Debates over austerity oftentimes get nasty and personal. In Iowa, the fiscal dust-up has taken a turn for the silly.
Democrats in the state Legislature say they are outraged that Gov. Terry Branstad (R) is able to retain a chef to cook his meals at Terrace Hill, a lovely mansion that has been the state’s official governor’s residence off and on since 1947, at a time when departments covering serious issues such as child welfare are being cut.
“I would much rather put our money towards helping and supporting kids,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, in an April Des Moines Register story “…Governor Branstad: Cook your own meals like all the rest of us do.”
The issue of Branstad’s chef has come up as Democrats and Republicans try to work out their differences on the state budget in the hopes of avoiding a government shutdown in Iowa. Democrats who control the State Senate are accusing Branstad of being an out-of-touch hypocrite and have tried to strip out funding for the chef. The House is controlled by the GOP. “Branstad’s staff notes that the overall staffing level is less despite the chef but that hasn’t silenced Democrats,” the Register says.
Getting rid of a chef would wind up costing taxpayers more money in the long-run because it would make the state more dependent on restaurants and catering companies. Branstad and the governors of all 50 states are on the job 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Since he is always on duty, a case can be made that many of his meals have a business purpose meaning that the state would probably end up having to reimburse him for them. Like any chief executive, Branstad has to do business entertaining such as when he is trying to convince big corporations to invest in the Hawkeye State. Having a location such as Terrace Hill at his disposal makes that job easier.
Branstad earns $130,000 a year. Governors are paid well compared with most Americans, they still make a pittance compared to what their peers earn in the private sector. Branstad is no different. As president of Des Moines University from 2003 to 2009, he was paid $331,000 a year. He previously served as governor 1983 to 1999 and has held the job longer than anyone in the state’s history.
The fate of the Terrace Hill chef remains unclear. According to the Register, Democrats yesterday proposed a counter-offer to the GOP’s $6.99 billion spending plan that was generally well received. Let’s hope that Democrats and Republicans agree that it’s not in the best interest of taxpayers for Branstad to don a chef’s hat anytime soon.