116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — House Republicans rejected Democrats’ attempts to increase spending transparency by Gov. Kim Reynolds while approving a budget of more than $150 million for certain state departments that included $100 million for broadband infrastructure.
Democrats accused the Republican governor of playing a shell game that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for lawmakers and the public to follow her spending on her staff, many who received substantial pay raises, bonuses and overtime pay despite not working for hourly wages.
Amendments to House File 867, which was approved 55-37 on a party-line vote, were about checks and balances “on behalf of taxpayers so they can understand and can easily track how their tax dollars are being spent,” said Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City.
Unfortunately, he said, a pattern has developed in Reynolds’ office that makes it harder to know how state funds are spent. It appears at times she has “used taxpayer dollars twice, some from the feds, some from the state, in order to pay for salaries within the governor’s office.”
Reynolds’ office called Hall’s claims “inaccurate,” adding, “We have been upfront about our office’s expenses.”
One of Hall’s amendments would have specified that funds the Legislature appropriated for salaries in the governor’s office be used only for salaries, not bonuses, and Reynolds would have to submit a report to lawmakers detailing how state and federal funds were used.
In 2019, Hall said, the governor received $200,000 to hire two policy analysts. Instead, Reynolds hired a public relations manager. Hall also said the governor’s 45 percent pay raise for the state medical director last year exceeded what state law allows. In addition, he said nearly $450,000 in federal CARES Act money was used to cover more than 60 percent of the compensation for 21 employees in the governor’s office for more than three months.
If federal dollars were used to cover staff salaries, Hall asked where the state dollars went.
“Iowa taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent,” he said, and to know if the governor’s staff salaries are being supplemented by federal dollars, or if they’re being billed by other state agencies “in order to increase their salaries beyond what is listed on the price tag.”
His amendment was rejected on a party-line vote. An amendment to require the governor to respond to all public record requests within 20 calendar days also was defeated, along with a proposal to use $100 million of federal American Rescue Plan money rather than state general fund dollars for the broadband infrastructure build-out in the bill.
“(With) federal money comes federal regulations,” Rep. John Landon, R-Ankeny, warned.
He emphasized the largely status quo nature of the budget, telling colleagues that over the years the Legislature has invested in technology that has made state government more efficient.
“I think that is why so many of the department heads come in and asked for a status quo budget,” he said. “It works for them.”
However, Rep. Kristin Sunde, D-West Des Moines, said that as “head of budgeting for my household, it’s really tough to watch prices go up all around you and not have new money coming in.”
“It’s hard for me to understand how these departments continue to be doing just fine … or if they’re going to continue to tighten their belts so much that it impacts services for Iowans who pay taxes and expect services to be there,” she said.
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