Vaudt praises Gov. Branstad’s budget plan

DES MOINES – State Auditor David Vaudt on Monday praised Gov. Terry Branstad’s budget proposal, calling it the most fiscally responsible plan he’s seen in a decade.

Vaudt said he reviewed the governor’s budget plans for the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years and concluded they nearly eliminate the Iowa’s use of one-time money for ongoing expenses, spending less than projected incoming revenues. Branstad and Vaudt are both Republicans.

“It’s a huge improvement. When I look back three years ago we were in a real pickle,” Vaudt said. “We’re definitely on the right track today.”

Branstad in January unveiled a $6.5 billion spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that includes funding for new education programs as well as commercial property tax cuts.

Republicans who hold the majority in the state House have called for spending a little less than the governor, and Democrats who control the Senate have proposed spending several hundred million dollars more.

Vaudt urged continued fiscal caution. He said the governor and lawmakers must determine how to pay for a new contract for state union workers as well as any increase in general school funding. Vaudt also noted that the state should expect further reductions to federal funding and must continue efforts to shore up the state pension system, which is currently 80 percent funded.

“I’m a big believer in being very conservative in what we do with our resources. We want to make sure we’re thinking about that next recession,” Vaudt said.

Vaudt suggested using surplus budget dollars to pay into the pension fund or to pay off some of the state’s debt. There has been little talk of either approach among lawmakers this session.