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State Sen. Paul McKinley (R-Chariton) and State Rep. Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha)

posted on October 23, 2009

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Borg: We want to help. Republican legislative leaders telling Democratic Governor Chet Culver and democratic legislative leaders that they want a say in how the state is dealing with this financial crisis. We’re talking with republican leaders Paul McKinley and Kraig Paulsen on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation. The Iowa Bankers Association ... for personal, business, and commercial needs, Iowa banks help Iowans reach their financial goals.

On statewide Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday, October 23 edition of Iowa Press. Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Action has been swift and drastic since Iowa’s revenue estimating conference delivered the financial bombshell earlier this month, the forecast that Iowa’s anticipated tax revenue is more than $400 million short of budgeted spending. Well, that sent Governor Culver unilaterally slicing 10 percent from every state appropriation. In turn, this past week has been packed with news of impending worker layoffs and cuts in state services. Some legislators, especially republicans who are in the minority, say the governor should be calling the general assembly into special session. Governor Culver on Iowa Press last week responding that if he'd done that, there would be 150 different ideas on how to handle the budget crisis and he didn't have time for that. Well, today we're getting republican perspective from Chariton’s Paul McKinley, who leads the senate's minority republicans, and the house minority leader, Hiawatha’s Kraig Paulsen. Gentlemen, welcome back to Iowa Press.

Borg: Across the table, Associated Press Senior Political Writer Mike Glover and Radio Iowa News Director Kay Henderson.

Glover: Senator McKinley, let's start with you. The governor, as Dean mentioned, issued an across-the-board spending cut of 10 percent. Republicans have been critical of his decision. Why are you critical of the governor cutting 10 percent from state spending? I thought you were a fiscal conservative.

McKinley: Well, we are fiscal conservatives but we believe in taking a responsible position in this. And, frankly, we would have never been in this shape in the first place had the governor listened to us three years ago when spending started exploding. We would have never been in this condition. Since 2004, had we spent at the rate of inflation instead of a $415-million budget deficit, we would have an $80-million budget surplus. We saw over a year ago when financial markets collapsed, everybody in the country -- the private sector saw this and they took immediate action. Just as the reaction to the flood in eastern Iowa last year was slow in coming, this reaction was slow in coming too.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, the same question to you. The governor has issued a 10-percent across-the-board spending increase. I thought you were a fiscal conservative. I thought you'd be applauding him for that.

Paulsen: Well, I applaud the fact that there's money that we're taking off the table and not spending. But remember this -- let me just point this out. Republicans do the analysis from the taxpayers' perspective. Democrats do the analysis from the government's perspective. It’s true state spending -- state government spending he reduced by 10 percent, but he didn't reduce the burden on taxpayers by 10 percent. And specifically I’m referring to the fact that he has shifted about $260-, $270 million by the time you put in school and homestead tax credits and some of the MHDD services onto the back of the property tax credit. That’s a big deal.

Glover: Senator McKinley, where would you cut? If you had to do selective cuts, which is what republicans have argued, you'd like this legislature to come back and do selective cuts, where would you cut deeper than the governor's cut?

McKinley: Well, what we've indicated -- when I was in business and we faced downturns back during the farm crisis, we did not use a sledgehammer and cut 10 percent across the board. We went and looked at programs that we'd started. We would see if they were working. If they weren't, we would eliminate them.

Glover: Which ones?

McKinley: We offered $330 million in cuts last year, and the democrats refused to even take those up for a vote or a discussion. There are many areas that we could -- we could look at. For example, state employees are getting a 7.5 percent pay and benefit increase. I think the governor should convince the employees that they can save jobs and have employment that will take care of Iowans' needs if they will reopen negotiations.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, same question to you. Should the governor re-open negotiations with state workers, or where else can he save?

Paulsen: Well, I think he absolutely needs to sit down with them and have that exact discussion. But remember, there's also a great many other opportunities. We talked about the vehicle -- that would have saved tens of millions of dollars. The IT consolidation, our analysis is that would save the state about $20 million. His consultant -- that is Governor Culver's consultant says it will save $60 million. Regardless, he doesn't need legislative action to issue an RFP and get going on that. Let’s get after it and let's start reducing some of this spending.

Henderson: Among the 1,321 job positions which were identified as potential layoffs by state executive branch managers this past week, 777 of the job reductions will come in the Department of Corrections. To some Iowans they're surprised that there are still people who would be working in the agency. Hasn’t the Department of Corrections, the state's prison system, become a behemoth that needs substantive reform in the form of sentencing reform, Senator McKinley?

McKinley: Well, I think first of all we have to examine those numbers. We have added 2,600 positions in the past three years. The governor is talking about laying off perhaps 1,000. Where are those positions coming from? We still have more employees than we did. That’s why you don't take a sledgehammer and do an across-the-board. You must use a scalpel.

Henderson: But if the Department of Corrections, faced with cutting their budget by 10 percent, identified 777 positions that can be cut, doesn't that speak to the need for addressing sentencing reform? Perhaps there are too many people in the state's prisons.

McKinley: Well I think perhaps -- well, I wouldn't say this, that they are reacting to the amount of money they're getting being cut by that amount. I don't think Iowans are ready to put felons back on the street. I don't think we need to.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, there's an old saying in government, both state, city, and local government, called fire them first. This strikes me as a classic fire them first. The city manager says to the city council cut 10 percent of spending. The city manager says let's get rid of the fire department. Oh, no, we can't do that. Let’s put the money back. Isn’t that what's going on here?

Paulsen: Well, I think the potential absolutely exists in different departments, and let me be clear on this. The Department of Corrections, I’m sure, has some places it can reduce. There’s no doubt in my mind. They have a rather significant amount of overhead it appears to me. But I’ve stood in those cell blocks, and I do not want to see with that level of drastic reduction of corrections officers. The governor needs to engage and use the powers he has right now to make sure we protect those jobs. That is one of the primary functions of state government.

Henderson: So what would you identify as, quote, overhead in the Department of Corrections?

Paulsen: I mean we'd have to go through and look through and --

Henderson: But you said you saw it.

Paulsen: Excuse me?

Henderson: You said you saw overhead in the budget. What did you see?

Paulsen: Well, it appears to me as I look through there we have exceedingly high levels of high-paid supervision that I’m not sure what they're doing exactly. I guess my larger point is simply that I know we need to be very concerned about how many correction officers -- I mean I stood in a cell block where there's three correction officers to three hundred prisoners. I don't think going to two or one is protecting that corrections officer's safety, and he could lose control.

Borg: Senator McKinley, Representative Paulsen said a few minutes ago that Governor Culver's action shifted -- I made a note here, shifted $260 million to property taxpayers. Is that what you said, Representative Paulsen?

Paulsen: Correct.

Borg: If that be true, is there a way that you can persuade or you should be persuading local government school districts and so on not to make that shift? Are there other options?

McKinley: I think one of the options we must look at -- over the past few years we have added numerous regulations and requirements on local school districts, which dramatically drive up the costs. And with declining student enrollments in two-thirds of our schools, they are receiving less financial assistance from the state. We must go back and reduce those burdensome costs that we have placed on them and hold them to higher accountability standards. So there are a lot of things we could do, but by just merely doing a 10-percent across-the-board cut, we can't address that issue.

Henderson: Offer some specifics. What would you cut, librarians?

McKinley: I think that we need to look at each and every area of education. For example, in special education, 80 to 90 percent of those kids are classified special ed because they didn't learn to read in kindergarten. It costs this state $400 million a year additional pay. If we taught them to read in kindergarten and first grade, we could save $250- to $300 million per year.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, the event that sparked this whole cataclysmic budget fight was the revenue estimating conference, which reduced its projection of state tax collections by about 7.1 percent. The governor issued a 10-percent across-the-board cut, bigger than needed. Do you support that?

Paulsen: Well, first of all, the REC didn't spark this. What sparked this was the governor signing the largest amount of spending in the history of Iowa last year, $6.3 billion, while we have layoffs going on in business, while we have furloughs, while we have cuts.

Glover: The point being the revenue estimate was reduced by 7.1 percent. He ordered a 10-percent across-the-board cut, bigger than was required to cover that reduction. Do you support that? Would you have asked for a smaller cut? A larger cut?

Paulsen: Absolutely I think taking 10 percent out of the state budget was a good idea. The manner in which he did it, though, is indiscriminate. We’re not going through and identifying opportunities, identifying things that are of marginal or no value to Iowans, and that's what we should do. And that's what we should do now. I think that if he's not going to call us back into special session, which would permit the legislature to do that, he needs to take some initiative and start identifying those things. We talked about IT that's a great example but let's start on that so that -- if we can save -- let's use his number, $60 million. That’s a lot of those jobs in corrections, and corrections is a high priority. That’s a lot of jobs on the highway patrol. That’s a primary function of state government.

Glover: Senator McKinley, the same question to you. The governor ordered a 10-percent spending cut when faced with a 7-percent decline in revenues. Did he cut too much?

