WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s been a busy start to what Gov. Kim Reynolds is calling a “big and bold” legislative session.
The first bill the Republican signed into law was the Students First Act, a historic universal school choice bill allowing parents and guardians to tap into publicly funded education savings accounts to help cover the cost of private school tuition.
Reynolds then signed a major medical malpractice tort reform bill capping noneconomic damages, a bill hated by personal injury lawyers but heralded by health care providers, hospitals, insurers and others who say costly litigation has helped push up health care costs.
Now, Reynolds has her eye on big government.
“We’re fighting hard every day to make government smaller,” the governor said at a recent Iowa campaign stop for Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.
Reynolds’ mission: Trim Iowa’s 37 executive branch cabinet-level departments from 37 to 16.
The plan calls for reducing state government office space footprint to “align with industry standards and generate cost savings” and consolidating technology systems and services. Reynolds also wants to align regionally operated community-based corrections programs within the Iowa Department of Corrections. The aim, the governor says, is to strengthen the corrections system statewide, drive evidence-based outcomes, and improve recidivism and public safety.
“It’s been nearly 40 years since Iowa last conducted a comprehensive, enterprise-wide assessment of government operations and structure,” states a press release from the governor’s office. It notes Iowa’s 37 cabinet members significantly outnumber neighboring states.
“Arkansas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma all have populations and budgets similar to Iowa but just 15 cabinet members,” the press release adds. “Likewise, Iowa’s per capita expenditures exceed those of similar-size states and larger bordering states.”
But Reynolds has insisted her reorganization plan won’t cost any of the state’s 16,000-plus executive branch jobs. Ultimately, streamlining and other initiatives could save the state nearly $215 million over the next four years, according to a report by Virginia-based consult Guidehouse. Reynolds’ office hired the firm, at $1 million, to make recommendations on realignment.
“The current structure of executive branch under the control of the governor presents a rich opportunity to realign and streamline the organization to better serve the people of Iowa and continue excellent stewardship of taxpayer dollars,” the Guidehouse report states. “A realigned state government will enable the governor to continue to prioritize a government that is efficient and effective; responsive and accountable; citizen-focused; built on leading practices and data-driven decision making; ensuring Iowa’s economic prosperity.”
Reynolds’ alignment proposals include:
- Reducing the number of cabinet-level departments by aligning agencies with similar business operations to leverage shared services, improve efficiency, and decrease cost.
- Centralizing similar programs that currently exist across several agencies into a single department with the resources, experience, and subject matter expertise to achieve the best outcomes for Iowans.
- The Department of Inspections and Appeals will expand its Administrative Hearings Division and create a new Professional Licensing Division to include health and occupational licenses.
- Community Based Corrections is proposed to merge with the Department of Corrections, creating operational consistency statewide that improves public safety and equal justice.
- The Board of Educational Examiners, College Student Aid Commission, STEM Advisory Council, and other education-related services are proposed to align with the Department of Education to better support students across Iowa’s education continuum.
- The Department on Aging, Department of Human Rights, Early Childhood Iowa, and other human services-focused organizations are proposed to align with the Department of Health and Human Services, strengthening program coordination and improving quality of life for all Iowans.
- A proposal to align Iowa Lottery and the Alcoholic Beverages Division with Iowa Department of Revenue, will bring Iowa’s primary revenue generating enterprises together to create a more convenient, full-service customer experience.
- A proposal to create a new Iowa Department of Insurance and Financial Services, comprised of the Iowa Insurance Division, Iowa Division of Banking, and Iowa Division of Credit Unions, will elevate Iowa’s profile as a national insurance industry leader and promote financial services in the state.
Democrats have complained the sweeping plan would cost Iowans timely government services.
“The reality is, people will not appreciate some of these impacts until after this bill is enacted,” State Rep. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, told KCCI. “And they are affected by some of the services these agencies used to provide that are no longer able to function the way they used to.”
With Republicans holding a supermajority in the Senate and a near supermajority in the House, Reynolds’ reform measure has a good shot of landing on her desk, as her two previous signature agenda items have this session.
“State government can’t realize its full potential while it’s still set up to conduct business as it did 40 years ago. We can do better for Iowans,” the governor said.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Kim Reynolds” by Governor Kim Reynolds. Background Photo “Iowa State Capitol” by Carol M. Highsmith.