Culver’s latest budget announcement, the 10.28.09 version

UPDATE:  Here’s the Radio Iowa story. Below is the “live blog” of this afternoon’s news conference.

Governor Chet Culver is due to start a news conference in a few minutes to announce decisions related to the 10 percnet, across-the-board cut in the executive branch that he ordered earlier this month.  As you may know, agency directors turned in plans last week which outlined almost 800 state worker layoffs.  A total of 1321 positions in state government would be eliminated, some of which (if you do the math between “about 800” and 1321) are not filled by a person as I type.

The one-minute warning is issued at 3:06 p.m. Culver walked in about a minute later. 

“We inherited this mess,” Culver begins, referencing again the national economy.  “…There is a painful reality to our situation..,There are no easy gimmicks or quick fixes.  The solution will be….complex in nature.”

Culver said all interested parties “have rolled up their sleeves to craft a cure.”

Here are some items:

“In an effort to share in the cuts, I am ordering all 3258 non-contract employees to take seven days without pay between now…and June 30.”

“Today I am approving 28 department plans, subject to the addition of the seven day furlough order.”

“….I am approving six dept reduction plans subject to the restoration of certain cuts that I consider essential to protectinbg children and vulnerable adults,” Culver said.  It will be paid for with department transfers and the seven furlough days. 

“I believe that we cannot allow programs that are essential…to the neediest of Iowans to be eliminated,” Culver said.

He is NOT approving layoff plans for department of corrections and public safety.  “I am hopeful we can find an alternative…because public safety is essential to our daily lives.”

Culver sent a letter yesterday to three bargaining units…who represent more than 16,000 state employees.  “I’ve asked them…to amend their current contracts.”

“…I seek substantive discussions with all three unions…to prevent layoffs related to essential public safety.  If we cannot reach an agreement with the unions….”

Unions have ’til 11/06/09 to make concessions, or the layoff plans revealed last week will be implemented in those two agencies.

“We cannot negotiate this in the media,” Culver said. “…All negotiations will be done in private until we have an agreement — or not.”

Culver opens floor to reporter questions:

Number of layoffs in the 28 departments?

Culver said that number will be provided later today.  (UPDATE:  It was; the number of layoffs he approved today is 180.)

How do you propose funding “backfill” you outlined?

Culver said mandated 7-day furlough will generate $6 million in savings, and then another $6 million will come from inter-agency transfers.

In essense you’re threatening the unions?

“No, we’re simply looking at an alternative…I’m very respectful of the tough decisions (union leaders have to make).”

What specifically are you asking of the unions?

“Everything is on the table and there are a lot of different things that we could discuss…The bottom line is: what’s an alternative to a layoff?…I really don’t want to get into those details.”

Do you have a dollar value for what kind of a change the unions need to make?

“The bottomline is we’re going to cut $565 million, one way or the other….It’s how do we arrive at that number, whether that’s layoffs or some alternative to layoffs.”

Quantify amount of layoffs you deem unacceptable.

“About 95 percent of the cuts at Public SAfety & Corrections were personnel, so the idea of laying off 20 troopers is not something that I want to do.  The idea of laying off hundreds of correctional officers, it really is not an option…so we’re going back to the drawing board and looking at alternatives.  We’re going to realize the savings, no matter what, but the question is: what is the alternative?”

“…The good news here is that we’re making progress on at least looking at alternatives for Corrections & Public Safety.  Now, that is far from an agreement and something that some states have not been able to do at all.”

A dollar amount you’d like to get by opening contract talks?  All of it?

(He won’t provide a figure)

So where do you stand today, of the $565 million, what has this achieved?’

“We have a pathway to $565 million….”

Does this get you to $400 million?  Where do you stand?

“We are on target to get to $565 (million)…”

Backfilling in some areas by more than $1 million.  Does that violate your authority to do an across-the-board cut?

“I have the authority & my legal counsel can provide you with the essential code section….”

Scenario where there would have to be no layoffs?  Is that a goal to have zero layoffs?

“It’s unclear at this point.  Certainly, we believe that we could significantly reduce the number of layoffs in both departments.”

History question (from me):  How are you getting the unions to reopen the contracts when they refused to do so during the Farm Crisis and early 1990s recession?

“I think we have a choice and we have never, first of all, had to do a cut of this magnitude, so we are on unchartered waters, so this has never happened before…That’s one rationale for saying this is a very unique situation that…requires unique leadership.  That’s number one. 

“Number two, we are going to get through this recession….We have billions of dollars of infrastruture….It’s a matter of when we start pulling up.  Today, we got great news (John Deere calling laid off workers back to Deere’s Ottumwa plant)…That is a very positive sign, but also this week we received some bad news (about the two Electrolux facilities in Webster City & Fort Dodge). 

“…The last thing we want to do in a recession is lay people off…That will only contribute to your economic downturn…The idea of allowing people to have a job, have health benefits…is especially important during a recession.

“…Finally, we’re talking about keeping the roads safe.  We’re talking about keeping the general public safe….So I’m hopeful we can find an alternative.”

Culver then goes back to answer a previous question, as he received the information from his staff:  $520 million in cuts were approved today.

Later, when pressed to identify what he’s asking of the unions, Culver again declined to provide details.  “I will respect their decision, either way,” Culver said.

Culver adds a final thought, thanking union leadership “for agreeing to sit down with me in the first place.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.