McKinley: Well, in light of the fact that he increased spending 25 percent over the past three years, a 10-percent cut is at least a start. The private sector, I’ve been talking to businesses all across this state and employers. If they have a 30-percent drop in their business, they feel they're going to survive. State government needs to take some lessons from the private sector on how to better manage and show better leadership on how we can work through this mess that we're in.

Borg: But if 10 percent is too much, then why are we wringing or hands and screaming what are we going to do? Why the crisis -- because there's a secondary crisis here, and that is the state is going down the drain because we cut 10 percent from the budget.

McKinley: I don't accept the notion that 10 percent is too much. We just increased spending 25 percent, so 10 percent is at least a down payment on beginning to downsize this government. We need dramatic reform in government. We have grown government beyond the capacity of our economy to support it.

Borg: Does that include, then, merging school districts? Is this the time to see this initiative out, merging school districts, counties, court systems?

McKinley: This is always trotted out by the option as a scare tactic. I do not believe that merging school districts is either going to save very much money or would be in the best interests of Iowa communities, Iowa businesses, and Iowa kids. We fund education through a per-pupil funding process, so it really wouldn't eliminate any state spending. There would still be the same amount of money going into spending.

Henderson: Representative Paulsen, you mentioned that you believe there are too many middle managers in the Department of Corrections. How would you reconfigure the state work force, and what role would early retirement incentives play in that reconfiguration?

Paulsen: Well, first of all, I’m a legislator. I’m not in the executive branch, so I don't study --

Henderson: But you've been saying you have all these ideas.

Paulsen: Absolutely. But I do think there are opportunities there. And quite frankly, a lot of those ideas come from when I’m just talking to Iowans and state employees who tell me these things, this could happen or that could happen. You know, that's got -- to identify any one particular job, I don't want to do that today, but I do know that there are opportunities there.

Henderson: So in general do you think paring 1,300 positions from state government is too little?

Paulsen: I think that it's, you know, whether or not that is the exact number and it should fall above or below, I don't know the answer to that in particular. But if, for starters, we funded several thousand -- at least at the start of the fiscal year, several thousand empty FTE's -- I mean we've advocated for a long time --

Henderson: Those are full-time equivalents. It means positions that were funded but no one was doing the work.

Paulsen: That's correct. And those hadn't been filled.

Glover: Senator McKinley, I’m interested in all your ideas about the budget and fixing state government and all that kind of stuff, but you can't do a darn thing about it right now. You’ve got 18 republican members right now in the Iowa senate. How do you get to a majority? What’s your tactic?

McKinley: Well, I’ll tell you the democrats are helping us get there because people across this state are extremely upset. They believe government is too big, it's too out of touch, and increasingly out of control. And we are recruiting candidates. We are doing fund-raising across this state, and people are very upset with the direction the state is taking.

Glover: How many election cycles will it take before you get back in control?

McKinley: I don't want to make a prediction on that, but we believe we will do very well this next cycle. We have six incumbents up. The democrats have nineteen incumbents up. Every one of those nineteen should consider themselves at risk.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, the same question to you. In the house it's 56-44. You have 44 republicans in the house. What’s your tactic? What’s your timetable for getting back in control?

Paulsen: My timetable is Election Day 2010, and that's what -- we're out recruiting candidates right now, and we're getting good candidates. And you're starting to see some of those announce, which will continue. I think that the environment is very favorable right now. The republican base is as motivated as it's ever been since I’ve been involved. There’s just a lot of really positive energy.

Glover: Give me a sense of where this next year is coming from. I’ve asked a couple of people this question. It’s the midterm election of a democratic president's first term. Typically that would be a good environment for republicans. But the economy is a driving force in this election year. That typically works for democrats. Give me your take on what the year will look like?

Paulsen: we're 25 lifetimes away from Election Day yet, but that having been --

Glover: No, we're starting out.

Paulsen: That's exactly right. It all starts with the candidates, and that's what we're focused on right now. But as I look at what's going on, whether I’m attending a central committee meeting or some town hall meeting there, there is a heightened level of interest on any one of those spectrums. As we look at polling data, you can see generic ballots which are the test between nameless republicans and democrats. Those would basically pull to even both at the state level and the federal level. You seat discussions going on, whether it's the federal level, the state level, or local level. It’s all about pocketbook issues, spending, and pretty much the electorate is dissatisfied with what they see happening.

Glover: Senator McKinley, the same question to you. Give me your take on what next year is going to look like in terms of the overall flavor of the political environment.

