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infrastructure

Branstad names Paul Trombino to run Department of Transportation

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 27, 2011 at 15:00:21 PM CDT

Governor Terry Branstad finally announced his choice to head the Iowa Department of Transportation today. Paul Trombino III has been serving as Bureau Director of Transit, Local Roads, Rails, and Harbors for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Before this year he was Region Operations Director of the Wisconsin DOT. After the jump I've posted the press release announcing Trombino's appointment, which includes some details on his education and work experience. Trombino's appointment is subject to Iowa Senate confirmation, but he is well qualified for the job and should not run into any trouble.

I hope that in his new position, Trombino will be able to target state resources toward repairing Iowa's many deficient bridges and roads, as opposed to spending the lion's share on new road construction.

I also hope he will help the governor see the benefits of expanding passenger rail in Iowa. Representing the Wisconsin DOT at a high-speed rail conference last year, Trombino depicted passenger rail as part of a "robust, diverse transportation system that meets the public need," not something to be pursued instead of repairing state highways. (Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker rejected federal high-speed rail funding shortly after taking office this year.) Passenger rail was a goal of former Governor Chet Culver's administration, but Branstad has made clear that roads will be his top concern, funded with a higher gas tax if necessary. Branstad didn't include any passenger rail money in his draft budget, although he hasn't definitively rejected federal funds allocated last year to extend a rail link from Chicago to Iowa City. Rail advocates have been working on funding plans that would require certain local communities to cover part of future passenger rail subsidies.

Branstad announced most of his picks to lead state departments in November and December, but he delayed choosing a head for the Iowa DOT. Instead, he asked Nancy Richardson to stay on through the 2011 legislative session. Governor Tom Vilsack originally named Richardson to that position, and she was one of the few Vilsack department heads that Culver left in place.

Branstad's administration is nearly complete, but he has a few other significant personnel decisions to make. Earlier this month the Iowa Senate rejected his choice to lead the Department of Human Rights and one of his appointees to the State Judicial Nominating Commission. Branstad also needs to fill one more vacancy on the state Environmental Protection Commission. He withdrew one of his nominees to that body after the Sierra Club's Iowa chapter pointed out the governor's choices would leave the commission with too many Republican members.

UPDATE: Branstad nominated Nancy Couser for the last open spot on the Environmental Protection Commission. She is a cattle feeder from rural Nevada who also serves on the Iowa Beef Industry Council.  

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Grassley votes no again as Senate sends small jobs bill to Obama

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Mar 17, 2010 at 12:44:56 PM CDT

The U.S. Senate gave final approval to a small jobs bill today by a vote of 68-29. Eleven Republicans and the Senate's two independents joined 55 Democrats (including Iowa's Tom Harkin) to pass the bill. The only Democrat to vote no was Ben Nelson of Nebraska (roll call here). The motion to invoke cloture on this jobs bill passed the Senate on Monday by a 60-31 vote, with six Republicans voting with all Democrats but Ben Nelson (roll call here). Senator Chuck Grassley voted with the Republicans who tried to filibuster the bill on Monday and with those who opposed the bill today. From the Washington Post:

The centerpiece of the bill is a new program giving companies a break from paying Social Security taxes for the remainder of 2010 on any new workers they hire who had been unemployed for at least 60 days. Employers would also get a $1,000 tax credit for each of those workers who stays on the payroll for at least one year.

Aside from that program, the measure includes a one-year extension of the law governing federal transportation funding, and would transfer $20 billion into the highway trust fund. The bill also extends a tax break allowing companies to write off equipment purchases, and expands the Build America Bonds program, which helps state and local governments secure financing for infrastructure projects.

Last month the Senate approved a similar jobs measure; Grassley voted no at that time as well. After the House made minor changes to the legislation, the bill had to clear the Senate again before going to the president's desk.

Most House Democrats support a larger job-creation bill with more money for infrastructure projects, but there may not be 60 votes in the Senate for such a measure.

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Senate passes jobs bill; Grassley votes no

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Feb 24, 2010 at 14:34:35 PM CST

The U.S. Senate passed a scaled-back jobs bill today by a 70-28 vote (roll call here). 57 of the 59 Senate Democrats voted for the bill; Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted no and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey was absent. 13 Republicans voted for the bill. Five of them helped Democrats break a Republican filibuster on Monday: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and the retiring Kit Bond of Missouri and George Voinovich of Ohio. Two Republicans who were absent for Monday's cloture vote also voted yes today: Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Burr of North Carolina. Six other Republicans tried to block this vote from going forward on Monday but turned around and voted for the bill today: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, George LeMieux of Florida, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Senate Democrats and the media are calling this a $15 billion jobs bill, but David Dayen notes, it's really a $35 billion measure: "the extension of the Highway Trust Fund would add $20 billion for infrastructure projects, but because of the way it's financed, through a fund shift, it doesn't count as an expense."

