The Iowa House Appropriations Committee voted Wednesday night to slash proposed state transportation funding by $9.7 million, which would result in the elimination of more than 400 employees from the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT).
IDOT officials told lawmakers the cuts would likely result in the closure of some of the existing 19 state-operated driver's license stations and some of the 110 state highway maintenance garages. There also would be fewer inspectors to check on state highway construction projects, which could slow the progress of highway and bridge improvements.The reduction of the IDOT's workforce would happen over the next two years.
The $9.7 million was requested by IDOT officials as a salary adjustment to accommodate increased payroll costs and other expenses for the state agency's nearly 2,800 employees. Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Republican lawmakers were troubled by IDOT officials seeking such a large increase for IDOT employees' pay hikes just one year after a 10-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase was approved by the Legislature.
"That gas tax was sold to repair roads and bridges in the state of Iowa. It was not sold to increase anyone's salary in the DOT," Grassley said. "If we are going to be passing a gas tax increase, I think it is a little bit disingenuous for us to turn around and say we are going to need to increase salaries by almost $10 million."
Lee Wilkinson, director of the Iowa DOT's Operations and Finance Division, told the House committee a $9.7 million spending cut will result in the loss of 157 IDOT employees in the 2017 budget year, which begins July 1, 2016, and a reduction of 259 employees the following budget year. He said some of the money sought by the IDOT is needed for pay increases negotiated under state labor contracts.
House Democrats questioned the wisdom of the IDOT spending cuts, suggesting it could hurt the state's ability to build new highways and bridges. The IDOT plans a record $806 million worth of road construction this year.