McKinley: I believe that the public will continue to be upset with the direction that's being taken. I think the public again believes government is out of control. They feel they have no say in what's going on, and I think that will be expressed at the ballot box. We must get control back to the public. We must start talking about job creation. We must start planning for Iowa’s future. And we're not having -- seeing the leadership that's doing that. We absolutely must address those critical issues, those bread-and-butter issues that --

Borg: Kay, we're into politics. Let’s go into the governor's race.

Henderson: Exactly. Senator McKinley, in July you said you were exploring the possibility of running for governor. In August you said if Terry Branstad entered the race, you would reevaluate. How is that revaluation going?

McKinley: Well, I think it is a forgone conclusion that Terry Branstad is running for governor. And I have indicated that when he formally announces that he will be entering the race, I will be withdrawing from the race. Quite frankly, I’ve been concentrating on bringing the republicans back to the majority in the senate, and that's been the task I’ve been doing. I couldn't both be the senate leader and run for governor.

Borg: If your candidacy depends on whether or not Branstad is in or out, is that saying that you are granting him the nomination?

McKinley: No, it doesn't say that at all.

Borg: You assume that he's the nominee?

McKinley: No, it doesn't say that at all. It merely states that if Terry Branstad gets into the race, that I will reevaluate and withdraw my --

Henderson: Representative Paulsen, one of the republican candidates, Christian Fong, comes from you area from Cedar Rapids. He this past week said that he might not make it to the primary. Do you think Terry Branstad's entry into this race has changed the dynamics and it is a race between Terry Branstad and just a couple of others rather than a whole group of republicans?

Paulsen: Every time someone gets in it changes the dynamics obviously because of the weight and history of Terry Branstad. I think it probably changes it to a greater degree than the others. Look, I am -- I am responsible for 44 house republicans and leading them and getting them back in control, and that's what I focus on. I hope we have a spirited contest, and when the winner comes out, I’ll be endorsing him.

Glover: Mr. McKinley, let's look again at the presidential field. We’ve already started to see some potential republican presidential candidates come out here. Give me your handicap on that.

McKinley: You know, I think one of the things that Iowans express a concern about is that it's politics 100 percent of the time. We’ve got three years before we have a presidential election. I haven't even thought about that. I’m worried about the problems we're facing in Iowa.

Glover:-- coming out in a couple weeks, and you've already -- you have George Pataki coming out in a couple weeks. You’ve already had a couple of potential republican candidates out here. You may not want to think about it, but other republicans are. Give me your thoughts about the potential field.

McKinley: Well, I think it is a wide-open field. We don't know who's in. We don't know who's out. The pundits have named a lot of people that are in, and I guess we'll let the voters decide who they want to support.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, the same question to you. You’ve already started to see some of the early stirrings of the potential republican field to oppose president Obama, who we assume is going to be running for a second term. What’s your take on that field?

Paulsen: At this point I’m just excited that these folks are coming to Iowa and it appears that Iowa is going to continue with its first-in-the-nation caucus status.

Glover: Is there anything that needs to be done to protect that?

Paulsen: Well, I mean that's a function of the Republican Party of Iowa and the Iowa Democratic Party making sure they advocate in those decisions. But it appears that's going to happen, and that's good for Iowa.

Henderson: Let's turn to the candidates you two are recruiting. What is the prototype of the legislative candidate you are recruiting, Senator McKinley, to be a senate candidate in 2010?

McKinley: Well, we're looking for people who have leadership experience, leadership ability. And we're looking at folks that have signed the front of a paycheck, to be very honest with you. Somebody who knows what it means to practice fiscal discipline.

Henderson: That means fiscal issues. What about social issues?

McKinley: We don't have a litmus test on anything, but I think most of the republicans -- or all of the republicans that we've talked to are fully in line with the republican principles of family values and fiscal discipline.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, I’d like to get you to step back and not look at the next year but look at the health of the Republican Party. The last time governor Branstad won, there were about 115,000 more registered republicans than democrats. That’s flipped. There are now about 110,000 more registered democrats than republicans. There’s a big fight within the Republican Party over what ought to drive the party. Social conservatives have pushed out some other folks. What’s the health of the Republican Party as you head into this election cycle?

Paulsen: Well, I think the health of the Republican Party is easily as strong as I’ve ever seen it. Remember in that registration advantage what's happened between then and now. We’ve had a very competitive gubernatorial primary four years ago, and we've had two very competitive democratic caucuses. Republicans haven't had that on our side. There was a lot of outside national interest groups coming in. Move on and act. There’s no question that they have changed the registration patterns. I’m not sure they've entirely changed the voting patterns.

Glover: Senator McKinley, the same question to you. Give me your assessment of the health of the Republican Party in the state, because I see some fractures in that party.