In addition to the highway fund money, the main features of the jobs bill are a tax credit for small businesses that hire new workers, "Build America Bonds" that help state and local governments to borrow money, and a provision to allow small businesses to write off more expenses.

Senator Chuck Grassley voted against today's bill and against the cloture motion on Monday. He and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus had agreed on a different jobs bill, which Senate Majority Leader Reid abandoned. In a statement submitted to the Senate record on Monday, Grassley slammed Reid's "disregard for bipartisanship" and noted that tax-extending provisions in the Baucus-Grassley bill had enjoyed broad support from both parties in the past.

The House passed a larger jobs bill in December that included many of the tax-extending provisions Reid omitted from the Senate bill.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moodys.com, said last week that Reid's jobs bill was "a good first step" but not nearly large enough to address the unemployment problem:

A failure to provide additional funding to struggling states, for example, would lead to job losses that would "overwhelm" all the other job-creating efforts being tried, he said. And while the Schumer-Hatch tax credit would create between 200,000 and 300,000 new jobs, Zandi estimated, that number is a drop in the bucket relative to the roughly 11 million new jobs needed to get the country back to pre-recession jobless levels.

Reid has promised to introduce more jobs-creating legislation soon. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will try to move quickly on the bill the Senate just approved, Roll Call reported.

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Braley outlines Populist Caucus "Blueprint for Recovery"

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 08:08:30 AM CST

Representative Bruce Braley advocated a four-point "Blueprint for Recovery" in Politico yesterday. The House Populist Caucus, which Braley formed last year, has endorsed these proposals to "require Wall Street to pay for economic development on Main Street and to pay down our nation's deficit."

Compensation. We need to change the culture of limitless bonuses by passing the Wall Street Bonus Tax Act (H.R. 4426). America's middle-class families saw their savings wiped out by Wall Street's gambling addictions and then watched as their tax dollars went to save troubled banks. The targeted tax would apply only to executives at banks that received Troubled Asset Relief Program funding who took bonuses in excess of $50,000. The Bonus Tax Act would generate billions of dollars of new revenue that would be directed exclusively to reward small businesses that are investing in new jobs.

Speculation. We need to stop excessive and risky speculation on Wall Street by passing the Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act (H.R. 4191). This legislation would reinstate a tiny transaction fee on speculative stock transactions by Wall Street traders, creating $150 billion annually in new revenue that would be dedicated to job creation and reducing the deficit.

Job creation. A "jobless recovery" is not a recovery for the middle class. With a national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, it's clear America's middle-class families are still struggling to make ends meet.

That's why we need to take the following two-pronged approach to creating good-paying jobs that can't be outsourced: We need to pass the National Infrastructure Development Bank Act (H.R. 2521), which would establish a wholly owned government corporation to prioritize infrastructure improvement projects that would create good-paying jobs. We also need to pass the Buy American Improvement Act (H.R. 4351) to eliminate loopholes in existing domestic sourcing laws and ensure that taxpayer money is used to purchase American-made products and support American jobs whenever possible.

Click here for more details on the Wall Street transaction fees the Populist Caucus supports. The idea is worthwhile, but I am skeptical that the current economic team in the Obama administration would get behind it.

I'm not clear on why a new government corporation on infrastructure projects needs to be created (as opposed to just appropriating more funds for existing agencies to spend on high-speed rail, affordable housing or other infrastructure needs). I asked Braley's office for comment on that part of the blueprint and received this reply:

The Populist Caucus believes we need a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) now to invest in merit-based infrastructure projects-both traditional and technological-by leveraging private capital. In recent years, the private sector has raised more than $100 billion in dedicated infrastructure funds, but most of that money is being invested overseas.  We need an NIB to attract those funds into a U.S. market for infrastructure development.

It's notable that the Populist Caucus is not backing broader populist measures, such as tax hikes for corporations and the top 1 percent of individual earners. Then again, Braley's caucus prepared and approved this "blueprint" before Oregon residents approved two tax-raising ballot initiatives this week.

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Iowa turning stimulus road funds around quickly

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Sep 03, 2009 at 08:41:34 AM CDT

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been keeping track of how states are spending the stimulus funds allocated for roads. On September 2 the committee released a report ranking the states according to how much of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for highways and bridges had been put to work as of July 31. This pdf file contains the state rankings.

Iowa ranked second overall, having put 75 percent of its stimulus road funds to work by the end of July. Join me after the jump for more details from the report and analysis.  

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Iowa taking full advantage of stimulus unemployment funds

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jul 09, 2009 at 18:31:37 PM CDT

When Congress was debating the stimulus bill earlier this year, Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody's, compared various forms of government spending and tax cuts in terms of economic stimulus "bang for the buck." He concluded (pdf file) that various forms of government spending did more to stimulate the economy than various kinds of tax cuts.

