Culver proposes $1.7 billion savings over 5 years

Culver proposes $1.7 billion savings over 5 years

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WEST DES MOINES — Gov. Chet Culver on Tuesday unveiled 90 proposals — some controversial — aimed at saving nearly $1.7 billion over five years by streamlining and reshaping government agencies and services.

The ideas supplied by a paid consultant ranged from big-ticket savings via state employee retirement incentives and changing debt collection and unclaimed property approaches, to funding state troopers from road use tax money, lowering the winnings threshold for recouping money from scofflaw gamblers and using technology to save money on legal notices.

“I feel very good about this framework,” said Culver, who planned to implement some changes by executive order with an eye on saving up to $341 million the first year.

“I think these are all very good ideas, some will be more popular than others. But the reality is we have to find cost savings,” he said.

“We have a choice — we can cut more or we can find efficiencies,” the governor added. “If we can find opportunities to make government more efficient and in a way that we can find taxpayer savings, then that’s a better alternative.”

Among the proposals from Public Works LLC:

• Sell surplus state properties.

• Consolidate state services, facilities, e-mail systems and data centers.

• Expand electronic filing and payments options.

• Reduce the state’s vehicle fleet.

• More aggressively collect delinquent court fines, debts and unpaid state taxes.

• Expand telemedicine.

• Merge purchasing under a master contract.

• Leverage more federal and nonprofit funding.

“I believe we can do all these things if we have the political will to do them,” Culver told the Iowa Taxpayers Association at the group’s annual meeting.

He appealed for the group’s help in getting legislative approval for some of the proposals included in the 104-page consultant’s report, saying, “You can only imagine the buzz this report has already created.”

According to the governor’s office, Culver next week will use his executive authority to act on recommendations projected to save $128 million in the first year and $713.7 million over five years.

Legislative action during the 2010 session would be needed to implement recommendations estimated to save $207 million in the first year and $941.8 million over five years.

A third category covering recommendations that need further analysis and consideration projected savings of $5.7 million initially and $37.7 million over five years.

House GOP Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha said some of the ideas were offered by Republican legislators last session but rejected by majority Democrats.

“I’m excited that they’ve got new life and hopefully we can make the state better,” Paulsen said.

The biggest savings item was a projected $282.6 million cost-reduction over five years if half of the 2,261 state employees eligible for an early retirement incentive took advantage of the offer.

Another $250 million could be saved for the state’s general fund if legislators agreed to return to a format ended in the 1990s whereby the Iowa State Patrol was paid from road-use tax fund proceeds — a move that would divert money from transportation infrastructure upgrades.

The consultants said the state general fund could benefit by nearly $200 million if the state modernized it unclaimed property search capabilities and had insurance companies shift unclaimed stocks or other “demutualization” assets to the state treasury while state officials attempted to locate the rightful owners.

They also proposed that Iowa join a multi-state lawsuit on unclaimed property that “escheats” to participating states.

Another potential $111 million in state benefit over five years could be achieved by aggressively pursuing uncollected debt and giving local governments incentives to assist in the recovery.

The report lists potential ways the state Board of Regents institutions could save $25 million initially and $150 million over five years by selling at least 2 percent of their property/assets, streamlining purchases and energy efficiency and eliminating health benefits for employees working less than 20 hours per week.

The consultants also projected a $26.8 million savings over five years by reorganizing mental health institute services to allow the state Department of Human Services to close the Cherokee child and adolescent units, the Clarinda adult psychiatric and gero-psychiatric units, and the substance abuse treatment and other psychiatric units at Mount Pleasant.

Other suggestions included closing the Alcoholic Beverages Division warehouse on Fridays and allowing direct shipment of wine, merging the state’s criminal investigation and the narcotics enforcement divisions, lowering the threshold from $10,000 to $1,200 on casino winnings that trigger a check for unpaid state debts, and reforming newspaper legal notice requirements to save money by using the Internet or compressed content.

Sen. Staci Appel, D-Ackworth, co-chairwoman of the Legislature’s State Government Reorganization Commission, said the governor’s proposals are another signal of growing momentum for changing the way state government does business.

Appel said Culver’s recommendations will be reviewed by legislators, adding “Iowa taxpayers can be confident that the first major review of state government in nearly 25 years will result in real change.”

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