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Iowa News Analysis: Governor's Pay Raise, Public Bargaining Rights, Open Records Law

posted on April 28, 2008 at 5:18 PM

Host Jeneane Beck and Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa discuss Iowa legislative activity including pay increases for the governor and other state officials, expanding public sector bargaining rights, and the state's open record laws.

Beck: The legislature wrapped up over the weekend and today was your first opportunity to speak with Governor Chet Culver. And largely on the minds of reporters was what about that big pay increase you and other state workers or department heads are going to get?

Henderson: Indeed and one of the final bills that was passed by the 2008 legislature there was a significant increase for the Governor, 9.7% in his salary effective July 1st. For the Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State, the Auditor, the Treasurer, their increase would be 23.6%. The Attorney General of Iowa will be an 11% increase. It also increased the pay of Iowa Supreme Court Justices and the judges on the Court of Appeals. Senate Democratic leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs described this to us on the final day of the session as a way to bump their salaries up and then forever after tie them to the pay that is given to high level directors of state agencies so that it will no longer, in his words, be a political football.

Beck: But that does put it in the lap of the Governor who is, in effect, charged with signing his own pay increase. How does he feel about that?

Henderson: We asked him and he said it is likely that he will sign that into law.

Beck: It isn't him that put it in place but is it politically difficult for him at all?

Henderson: Of course it is and one of the reasons that he has sort of come up with perhaps over the weekend to explain why this is not that exorbitant, he pointed out today that in 2005 the pay for then Governor Tom Vilsack was increased 18%. So, he's making a comparison between 9.7% and 18% there.

Beck: It's not necessarily the size of the increase but also I read that it would make him the 12th highest paid Governor in the nation. Is that true?

Henderson: Correct. That is the estimate and, of course, compared then to the average pay of Iowans ranks about 30th, sort of midway between all of the 50 states.

Beck: So, it's higher than most in the sense of ranking. What are the other things that happened in the late part of the session as they allowed that bill about collective bargaining for public sector employees to go down to the Governor? Most of the time we know what the Governor is going to do when a bill hits his desk. He has said ahead of time whether he'll sign or veto something. Did he give an indication yet on this bill?

Henderson: He gave no indication. He said stay tuned, essentially, and he'll let us know when he makes a decision. He has 30 days to do so and I think all of the statehouse press corp. is assuming that decision will come on day 30.

Beck: On maybe a Friday afternoon late in the day when many of us maybe have gone home. Remind me, that legislation does what? Is it going to be lobbied as the session is over?

Henderson: I'm sure he'll be lobbied on it. He indicated in a statement issued last week that he and his staff had held 30 meetings in their statehouse office with folks who were interested in this legislation be they local government officials or union officials who are deeply interested in having this become law. If your viewers don't recall this is the legislation which greatly expands the bargaining rights of public sector employees. So, that means people who are employed at the local city, county and state levels.

Beck: One of the things at the end of the session was changes to put some teeth into Iowa's open meeting, open records laws. Journalists are very interested in that. Some citizens that have found a document they wanted to look at or a meeting that they thought was open that was closed were interested in that. But nothing happened.

Henderson: Exactly, senators at the very end were pressing this very hard. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and outgoing Senator Mike Connolly from Dubuque had really pushed this. The genesis for this sort of began with the CIETC scandal in that this public board that was supposed to be overseeing the operations of CIETC, the job training agency at which there was a salary, a pay scandal that we've all been looking at and sort of paying attention to, the public board didn't really have great oversight over that. And so one of the reasons that they were talking about this state board to come into play is that it would give people who, for instance, went to a board or a city council meeting an opportunity to come to the state and say hey, they didn't let me in, they made a decision in private that I think should have been made in public and so this state board would get involved and help implement the law at the local level.

Beck: And that just didn't happen this year. We just have a few seconds left, any preview for next session?

Henderson: I believe the gas tax will be an issue and I believe the Farm Bureau will be heavily involved in that debate. They were already running radio advertisements this spring about it.

Beck: Thanks, Kay, appreciate it.

Tags: governors Iowa news