Capitol Cash: A Series on Tax-Saving Ideas

blackberryThe Des Moines Register is running a series named Capitol Cash: A Series on Tax-Saving Ideas.

THIS WEEK: Cellphones

IDEA: Eliminate state-issued cellular telephones/BlackBerry-like mobile devices.

WHO SUGGESTED: An anonymous citizen via a House Republican Web site.

CURRENT COSTS: Iowa’s state employees have been issued 1,177 Blackberries, according to a report released in September by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services. Iowa’s total cell phone/BlackBerry monthly bills during 2008 were $2.1 million, according to the department.

FACT: The state obtains a reduced rate through Verizon Wireless for many of its BlackBerry devices for as little as $30 a month. Standalone plans often cost $80 or more a month.

OF INTEREST: State-issued cells phones are to be used only for business, according to the state’s employee handbook. Personal calls must be kept to a minimum, the handbook states.

An example of how personal costs can add up: Gov. Chet Culver in May 2007 had a $310.55 cell phone bill, including $254.61 for roaming charges, according to phone records reviewed by the Register after a public information request. The phone was kept in a leased vehicle driven by the Executive Protection Unit. Phone numbers to Culver’s family were redacted, which accounted for $122.13 of the costs, according to the records. The typical monthly bill for the phone that year was $43 to $44, records showed.

The Register asked for 2007 cell records of Culver, then-Department of Management Director Charlie Krogmeier, transportation director Nancy Richardson and education director Judy Jeffrey. Lt. Gov. Patty Judge did not have a state-issued cell phone during that time, state officials said. The majority of the bills were under $100 a month. Jeffrey and Richardson had monthly charges of more than $200 on at least one occasion, but those were due largely to equipment purchases or upgrades.

PROPOSAL: Rep. Jodi Tymeson, R-Winterset, proposed an amendment to a budget bill in the 2009 session that would have prohibited cell phones for state employees who normally perform their job at a fixed position for 70 percent or more of their time. The law would have allowed exceptions on a case-by-case basis.

Tymeson said recently that her intention was to exclude emergency workers or law enforcement officials. House Republicans estimated the law would have saved $500,000 a year. Democrats ultimately rejected the proposal, some of them expressing concern that limiting cell phone use could disrupt government functions and create added costs rather than efficiencies.

QUOTE: “I’m not convinced it would be the most practical suggestion, other than mandating continued vigilance with respect to securing the best contracts/pricing,” said Robert Bailey, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Administrative Services.

BOTTOM LINE: The GOP plan to limit cell phones would cut costs by $500,000, according to its estimates.

(Source: The Des Moines Register)