan panel. This past year, the panel overestimated revenue, so the state planned to spend more money than ultimately came in.

The budget was approved in 2016 by Branstad after being passed by Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans in control of the House. And yet, because there is an election next year, many people last week sought to lay blame for the budget ailments at the feet of Reynolds.

Clearly, those candidates believe the budget can be an issue on which Reynolds’ candidacy in 2018 can be challenged. Expect that political debate to continue.

KING TWEETS DISPUTED

When news broke that President Donald Trump was negotiating with congressional Democrats to codify protections for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, western Iowa Rep. Steve King said on social media that he thinks such a deal would disenfranchise Trump’s most ardent supporters.

King tweeted that if the report was accurate, he thinks the “Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible.”

A new poll suggests otherwise. A majority of Republican voters support Trump’s negotiation with Democrats on immigration, according to a Monmouth University Poll published by America’s Voice Education Fund, an advocacy group for immigration reform.

According to the poll, 55 percent of Republican voters would be satisfied if Trump “softened” his stance on immigration — 14 percent very satisfied and 41 percent somewhat — while 39 percent would be dissatisfied.

Overall, 65 percent of Americans would be satisfied if Trump “softened” his stance on immigration, while 29 percent would be dissatisfied, the poll found.

Erin Murphy covers Iowa politics and government. His email address is erin.murphy@lee.net.

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