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Iowa House sends government reorganization bill to governor's desk

two large binders containing the 1500 pages of the governor's government reorganization bill
Katarina Sostaric
Gov. Kim Reynolds' 1,500-page government reorganization bill filled two large binders.

Iowa House Republicans passed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill to reorganize state government Wednesday, sending it to her desk for her signature.

The more than 1,500-page bill would merge and rearrange state offices to reduce the number of cabinet-level agencies from 37 to 16. It would also expand the authority of the governor and attorney general.

In a statement, Reynolds said the Housejoined her and the Senate to “declare an end to bloated bureaucracy.”

“We are making government smaller, more efficient, and more effective,” she said. “We are saving taxpayer dollars and putting Iowans’ needs first. This transformational legislation will put Iowa in the best position to help our state thrive.”

The billpassed 58-39, with five Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the bill.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said the legislature should have made more changes to the bill before passing it. She said Republican lawmakers instead rubber-stamped a power grab by Reynolds.

“And it’s been clear she did not listen to any Iowans about how to make state government work better for them,” she said. “We as a body should have also listened to our fellow Iowans, and did not.”

Konfrst said GOP lawmakers would not be comfortable giving the governor more power if the current governor was a Democrat.

Democrats proposed several amendments to the bill in response to concerns lawmakers heard from various groups of Iowans, and many amendments got support from a few Republicans.

One amendment would have allowed the Commission for the Blind to continue selecting the director of the Department for the Blind. The bill would have the governor appoint the director instead.

“I don’t think that consolidating power into the governor’s office makes state government more efficient, and it certainly won’t save taxpayers any money,” said Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty.

Another would have kept merit protections in place for employees of the Office of Consumer Advocate, in response to concerns that the bill would undermine the OCA’s independence in pushing for fair utility rates.

Democrats also proposed removing a provision that would clear the way for the attorney generalto overstep county attorneys’ decisions about how to prosecute crimes. That amendment got the most support from Republicans, but all Democratic amendments ultimately failed.

Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood, managed the bill’s passage and was the only Republican who spoke during Wednesday’s debate. She said there were eight hours of public subcommittee hearings on the bill, and lawmakers met with department heads separately.

“To say we didn’t listen, I think that’s baloney,” Bloomingdale said. “We were listening.”

She pointed to changes Republicans made to the bill during a committee meeting.

They included removing a provision that would have allowed the Iowa School for the Deafto be closed without legislative approval, and ensuring Community Based Corrections employees keep their higher level of benefits when they move to the Department of Corrections.

Bloomingdale said the bill is not perfect, but it’s good for the state of Iowa.

Questions remain about financial impact

When Reynolds unveiled her state government reorganization plan in January, she said it would save an estimated $215 million over four years.

Only part of those savings would come directly from the bill that passed the legislature. Other savings included in that plan would come from land sales and office consolidation.

According to a report prepared by the consultant Reynolds hired to craft this plan, eliminating vacant positions in state government would save $18.6 million in the first year of implementation.

But anupdated fiscal analysis released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimates $12.6 million in savings. A third of that amount is federal funding.

Kollin Crompton, deputy communications director for Reynolds, said the governor’s office is standing by their original estimate of $215 million in savings over four years.

“There continues to be inconsistencies with LSA’s fiscal note,” Crompton said in an email.

The LSA analysis said the bill would cut 205 funded positions from state government. In January, Reynolds’ office indicated her plan would cut a total of 513 funded and unfunded vacant positions.

Reynolds said her government reorganization plan would not lead to any layoffs. The LSA analysis does not make clear whether all positions being eliminated are currently vacant.

Rep. Megan Srinivas, D-Des Moines, said a small portion of the governor’s four-year expected savings from eliminating positions would be savings for the state general fund. The rest would be federal funding.

“Federal dollars that Iowa taxpayers are still paying, but getting no return upon,” she said. “If you tell that to any of my friends in the financial industry, they would say that’s a poor return on investment.”

Srinivas said this is one of the worst fiscal decisions lawmakers could make.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter