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Spending cuts should begin with Gov. Branstad’s income

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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During a time of supposed fiscal austerity, Gov. Terry Branstad is asking all Iowans to make financial sacrifices — except, apparently, himself.

Branstad is collecting a $52,000 pension in addition to his six-figure governor’s salary. Although by all accounts legal, it is hypocritical for him to continue to accept his salary and pension at the same time if he insists on making substantial cuts to programs and public workers’ salaries and benefits.

Branstad’s pension was accrued through 26 years of employment as a state legislator, lieutenant governor, and governor. His current salary is $130,000, and his pension amounts to $52,000. This $182,000 income is substantially lower than his income while president of Des Moines University, but it is still far above the salary of most other public-sector employees, who are forbidden from collecting pensions at the same time as salaries when they find new jobs — a process known as “double-dipping.”

The same rule does not hold true for public-sector employees who run for office, thanks to a bill passed in 1992 (signed by Branstad). The bill makes it legal for former public-sector employees to receive a pension at the same time as a salary while serving as elected government officials, which means Branstad’s double-dipping is definitively legal.

The ethics of such an action are more questionable. “The intentions with passing that bill were to encourage people to run for positions like county Board of Supervisors or state Legislature,” Todd Taylor told the DI Editorial Board. Taylor is the field representative for Iowa’s chapter of the American Federation of County, State and Municipal Employees. “He earned [the pension], and it is legal, but it is contrary to our what our intentions were.”

The goal of the legislation was to encourage former public-sector employees to leave well-paying jobs to run for office at the state, county, and municipal levels — positions that do not generate much income. Lawmakers hoped that allowing former public employees to receive their pensions while in office would lessen the financial burden of serving.

Branstad frequently mentions the financial loss he took by running for governor, but suggesting that justifies his double-dipping is insulting to Iowa’s public employees. The yearly salary for an Iowa state senator is $25,000, and the salary for the Johnson County Board of Supervisors is $51,000, a far cry from the $130,000 Branstad is receiving. And, of course, touting his phony six-figure squalor is an even bigger insult to the 6.3 percent of Iowans who are unemployed.

Instead, Branstad could voluntarily take a decrease in his own pension or wait to collect his pension when he leaves office. While he has come out in favor of preventing an increase in pension (currently mandated by state law), the governor could do more now to reduce his income — perhaps by imitating generally mediocre Gov. Chet Culver and cutting his own salary along with other state expenditures.

Sure, a portion of that annual $182,000 will not make any meaningful change in Iowa’s structural budget deficit, and Branstad’s actions are not illegal, but the distinction is one of moral integrity and standing strong on principles.

Branstad’s dual income sends a strong message to public employees, suggesting that they are expected to make sacrifices in such areas as health benefits and pensions while the governor is not.

It also sends a message to Iowans who may be forced to pay more for preschool and lose benefits because of a “budget crisis,” establishing a tighter belts for some Iowans but not for others.

Branstad should make the same type of sacrifices he is requesting from the people of this state. To do anything else endorses a shameful double standard.


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