March 12, 2011- Three days into floor discussion of a bill to reduce public employee bargaining rights, Iowa House Republicans voted to cut off debate on House File 525 yesterday. At least 80 percent of more than 100 amendments proposed by House Democrats had not been discussed yet. The House proceeded to reject the remaining Democratic-proposed amendments in a quick series of votes, and the final bill passed 57 to 39. The House Journal (pdf) contains details on yesterday's debate, including all the roll calls. Most of the votes went along party lines. I was surprised to see one House Republican (Gary Worthan of district 52) vote with the whole Democratic caucus against final passage of the bill. I wonder whether he accidentally pressed the wrong button there, because he voted with the rest of the Republicans on ending debate and lots of amendments.
House Democrats were outraged by the Republican maneuver and the fact that the House switchboard wasn't working Friday morning (which House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said was an oversight). Jason Clayworth noted at the Des Moines Register, "Limiting debate without the prior agreement to both parties is rare but not unique. Democrats, for example, limited debate in 2009 on another union bill known as prevailing wage that would have setting standards for minimum pay and benefits on government projects."
Paulsen said the bill "addresses the cost of government in Iowa" by "leveling the playing field for taxpayers." I am so tired of Republicans scapegoating public employees for our budgetary constraints. Iowa is in better fiscal condition than more than 40 other states. In any event, there is "no correlation between state budget shortfalls and union negotiating laws":
"The thing that's driving budget shortfalls is the impact of the national economy on state revenues," said Elizabeth McNichol of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research group in Washington, D.C. "It's definitely other factors driving these shortfalls," rather than union agreements, she said. […]
Five states - Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia - prohibit public employee union negotiations. Each of those states faces budget shortfalls that cumulatively amount to almost $20 billion, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the National Council on Teacher Quality say.
Texas, one of the states prohibiting public union negotiations, has one of the largest projected budget shortfalls for next year, figured as a percentage of the current budget.
Iowa is among states with one of the lowest projected shortfalls for next year.
Forty-five states face budget shortfalls for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Of the five states that do not face budget shortfalls, each allows some type of public employee union bargaining.
Iowa's public employees are paid less than their private sector counterparts when education levels, experience and hours worked are taken into account. Republicans tell us modest raises (about 3 percent per year) for state employees are unaffordable because they would cost $414 million over two years (if non-contract employees get the same pay increases). Yet David Osterberg pointed out this week,
The Iowa House has proposed cutting state income taxes by 20 percent. That would cost $350 million in 2012 and $700 million per year subsequently.
The governor has proposed lowering the top rate on the corporate income tax. That would cost $130 million in 2012 and $200 million per year subsequently.
The Senate and House have proposed adopting "bonus depreciation" rules. These new breaks for business would cost the treasury between $27 million and $83 million in 2011 and $99 million and $141 million in 2012.
While Republicans are selling House File 525 as a way to control government spending, the bill appears to be designed to undermine organized labor. It would shred binding arbitration and create new incentives for state employees not to join a union. In a statement yesterday, Iowa House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, "Like Wisconsin, Republicans in Iowa will stop at nothing to take away rights from police officers, fire fighters, state troopers, teachers, correctional officers and other hard-working Iowans. This bill to end collective bargaining is worse than the bill approved in Wisconsin earlier today." After the jump I've posted excerpts from a House Democratic Research staff analysis on the bill.