Columns

Civic Skinny

Who, what, when, where and why
— and how


Who...
....were the only Iowans invited to the White House state dinner for the Indian prime minister last week? State Sen. Swati Dandekar of Marion and her husband, businessman Arvind Dandekar. It was “fabulous,” Swati Dandekar says. “The President asked me to say ‘Hello’ to all Iowans.” Dandekar is the first Indian-born American citizen ever to be elected to an American legislature. She said she and her husband met legislators, “Cabinet members, governors, celebrities, government officials and other invited guests.” Skinny forgot to ask if she met any uninvited guests.

 

What...
...does last week’s AFSCME vote mean? Besides meaning that it will be a merrier Christmas (after an anxious Thanksgiving) for families of 500 union members who otherwise would have been laid off, it’s a huge plus for union president Danny Homan. He negotiated the deal with Culver’s office under which 20,000 persons covered by the AFSCME contract (most are not actually dues-paying members) will be furloughed for five days to save the jobs of their 500 colleagues, and the deal makes Culver look good. The overwhelming vote gives Homan a pretty big chit going into the coming legislative session — there are a couple of bills that are important to his membership — and he’s not likely to let it go unused. Does it mean there’s a thaw in the icy relationship between Culver and AFSCME? Ask that again after the Legislative session.

 

When...
...will the political campaign get interesting? This week, when Christopher Rants and Jonathan Narcisse start their policy debates. The debates are meaningless — Democrat Narcisse has absolutely no chance of ousting Culver, and Republican Rants has about the same chance of getting his party’s nomination — and they’re an act of political desperation. But both guys are smart, both can be nasty and both can provide good theater. It could be fun to watch — unless your name is Culver or Branstad or Vander Plaats. They’ll be savaged. But one guy who won’t have to worry is Culver campaign director Andrew Roos. Skinny hears he’s on his way out.

 

Where...
...will the governor and the legislature find $1.1 billion to balance the budget in the coming fiscal year? He’ll get some from a reserve fund and some from an early-retirement program — although those savings often are illusory — but he’ll have to go to the haves to help support the have-nots. The big have-nots are Medicaid funding and k-12 school funding, which have huge built-in increases in spending for next year. The school-aid formula calls for an additional $543 million in appropriations (to $2.7 billion), and Medicaid requires another $190 million — putting the state’s total Medicaid spending at more than $1 billion. The “haves” are the Regents universities and the area colleges, though they don’t view themselves as haves. So look for huge cuts there. Look for the Legislature possibly to underfund property-tax credits or mental-health payments to counties, but that would mean the cities and counties would have to raise property taxes to cover that loss of reimbursed revenue from the state. And look for everyone to try to figure out another way to get at Department of Transportation money, which comes from the road-use tax and isn’t part of the general fund. (They got some with the AFSCME deal, since the DOT will have to give the general fund some of the money it saved by furloughing the AFSCME people. Neither DOT workers nor management like that deal.)

 

Why...
...did The Des Moines Register quickly remove from its Web site those unappetizing pictures of the, well, chunky Chet Culver as he finished that mini-triathlon in Florida a couple of weeks ago? Skinny’s Anonymous Source reports: “A Culver aide, concerned about the unflattering nature of the photos, called Register reporter Jason Clayworth and demanded that the photos be taken down from the politics web site the Register is trying very hard to build. Clayworth was told that if he and the Register refused, there would be no cooperation from the governor’s staff going forward. Instead of reminding the governor of the First Amendment, of the fact that the photos were made in a public location, and of the fact that the governor’s staff first called public attention to his plans to compete in a triathlon, the Register capitulated and removed the photos. I guess you can make those sorts of demands when you are the BIG man in state government.” And he, or maybe she, signed off: “Mr. Anonymous.” But the whole thing seems to have backfired on the Register as well as the Governor. “The Iowa Republican,” a blog, quickly captured the photos, and as of last weekend nearly 19,000 people had logged on to see them. They’re still there, at theiowarepublican.com. Meantime, Skinny’s aviation reporter reports that when Iowa’s first family caught the Delta commuter jet from Detroit to Des Moines Sunday morning, the First Lady and kids went to the rear of the plane while the Governor took his place in the exit row. More leg room. No word where the first family spent the holiday; presumably the Terrace Hill turkey wisely picked Thanksgiving as one of its furlough days.
 
And How...
...much would a BCS bowl berth be worth to Kirk Ferentz and his assistant coaches at the University of Iowa? Ferentz, who makes $3 million a year and who just picked up another $25,000 for being named Big Ten Coach of the Year, would get another $175,000 if Iowa goes to a BCS game. And another $150,000 if, as seems likely, the team finished in the top 15 in the final USA Today poll. (It’s $225,000 if they’re in the top ten and $275,000 for the top five.) And, based on this year’s record, it’s probable that the nine on-field assistant coaches, the strength coach and top assistant strength coach, and the director of football operations each will get a raise — not a bonus, but a raise — of 11 percent or 13 percent this year. They’ll get bonuses on top of that. The extra The extra $400,000 or so that Ferentz is likely to pick up would fund four-year full-tuition scholarships for 15 to 20 Iowans. CV



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