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DES MOINES - 'It's crap.”
That was the blunt assessment offered Thursday by Iowa Rep. Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, of his party's proposal to budget nearly $10 million less than the state transportation department says is needed to maintain staffing levels.
'If we don't give them the money, they're going to cut people. Plain and simple,” said Byrnes, who chairs the Iowa House's transportation policy committee but is not a member of the budget committee.
Paul Trombino, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation, said the proposal would cause a staff reduction of more than 150 jobs in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Trombino said that with 2,699 full-time equivalent employees, the department is operating at its lowest-ever staffing level while taking on more work than ever. It needs an additional $9.7 million to maintain that staffing level, he said. The House budget proposal, which does not include that $9.7 million, would affect 'core services,” such as snow and ice removal as well as construction projects, he added.
Rep. Daniel Huseman, R-Aurelia, who chairs the transportation budget committee, said the House Republican proposal eliminated funding for salary increases because the state last year raised its gas tax by 10 cents per gallon.
'This is a tough (budget) year, so we felt it was not appropriate to raise the gas tax and then (the next budget year) come back to the governor to ask for a $10 million pay raise,” Huseman said. 'That has a lot of our members concerned, and that's why we didn't put it in our appropriation bill.”
Trombino noted legislators required all new gas tax revenue be put toward road and bridge construction and repair projects, not department salaries.
Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, who chairs the House budget committee, said he questions that suggestion and also the number of layoffs Trombino cited.
The House approved the budget Thursday on a mostly party-line vote, with most Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing. Byrnes voted against the bill.
Gov. Terry Branstad said it is the increased gas tax revenue and the construction projects added as a result that make it all the more important to fund the department's salary request.
Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, who chairs the transportation budget subcommittee, said the Democratic-controlled Senate will restore the funding when the budget bill comes back to that chamber, and the final figures will be determined during cross-chamber negotiations.
Gazette reporter James Q. Lynch contributed to this story.