Gov. Kim Reynolds wants to reduce the number of state agencies and cut staff, but those who know and use the programs worry Iowans will suffer.
Reynolds proposed a bill in the Iowa Legislature to slash Iowa’s 37 cabinet-level positions to just 16—a 56% decrease— saying it “will elevate the state’s services and programs to improve experience and outcomes for Iowans.”
But the decrease would position Iowa tied for 9th-fewest number of cabinet members among US states and territories—and the ones Reynolds is targeting has some Iowans concerned.
What (and who) does Reynolds want to cut?
Reynolds says she plans to reduce cabinet members by “aligning,” or merging departments. Among them:
- The Board of Educational Examiners headed by Mike Calvin, the College Student Aid Commission headed by Mark Wiederspan, and the STEM Advisory Council headed by Jeff Weld, would be merged into the Department of Education;
- The Department on Aging headed by Linda Miller, and the Department of Human Rights headed by Sam Wong, would be merged into the Department of Health and Human Services (which itself was a merger of Human Services and Public Health departments);
- Iowa Lottery Authority headed by Matt Strawn, and the Alcoholic Beverages Division headed by Steve Larson, would be merged into the Department of Revenue;
- The Insurance Division headed by Doug Ommen, the Division of Banking headed by Jeff Plagge, and the Division of Credit Unions headed by Katie Averill (who also heads the Department of Commerce), would be merged into a new Department of Insurance and Financial Services to “elevate Iowa’s profile as a national insurance industry leader.”
Those specific proposals could cut nine cabinet heads alone.
Other departments that Reynolds didn’t list by name, but supporting documents show no proposed budget for in 2024, include:
- The Department of Commerce headed by Katie Averill (program mergers above);
- The Department of Cultural Affairs headed by Chris Kramer, with the programs to be merged into Economic Development Authority and the Department of Administration;
- The Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy headed by Dale Woolery, which would be merged into the Department of Public Safety;
- The Iowa Civil Rights Commission headed by Stan Thompson.
Another seven department heads would need to be cut to get down to Reynolds’ goal of 16.
Iowans ‘need direct support,’ not fewer resources
In the ongoing merger of the departments of Human Services and Public Health that began last year, Reynolds insisted that “no employees lost their jobs, nor was any service downgraded in importance,” though the merger is not complete.
Joe Artz, a founding member of the Association of Iowa Archaeologists, has worked closely for decades with Cultural Affairs. He said archaeologists like him were concerned that moving the State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) into Economic Development was “akin to moving the henhouse into the fox’s den.”
“Iowa’s SHPO … serves a vital role in ensuring that Federal undertakings do not disturb significant archaeological and architectural resources,” Artz said, adding it must “remain as independent as possible from proponents of development.”
Iowa School for the Deaf graduate and parent Sarah Young Bear-Brown said she was “angry” about the potential change for that program.
“I don’t trust Kim and team’s plan,” she told Starting Line. “They should put children’s education and needs first, instead of money.”
I am angry that Kim Reynolds want to put Iowa School for the Deaf into Dept of Education from Board of the Regents. ISD have been under Board of the Regents for over 100 years. I dont want to see this happen. I am ISD alumni and mother of ISD student. She is a first grader now.
— Sarah A. Young Bear-Brown (@SarahYoungBear1) January 19, 2023
How many cabinet members should a functioning state have?
A state’s population doesn’t necessarily correlate with its number of executive-level cabinet members, and some states like Oregon and Mississippi don’t have a formal cabinet at all, according to the CSG’s 2021 report.
But of Iowa and the states closest to Iowa’s population (Oklahoma, Connecticut, Utah, Nevada, Arkansas and Kansas), the average number of cabinet positions is 23. Only Kansas, with 15, has fewer than the number Reynolds is suggesting.
It’s not clear whether Reynolds wants to cut department heads gradually, by leaving positions vacant when directors retire or quit, or immediately, through layoffs. State legislators would ultimately craft a bill with the details.
Reynolds paid a consultant $1 million to identify savings of $200 million over four years through eliminating around 500 other positions in state departments that were currently vacant, according to Iowa Public Radio.
A previous version of this story included quotes from Isaiah McGee, a former acting director of the Iowa Department of Human Rights, who was interviewed last week. McGee’s quotes have been removed following news of his arrest.
by Amie Rivers
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. Find ISL on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.