Corbett warns of a Chet reset

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Republican candidate for governor Ron Corbett says GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds is pulling pages from “Big Debt Chet’s” book of budget management. Ouch.

Somewhere, in Beijing, former Gov. Terry Branstad’s mustache is twitching, violently.

After all, it was the Branstad-Reynolds ticket that cruised to victory in 2010 insisting they would improve upon then-Gov. Chet Culver’s managerial foibles and busted budget. They called him Big Debt Chet, assailing his I-JOBS program, which used bonded debt to address infrastructure and disaster recovery needs.

Culver had problems, to be sure, but the GOP team also exaggerated the scope of the state’s budget woes. And I-JOBS, as Corbett, mayor of Cedar Rapids, knows well, played a key role in the city’s recovery from the Flood of 2008.

State revenues actually were rebounding by the time Branstad-Reynolds took office, but they still took ample, repeated credit for making the budgetary trains run on time again. The pros had taken over.

Now, the trains are off the track again. The pros have lost control. And unlike Culver’s rough patch, there’s no Great Recession or epic natural disasters to blame.

Corbett points out Reynolds is preparing to use a $104 million scoop of “rainy day” reserve funds to cover a widening budget gap. That’s twice as much as Culver scooped.

“If she continues to mirror Chet Culver on budget and tax policy, you bet, she’s vulnerable,” Corbett said during a speech at Elmcrest County Club Tuesday.

Corbett also touted his plan for a flat, 3-percent income tax, paid for by eliminating deductions for taxpayers earning more than $10,000 and by raising the sales tax by one cent. He insists a flatter tax would spur growth, although others will, no doubt, beg to differ. The sales tax also would fund water quality efforts.

Corbett chided the governor for having no tax reform plan of her own. And he suggested Reynolds’ bill would be crafted behind the scenes, akin to failed health care bills in Washington, D.C.

“If you’re going to wait till the last minute to spring this on the people of Iowa and the Legislature, that’s the wrong approach,” Corbett said. “You’ve got to be out there selling, advocating, educating … As the nominee, I will do that each and every day.”

Branstad-Reynolds, Corbett said, “snookered” the Legislature, “juiced” revenue numbers and “punted” on tax reform. Football metaphors flowed like Gatorade. In all, it was Corbett’s sharpest Reynolds diatribe to date.

Does it matter? Is Reynolds truly vulnerable? With regards to the GOP primary, that’s a major stretch, at this hour.

But it does underscore the importance of how Reynolds navigates the budget mess. Will she handle it like a pro or will we get amateur hour? Will Reynolds play it straight or deploy gimmicks? Will we see long-term repairs, such as addressing Iowa’s massive pile of special interest tax giveaways, or a patch job to get through an election?

It will be a test of Reynolds’ ability to explain, advocate and handle heavy criticism. In short, we’ll get to see what sort of governor we’ve got. And if voters don’t like what they see, well, just ask Big Debt Chet.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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