Should state workers pay insurance?
Local reps, candidates weigh in
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad announced on July 2 that he would begin paying 20 percent of his health insurance cost and passed an executive order allowing state employees to volunteer to do the same.
Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees filed a complaint against Branstad on July 10, arguing that state law disallows the move because health insurance plan changes are collectively bargained.
"I'm not necessarily opposed to employees paying for part of their premiums," said Steve Bomgaars, Democratic candidate for Iowa House District 2. "On the other hand, that should be negotiated between the governor and the state employees."
Bomgaar's Republican opponent, Megan Hess, believes state employees should be paying something for their insurance.
"The average individual is paying $68 per month; the average family is paying $347 per month," Hess said. "Eighty-eight percent of Iowa employees pay nothing. I think we need to start making the way we pay employees commensurate with how the private sector pays employees."
Hess went on to say that taxpayers fund 97 percent of every dollar spent on health care premiums and called that fact "outrageous."
She estimates if each full-time equivalent employee paid $100 per month, the state would save about $26 million.
Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, applauds Branstad's decision leading up to his first union negotiations since his election to a fifth term.
"His predecessor, Chet Culver, gave away the farm two years ago when he agreed to union demands without making a counter offer," Johnson said. "With that in mind, I voted for a mandatory plan for all state employees to pay a share of their insurance premiums. ... I will continue to support that decision next session. In my view, the governor stands a better chance of succeeding through collective bargaining than what has not been achieved legislatively."
Johnson noted he does not currently pay into his insurance plan, but would vote for a bill requiring him and other legislators to do so.
Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Okoboji, said, "I voted eight or nine times to increase our contributions we pay into health insurance. All of those were defeated."
Smith said varying plans are available for legislators, but his plan includes a payment, though he was unsure of the percentage he pays.
He believes those who have criticized Branstad for his move would criticize the governor, regardless of what he did.
"I find it hard to believe you can criticize someone for giving people the option to contribute to their health insurance," Smith said.
Bomgaars stopped short of criticism, though he does wonder how Branstad arrived at his 20 percent figure.
"I really don't know where this 20 percent comes from," Bomgaars said. "It seems like he pulled that figure out of the air. He's trying to get state employees to pay that voluntarily. Secretaries, officers, etc., they have budgets they have to meet as well and their budgets are set.
"I don't understand why he did this at this time other than to make it a campaign issue," Bomgaars continued. "This really is an issue to be negotiated between the governor and state employees."
Johnson believes the move was to set the stage for negotiations this fall.
"I believe it's the right decision," he said. "It's a way to send a clear signal that this is going to be an item that comes up in negotiations."