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What do you think of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s pledge to start paying 20% of their health care insurance premiums?

I think it is largely a token gesture by the two in an election year to build anger against public sector workers. Ever since the Governor came to office he’s been trying to reopen the negotiated settlement with the AFSCME Council 61 union and other state worker unions.

From a fiscal standpoint I understand the argument; 'most private sector employees have to pay for a portion of their health care premiums, why shouldn’t public sector employees? As a taxpayer, I’m paying for a state worker’s health care. That’s not fair.'

This is what Branstad said when speaking on the subject; “Hard-working Iowa taxpayers are accustomed to paying for some or all of their own health care costs, and for far too long, their tax dollars have also paid for the total cost of state employees’ health care.”  Branstad said. “I truly believe the only way we will begin improving our health as a state and controlling the rising costs of health care is by empowering Iowans to take ownership of their own health.”

I happen to agree with the second part of his statement. The only way you are going to reign in health care costs is if everyone takes more responsibility over their personal health.

But you know what? It isn’t like the state just started paying the health care costs of its workers. This has been a benefit that has been provided to state employees for decades. It was negotiated at a time when state workers made less in real wages than their private sector equivalents.

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It would be great to see everyone in elected government office take Branstad up on this challenge and pledge to pay for 20% toward their premiums. But if I’m an unelected state worker I’d be laughing in Branstad’s face. Who in their right mind would give up a benefit they have been given unless or until they were forced to give it up?

Maybe if the state were really struggling financially,  it'd be easier to applaud Branstad's efforts — but the state just reported taking in a record amount of tax receipts in the month of May. The $794.5 million deposited in the state treasury broke a previous record of $791.1 million in net receipts reported in May 2007, according to the Legislative Services Agency. The state is on track to blow away its projected revenue budget for the year.

Yes, I’d like to see state workers pay more for their health care premiums, but the time to ask them for concessions is at the bargaining table during the next round of contract negotiations not through a half-baked political stunt to draw attention to a problem that has been decades in the making.

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