Gov. Branstad's Workforce Veto Declared Unconstitutional, But Ames Office Won't Reopen

This likely won't lead to the reopening of workforce development offices, however.

By Lynn Campbell

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday said Gov. Terry Branstad's item-veto of a bill intended to keep Iowa Workforce Development field offices open was unconstitutional.

"Simply stated, the legislature appropriated funds to IWD with strings attached, and our constitution does not permit the governor to cut the strings and spend the money differently," said the opinion authored by Justice Thomas Waterman, who was appointed by Branstad in February 2011.

However, it does not appear that the ruling would lead to the re-opening of the 36 offices (including the one in Ames), which helped unemployed Iowans find a job, write a resume or prepare for an interview.

That's because the Iowa Supreme Court found in favor of Branstad that the "proper remedy for an invalid veto of a condition on an appropriation is to invalidate the entire item containing the appropriation."

"We hold that, when the governor impermissibly item vetoes a condition on an appropriation during the pocket veto period, the appropriation item fails to become law," justices wrote. "This result is mandated by our constitutional requirement that enactments do not become law without the approval of both elected branches except when a legislative supermajority overrides a veto."

That means both the $8.66 million appropriation for the operation of field offices and the condition preventing the closure of the offices did not become law.

Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the ruling could spur more than 200 layoffs and close all Iowa Workforce Development offices. That's because the $8.66 million includes funding for all Workforce Development offices, the workers compensation division, the labor division and the unemployment reserve fund.

“What started as an attempt by (AFCME Iowa Council 61 President) Danny Homan to prevent the implementation of a new, streamlined service delivery system that has proven to serve Iowans even better has now, as a result of Homan’s lawsuit, put at risk all of the services our state provides to unemployed Iowans and hundreds of stat workers’ jobs,” Albrecht said. “The governor is very concerned that these services would no longer be available to those Iowans who need it most."

Meanwhile, legislative Democrats said the Legislature and governor should work together to re-open the 36 closed Iowa Workforce Development field offices and help Iowans get back to work.

“Iowans win with the court decision today,” said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging the veto. "We’re ready to move forward to help underemployed and unemployed Iowans find work. While we’re disappointed the governor took this route, it’s time for us to work together to help businesses find skilled workers and Iowans find a good-paying job."

Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids, said the system of checks and balances with co-equal branches of government are central to our democracy.

"The governor clearly overstepped his authority," she said. "What’s important now is to work together to make sure Iowans who need to upgrade their skills or find a job can get the support they need."

The case dates back to July, when Branstad vetoed portions of Senate File 517, a budget bill passed on the last day of the 2011 legislative session.

At issue was $8.66 million the Legislature appropriated for the Iowa Workforce Development field offices. Branstad, without vetoing that appropriation, item-vetoed the section prohibiting the closure of field offices.

A union leader on Aug. 24 joined five Democratic state lawmakers in suing Branstad over the issue. In September, the Executive Council approved hiring Des Moines attorney Richard Sapp for $275 an hour to defend Branstad in the lawsuit.

Sapp said the governor's office disagrees with the ruling from a legal and policy perspective, but respect the decision and will abide by it. He said the decision did not erode the scope of the governor’s item-veto power under the Constitution to control spending and serve Iowans who need jobs.

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