Tuesday Column — Culver Visits Denial

Misplacing a governor is never good, as we’ve learned in recent days.

You think he’s hiking and it turns out he’s crying in Argentina. So it’s important for Iowans to keep track of our governor, for his sake and ours.

So where is Gov. Chet Culver?

“It’s just like he’s in a state of denial,” said former Gov. Terry Branstad, who, after serving four terms, is an authority on governor tracking.

But I’m not familiar with Denial. Maybe it’s somewhere between Manly and Fertile.

A second opinion?

“He’s living in Fantasyland,” said Bob Vander Plaats, a Republican making his third try to become a located governor.

It turns out Denial and Fantasyland are suburbs of Whopping Budget Mess. And that’s what our governor is sitting in the middle of right now. I suspect he’d rather be in Argentina.

He insists everything’s fine. Nothing to see here, all is well. But the numbers won’t go away.

Revenues are plunging. Conservative estimates say lawmakers will face a $903 million budget shortfall in January, more than double what the state has in reserves. The budget year that ends at midnight tonight is probably well into the red. The budget that takes effect Wednesday is likely far too big to be sustained. It’s time to start scouring ditches for cans.

Culver may be forced to call a special legislative session later this summer or early this fall to plug the most immediate leaks. He’s desperate to avoid that, so he’s fudging the numbers and hoping for the best. This is especially rich political theater around here. Massive flooding doesn’t rate special legislative attention, but lousy arithmetic is another matter.

It’s a critical stretch of Culver’s governorship. The budget could be his biggest vulnerability. And someone needs to tell him that it’s way too late for “everything’s just dandy!” We expect a reality-based response when it comes to our government and our money.

The reality is things are bad and getting worse. “It makes one wonder if he really has a handle on what’s going on,” said state Rep. Christopher Rants, a GOP candidate for governor.

Another former governor, Tom Vilsack, was back last week. And that reminded me of the last budget crisis. Vilsack was no stranger to big spending and fiscal shuffling, but when the budget collapsed, he played it straight, took control of the situation and projected competence.

That’s why, when Doug Gross tried in 2002 to label Vilsack as a reckless spender, it didn’t stick.

Culver needs to show competence at this moment, or the charges are going to start sticking. He’ll be in Big Political Trouble. That’s just down the road from Denial.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Tuesday Column — Culver Visits Denial

  1. Dan

    Better be careful Tom , the last editor isn’t getting much attention anymore. I bet his “TWEETS” from Culver are zilch.

  2. Christine Z.

    I guess Culver is proof that denial is not just a river in Egypt.
    In the face of mounting deficits and budget cuts, Culver signs into law the AWA, which not only violates the 10th. Amendment, but also the ex-post-facto clause and some other constitutional rights of citizens.
    For this, the tax payers will have the privilege of paying three million dollars to implement the law, but more millions to enforce it in the future. This does not include the costs when this law will be challenged in court.
    Culver is doing all this in order to receive a paltry four -hundred thousand dollar Byrne grant. That makes one wonder where he learned his math.

  3. Tod Kohl

    Let’s just refer to him as “Cleo” from now on…

  4. I would not be surprised if there is a second round of federal stimulus funds, including more state transfers to help backfill 2010 and 2011 budgets. Almost every state is facing the same kind of revenue collapse now.

    What the slash and burn people never acknowledge is that cutting state spending too deeply can make a bad economy worse. It’s a delicate balance.

  5. Yes, Terry Branstad is an authority on budget problems–when times are good, cut taxes for the rich. When times are bad, cut services for everyone else.

    Our state has a regressive tax system in no small part thanks to Branstad’s “leadership” for four terms. He was so mediocre that as a three-term incumbent he almost lost his own party’s primary in 1994. That is incredible.

  6. Christine Z.

    desmoinesdem, you certainly have a point there, I didn’t like Branstad either. Wish we still had Vilsack though, but that ship has sailed.

  7. Todd V

    Desmoinesdem..

    Lets see here..Branstad helped to lead Iowa out of the farm crisis…Democrats, tried as they might to paint Branstad as a cruel, heartless miser…

    Guess what..people of Iowa elected Branstad FOUR times as Governor.

    Culver is well on his way to being a one term Governor.

    Out here in Eastern Iowa..people are downright ticked off with him for his failure to call a special session last year to deal with the flood crisis and then his complete incompetence in placing political cronies in charge of the Rebuild Iowa office.

    People like Auditor Dave Vaudt have been out there waving the red flag, trying to tell Culver to get his head out of the sand, and get control of the fiscal situation…yet, Culver and Democrats like yourself are ok throwing our state’s finances into the toilet.

    Oh and Desmoinesdem..I thought the FIRST “stimulus” bill was supposed to get the economy going again…now they want to spend MORE money that we don’t have??

    When are you all going to realize you’re digging our country a hole that its going to be near damn impossible to get out of…

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