Restoring workforce funding is priority - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 6:49 pm
Restoring workforce funding is priority

DES MOINES (AP) — Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he will work with lawmakers to restore funding for unemployment assistance and workers' compensation after the Iowa Supreme Court nullified the Iowa Workforce Development's budget. The court ruling determined Branstad had overstepped his authority by vetoing part of the agency's funding.

However, the governor said he wasn't interested in reopening any of the 36 Iowa Workforce Development offices that closed last year after he vetoed $3 million in funding that lawmakers approved to keep the offices open. Branstad instead used that money for other programs.

The high court ruled Friday that Branstad overstepped his authority by using a line-item veto to specifically target that $3 million, meaning the Iowa Workforce Development's entire budget was not correctly approved and was therefore void. That means Branstad and lawmakers must rework the budget for the agency, which runs Iowa's unemployment assistance and workers' compensation programs.

Branstad said lawmakers should focus on restoring the agency's overall funding, not the closed offices, to prevent 200 layoffs and keep the agency operating for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Branstad insists that the computer kiosks at libraries and other spots he authorized as an alternative are working better and more efficiently than the offices.

"You can't re-create the past and it doesn't make any sense to re-create the past," he said, noting that many of the office leases have expired.

Branstad has filed a motion with the Supreme Court that, if granted, would temporarily keep the court's decision from being enforced and prevent layoffs.

The court on Monday said it will give lawmakers and the union executive who filed the lawsuit until noon Friday to file a response to Branstad's request to stay the ruling.

If the motion isn't granted, a Polk County judge would decide when to enforce the ruling, because the Supreme Court's decision remanded the case to the lower court.

State rules give lawmakers 21 days to come up with new funding before the money runs out, said Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, chairman of the Senate Economic Development Budget Subcommittee. Branstad said he hoped the Legislature would agree on the funding within the next two weeks.

"We want to work with legislators to resolve it and do it in a way that's not going to disrupt services," he said.

The Supreme Court's decision came in a lawsuit filed by several Democratic lawmakers, including Dotzler, and Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Iowa.

The ruling voided $8.6 million for Workforce Development field offices, $3.5 million for the Labor Services Division and $3 million for the workers' compensation program, among other things, said attorney Mark Hedberg, who represented Homan and the lawmakers.

Hedberg said the decision addresses an important constitutional matter in preserving the Legislature's power to decide how money is spent.

For most measures approved by lawmakers, the governor must either accept or reject them entirely. On spending, he has line-item veto power to reject individual components of a bill.

Branstad used that power last year to close the three dozen Workforce Development offices that helped unemployed workers seek jobs. He directed the agency to instead install computer terminals at libraries and other spots for people to access employment services.

Branstad said the case doesn't change the governor's line-item veto power because the ruling pertains only to the Workforce Development case.

The line-item veto gives the governor the authority to control spending and the legislative practice of bundling bills together, which can force a governor to approve measures he disagrees with in order to enact his priorities.

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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