McKinley: Well, that would be because the opposition is pointing those out. I think the Republican Party, I agree with Kraig, is probably more united than it's ever been around the principles. We’ve seen that the present path that we're on is not working. I’m seeing a lot of buyers' remorse, to be very candid with you, about the party that has been put into power. I’m actually seeing in my counties where democrats are coming in and changing their voter registration. I think it's a new day. I think republicans have the wind at their back and republican ideas and principles will hold sway with --

Glover: So you don't have to do anything or fix anything? Everything is fine?

McKinley: Well, I never said -- it's never perfect but I think we're in very good shape.

Glover: The question I have for you is you have a democratic controlled Iowa house, a democratic controlled Iowa senate by a lopsided margin. You have a democratic governor and you have a democrat who carry the state easily in the last presidential election and everything is fine.

McKinley: I’m saying that I think that's the reason we have a lot of buyers' remorse. We’re in a mess in this state. We have new leadership at the party. We have new leadership at the house. We have new leadership at the senate. And I see a lot of support from people around the state, and not just republicans, independents as well.

Henderson: A few minutes ago Senator McKinley described the prototype candidate he is recruiting for senate races as someone with a business background. You already recruited a candidate for a house race in southeast Iowa who didn't have a business background. He came from a farm background. What is the prototype candidate that you're recruiting?

Paulsen: First of all, I think most farmers would say that they are running a business. Look, the person needs to be someone who fits the makeup and the look of the local district, and they need to be consistent. And we talk about those things to make sure they don't have issues with some of the fundamental pieces of the republican platform.

Henderson: So what are the fundamental pieces that you ensure that those candidates adhere to?

Paulsen: Well, I think right now that the fiscal side of things, making sure they're fiscally responsible. I think every single person that we've talked to, we don't twist arms, we haven't had to do anything. But republicans right now, and house republicans in particular, believe Iowans should have an opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage.

Glover: If a candidate for a republican senate seat is pro gay rights and pro choice, are they ruled out?

McKinley: We don't rule anybody out. Anybody can put their name up for election. I can't imagine they would get through a primary.

Borg: Representative Paulsen, how crucial is this that you retain control -- not retain but regain control of the Iowa legislature with redistricting coming up? It’s supposed to be nonpartisan, but what -- is it key that you have control at that time or not?

Paulsen: I think that's a big deal for redistricting. But what I think is a bigger deal is a year ago there was 70 some thousand Iowans out of work. We started this session with 80,000 out of work. We ended this session with I think 89,000 out of work, and we have 113,000 Iowans out of work right now. That’s a bigger deal. We need to put Iowans back to work.

Borg: Kay.

Henderson: Representative Paulsen, you mentioned gay marriage. Bob Vander Plaats, one of the republican candidates, has said 2010 will be a referendum on gay marriage. Do you believe a legislative race is that those will be referendums on gay marriages at all?

Paulsen: I don't know about that. What I do know is Iowans believe they should have an opportunity to weigh in on the divide between a bipartisan passed definition on marriage by the legislature and a court decision that's contrary to that.

Glover: Representative Paulsen, I asked Senator McKinley this question. I’ll take it to you. If a republican candidate for the Iowa house comes in and that candidate happens to be pro gay marriage and pro choice, is that candidate just out the door, you don't want to talk to him?

Paulsen: Well, 50 signatures and you can put your name on the ballot. It’s not my job to weed people out in that fashion.

Glover: But do you have a litmus test -- and Kay asked this earlier -- that you apply to candidates upon seeking to run for republican nomination?

Paulsen: I think the party expects republicans to act and vote and talk like republicans, and all of these things collectively make that up. Are we going to have some differences on different issues? I suppose. But there's not a quiz with ten questions that I set in front of them and say you have to say yes on all these.

Borg: Senator McKinley, just a few seconds. What’s the main issue in the coming election legislatively?

McKinley: I believe that we have to get control of the government back to the people of this state, and I think we need to start talking about jobs and a runaway judiciary on some of these social issues.

Borg: Thank you. We’re out of time. Thanks for being with us today. On our next edition of Iowa Press, we're convening a reporters' roundtable discussing the effects of the budget action and the political fallout in the coming election year and all the other issues that you've been hearing us talk about in the last half hour here. We’ll hear what Iowa’s political reporters are seeing now and what they expect to follow. The roundtable at the usual Iowa Press times, 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. And a reminder that you can contact our Iowa Press staff directly on the Internet. The e-mail address is iowapress@iptv.org. We’d like to hear from you. I’m Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

Archive editions of Iowa Press can be accessed on the World Wide Web. Audio and video streaming is available, as are transcripts, at www.iptv.org.

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