Washington Evening Journal
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Washington, IA 52353
State consolidation bill raises home rule concerns
DES MOINES — Iowa lawmakers have sent a 1,513-page bill to the desk of Gov. Kim Reynold that promises to take the state from 37 state agencies down to 16, a move advocates say will streamline government services and save taxpayer dollars.
Reynolds herself has championed the bill, pushing for it throughout the current legislative session.
“For decades, Iowans have seen state government grow beyond its means,” she said in a news release shortly after the Iowa House joined the Senate in passing the legislation. “We are making government smaller, more efficient, and more effective. 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.”
State Sen. Dawn Driscoll and Rep. Heather Hora — Republicans who represent Washington County — voiced their shared support for the move at a forum in Washington earlier this month.
Hora said it modeled similar decisions elsewhere.
“What the governor’s doing is putting us more in line with our surrounding states,” she said. “It’ll be a huge cost savings when it happens, it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight … this will make it so you have a one-stop shop for most things.”
A fiscal note from the Iowa Legislative Services Agency found that the Senate’s version of the bill would cut 205 full-time state government jobs (some of them already vacant) and reduce annual general fund expenditures by $6.626 million. It would also reduce federal funds used by the state’s government to the tune of $4.4 million.
In Southeast Iowa, some local government officials were more skeptical of the legislation.
Washington County Supervisor Jack Seward Jr. said the bill would reduce local control, citing sections that change the makeup of Mental Health and Disability Service regions and eliminate several state advisory boards.
“When we lose local control and local oversight and it goes to the bureaucracy in Des Moines, that’s not good for anybody,” he said. “The accountability and oversight is not there … Who’s going to get voted out of office when things go wrong? It’s us. It’s not going to be the people in Des Moines.”
Supervisor Marcus Fedler said he doubted the consolidation effort would lower the state’s budget. While the bill would reduce the state’s spending needs by over $10 million, the governor’s recommended FY 2024 budget allocations total $8.489 billion, according to a state budget report. That’s still up from the $8.215 billion estimated for FY 2023.
Several Democrats have called the bill a “power grab,” citing language that removes Senate confirmation requirements for the Aging and Mental Health commissions, as well as the Early Childhood board. The bill also reforms several positions to serve “at the pleasure of the governor,” or exist without term limits.
One section of the bill allows the Attorney General’s Office to unilaterally prosecute cases without a prior request from a jurisdiction’s county attorney. While proponents said that ability existed already, others said it was not the norm, and that writing it into law would change widely-accepted practice.
Johnson County Rep. Adam Zabner, a Democrat, proposed an amendment to remove that language, which failed on a 39-58 vote.
“When a county attorney gets elected, it is because their community trusts the judgment of that person in these cases,” Zabner said. “Allowing the state attorney general to override the discretion of locally elected county attorneys makes state government bigger. This is Des Moines telling your county what to do. It is an affront to local control and it is dangerous.”
In an interview, Zabner said he saw few signs of constituent input on the legislation, much of which was drafted by a hired consultant. He cited hundreds of communications from vision-impaired Iowans opposing reorganization of the state’s Department for the Blind, which was included in the bill.
Asked about how blind Iowans were consulted in writing the bill during a floor debate, Rep. Jane Bloomingdale replied “I don’t know.”
“It’s really, really frustrating to see legislation of this scope and of this importance written without consulting the Iowans who it most impacts,” Zabner said. “That’s just not how the legislative process should work.”