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Bransition Update -- Reckless and Irresponsible

Just when you thought the smooth transition of power was going to be all sunshine and kitties...wham, it's go time.

As I and most of the conscious world expected, Gov. Chet Culver's administration sealed a very quick deal today with AFSCME - the largest state worker union - on a two year contract. Now, remember, it still has to be ratified, blah, blah, blah. It's done.

You knew this was coming. A couple of weeks ago, AFSCME presented an unusually skinny 10-page initial offer. Administration types praised it for its humble restraint. And then, today, the gov's guy walks into a meeting with the union and says, we'll take it. Grab a Pabst!

Fast, you say? This isn't negotiating a state worker contract. This is making a bag of microwave popcorn.

The Gazette's Rod Boshart has the lede and the details:

With history-making speed, negotiators for the state and its largest employees union today reached a tentative settlement on a new two-year contract that would provide a modest across-the-board wage increase beginning next July 1.

Jim Hanks, an attorney who leads the state’s collective bargaining team, today announced that Gov. Chet Culver’s administration had decided to accept a contract proposal made by leaders of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61. The new two-year labor agreement, which would cover nearly 21,000 state workers from July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2013, likely will be finalized sometime in December after union leaders review the proposal and submit it to rank-and-file members for ratification.

AFSCME’S proposal -- submitted two week ago -- called for a 2 percent increase in base wages on July 1, 2011, and a 1 percent increase on Jan. 1, 2012, in the first year of the agreement, and a 2 percent increase on July 1, 2012, and a 1 percent on Jan. 1, 2013, in the contract’s second year. The proposal would not change the current 4.5 percent “step” increases in wages for state workers who are not at the top of their pay scales.

“The governor appreciates the proposal and accepts the offer made by AFSCME,” Hanks told AFSCME President Danny Homan and the union’s bargaining team. “We want to thank the union for making proposals that are fair and reasonable. We’ve accepted your proposal and it’s done.”

This was not well-received by the guy who beat Culver pretty handily way back on Nov. 2 (drumroll) Governor-elect Terry E. Branstad.

Did you enjoy "reckless and irresponsible" during the campaign? Well here's a bonus dose, from Team Terry:

Culver’s backroom deal on salaries is reckless and irresponsible

Agreement leaves taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in salary increases

(URBANDALE) – The transition team of Gov.-elect Terry Branstad today released the following statement from chief of staff Jeff Boeyink, in response to the new agreement between Gov. Culver and the unions.

The contract would put Iowa taxpayers on the hook for $103.5 million the first year alone, and hundreds of millions in subsequent fiscal years.

Boeyink’s statement is as follows:

"Taxpayers are the losers in this backroom deal.

“Governor Culver's decision to rush through a collective bargaining deal with state employee unions before he leaves office is reckless and irresponsible. This will cost Iowa taxpayers $103.5 million the first year alone, and hundreds of millions in subsequent fiscal years.

"At a time 113,000 Iowans are out of work and thousands more are seeing significant pay reductions, it is the wrong time to ask taxpayers to pick up the enormous cost of these pay raises.

“Iowans elected Terry Branstad on a promise to reduce the size of Iowa's budget and Governor Culver has taken the unprecedented step of effectively removing to voice of the taxpayers from this process.

“This is unaffordable, and we will review all of our options.”

Normally, a transition office doesn't have to do much smack-down news-releasing. So this is history on many levels.

Should Culver have let Branstad negotiate a contract that will cover half of his term as governor? Yes. Judging by the election returns, this was not a decision most voters would want Culver to make.

But, honestly, there wasn't much incentive for Culver to do otherwise. He gets to reward a union that did make concessions during the budget crisis and may be important to him if he ever seeks a second act. He probably doesn't care much if he makes Branstad's job harder, what with all the mean things he said about I-JOBS.

And Culver believes he ratified a modest deal, which, from a pay-raise standpoint, he did. But Branstad had hoped to tinker with benefits and automatic step raises. No dice.

So that's done. Now all Culver has to do is appoint those three justices and the in-box will be nice and empty when Branstad arrives Jan. 14 to unpack his bill-signing pens and arrange his elephant collection.

Yep, sunshine and kitties.

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