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    3,100 State Layoffs Feared

    BY Jonathan Roos and Lynn Okamoto
    02/27/2001
    by Jonathan Roos and Lynn Okamoto on 2/27/01.

    Budget cuts being considered by the Iowa Legislature could trigger layoffs of more than 3,100 state workers and force parts of state government to shut down for several weeks this spring, advisers to Gov. Tom Vilsack warned Monday.

    Cynthia Eisenhauer, director of the Department of Management, told lawmakers that proposed cuts of $35 million so late in the fiscal year could force the layoff of 334 of the 346 workers in the Department of Human Services' central office in Des Moines.

    That, in turn, could mean 54,000 low-income Iowans would not get their food stamps, 2,000 Child Abuse Registry reviews would not be conducted, and 595,000 welfare and child-support checks would not be sent out for each month of a shutdown due to the layoffs, said Chris Louscher, chairwoman of the Council on Human Services.

    Louscher, whose group oversees the Department of Human Services, spoke to lawmakers during a public hearing sponsored by the House Appropriations Committee Monday night. About 70 Iowans addressed either that meeting or one sponsored by Senate Democrats on the proposed reductions earlier in the day.

    "There's only so many paper clips that you can eliminate, and we're going a lot deeper than paper clips at this point," Louscher said.

    Republican legislative leaders scoffed at the warnings of widespread layoffs.

    "That's a page out of the Bill Clinton handbook," said House Speaker Brent Siegrist, a Council Bluffs Republican. "When you have a $5 billion budget, all these departments have a significant amount of money. Layoffs do not have to be first."

    Rep. Dave Heaton, co-chairman of the Human Services Appropriations subcommittee, said the Department of Human Services was going to have $1.7 million in leftover staff money at the end of the budget year in June under the existing budget.

    "We didn't deal in cutting of services, all we did was address the amount of money that was going to be left over at the end of 2001," said Heaton, a Mount Pleasant Republican.

    Jeff Boeyink, executive vice president of Iowans for Tax Relief, and Jason Gross, director of Iowa Citizens for a Sound Economy, were among the few speakers Monday in favor of the cuts.

    "We support these modest budget reductions now in order to prevent a devastating tax increase in the future," Boeyink said.

    "It is responsible slowing down as we are heading into a patch of icy road," Gross added. He encouraged lawmakers to cut both spending and taxes in the future. "That's the best thing you can do to help the people of Iowa."

    GOP leaders say cuts must be made now because of a slowdown in state tax collections. If the Legislature waits, deeper cuts could be necessary next year, they add.

    "There is no question that we do need to cut back on spending," said State Auditor Richard Johnson, a Republican who supports a small across-the-board cut. "The revenue problem is very serious. "

    Much of Monday's testimony came from those concerned about the $8 million in proposed cuts for the state universities and $1.7 million in reduced aid for the community colleges.

    "This is a huge step in the wrong direction," said Carol Roemig-Heusinkveld of Amana, a counselor at Kirkwood Community College who said colleges train and educate skilled workers. "Please do not pull money out of an investment that will benefit all Iowans."

    Several college students said they worry that tuition will be driven higher by the budget cuts. "These cuts use a hacksaw instead of a scalpel," said Brian Gongol, a University of Northern Iowa student government leader from West Des Moines.

    Critics complain the impact of the reductions is much greater because any cuts must be made with just one-third of the fiscal year remaining and because they are concentrated in certain parts of the budget. GOP leaders tried to avoid cutting areas such as primary education.

    Department of Personnel Director Mollie Anderson said any layoffs can't take place until at least May because notice must be given to workers and public employee unions.

    Vilsack has said the state can make it through the current year without enacting large budget cuts.

    Reporter Lynn Okamoto can be reached   at (515) 284-8002 or okamotol@news.dmreg.com

    Pros and cons

    The Legislature is considering whether to cut $35 million out of the current state budget to cover an anticipated shortfall in state tax revenue. We asked two Iowans at the Capitol Monday night who were for and against that proposal to give us their reasons:

    PRO

    Jeff Boeyink, 38, of Muscatine is the executive vice president of of Iowans for Tax Relief. His group supports the proposed budget cuts. His top reasons:

    * If the problem is ignored this year, a tax increase could be necessary next year or the year after.

    * Cuts now could minimize the severity of any cuts necessary in the next budget year.

    * Families at times have to cut spending because of changing conditions. Government should do the same.

    Comment: "We do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem."

    CON

    Karl Schilling, 55, of Des Moines represents the Iowa Organization of Victim Assistance. His group is opposed to the proposed cuts. His top reasons:

    * The first priority of government should be protecting its citizens. That means avoiding layoffs in the Department of Human Services and the Iowa State Patrol.

    * The timing of the budget cuts puts an undue strain on state departments so late in the fiscal year.

    * There is no clear need for budget cuts now. There appears to be enough money to cover any shortfall, especially if the state taps its emergency fund.

    Comment: "It doesn't make sense to prioritize budget cuts over staffing the human service department when there's a duty to protect children like Shelby Duis."

    Effects of cuts

    Here are some possible cuts in jobs and services, reported by departments:

    IOWA PUBLIC TELEVISION: Suspension of educational programming.

    PUBLIC HEALTH: Elimination of prenatal medical services for 368 women; 537 fewer nursing visits to homebound aged.

    PUBLIC SAFETY: Layoff of five narcotics officers, 16 crime investigators and support staff, 102 troopers.