The best kinds of spending in terms of stimulative effect were food stamps and extending unemployment benefits. Every extra dollar the federal government spends on food stamps generates approximately $1.73 in economic activity, and every dollar the federal government spends to extend unemployment benefits generates approximately $1.63 in economic activity. People who need these services are likely to spend additional money quickly, helping preserve jobs in the retail sector.

With this in mind, you might imagine that the states would take full advantage of money allocated to unemployment benefits in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. But you would be wrong, according to this article by Olga Pierce from ProPublica:

So far, only about half of the $7 billion included in the stimulus package [for expanding unemployment insurance] has been claimed by states. [...]

Four states have explicitly rejected the funding, but many others have so far failed to pass legislation qualifying them for incentive payments. [...]

Under the stimulus bill [2], states can qualify for the extra funding by extending unemployment insurance to new categories of workers. To receive a third of the funding, they must begin using something called an alternative base period, which would allow more low-wage workers to receive unemployment benefits. [...]

To get the other two-thirds of the cash, they must adopt at least two other changes from a list that includes covering part-time workers and offering $15 extra per week for each dependent.

If states meet the requirements, they qualify for a federal lump sum payment that will cover the cost of expansion for at least three years, or longer in many cases. It was on those grounds - that after the federal funding runs out states will have to find another way to cover the cost - that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal [3], Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour [4] and others [5] that said they would reject the funding.

Bleeding-heart liberal that I am, I believe basic fairness justifies extending unemployment benefits to more part-time and low-wage workers. But even if you don't care about fairness, Zandi's analysis shows that extending unemployment benefits will get money circulating in the economy.

Click here for a map and a chart showing how much federal unemployment money each state has claimed.  

As of mid-June, 17 states had claimed none of the stimulus funding for unemployment benefits, and another 12 states and the District of Columbia had claimed only part of that money. In some of those states, Democrats are in charge. Progressives who have ridiculed Republican governors for rejecting stimulus money for unemployment benefits should also hold Democrats accountable on this score.

Fortunately, Iowa is among 21 states that have fully used these stimulus funds as Congress intended. Thousands of Iowans struggling to get by will benefit from the $70.8 million the stimulus bill appropriated to our state for unemployment benefits. Democrats in the state legislature and Governor Chet Culver deserve credit for enacting the necessary legislative changes to collect this funding.

Many of the states that have left stimulus money on the table have significantly higher unemployment rates than Iowa, by the way.

Speaking of boosting the economy, Zandi's report showed that infrastructure projects were the third-most stimulative form of government spending. Every extra dollar spent on infrastructure generates an estimated $1.59 in economic activity. Remember that next time Iowa Republicans bring out their misleading talking points about the the I-JOBS program. Also remember that Iowa has used the stimulus bill's transportation funding wisely compared to many other states, according to a recent review by Smart Growth America.

In contrast, most kinds of tax cuts Republicans advocate generate less than one dollar of economic activity for every dollar they cost the government. As a gesture to Republicans, Democrats replaced some spending in the stimulus bill with $70 billion allocated to fixing the alternative minimum tax, even though Zandi's analysis found that a dollar spent on fixing the alternative minimum tax generates only about 49 cents in economic activity.

It's too bad the Obama administration made a number of concessions to Republicans on the stimulus bill. Like Bob Herbert wrote a few months ago, when the GOP talks about the economy, nobody should listen.

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Iowa investing transportation stimulus funds well so far

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 02:00:00 AM CDT

June 29 was exactly 120 days since the federal government released highway funds to the states as part of the economic stimulus bill (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act). Smart Growth America marked the occasion by releasing a review on how wisely states are spending the transportation money.

The 120-day mark is significant because it is the point by which states and territories are required to have obligated 50 percent of the flexible money granted them for transportation projects by the federal government. The money is meant to stimulate the economy, but also - in the language of the Act - "to invest in transportation, environmental protection, and other infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits."

Iowa received about $358 million in federal highway stimulus funds, and I was pleased to read in Smart Growth America's report (pdf file) that our state's allocations compare favorably with those in most other states. Follow me after the jump for more details.  

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How would Iowa Republicans fund these projects?

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 29, 2009 at 18:34:07 PM CDT

The I-JOBS Board met in Cedar Rapids today and awarded money for the first time, approving eight flood recovery projects worth $45.5 million. All of the projects are in Linn County except for $500,000 awarded to help the city of Elkader build a new fire station. More details are in this press release from the governor's office, which I have posted after the jump.

Attacking the I-JOBS bonding program has become a staple of Iowa Republicans' speeches and newsletters (see also here and here). I would like Republicans to explain how they would pay for flood recovery projects like the ones approved today. Or would they prefer "small government" that doesn't repair public libraries or build new county offices and fire stations?

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Iowa Republicans more like "Party of Hoover" than party of future

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Jun 25, 2009 at 14:57:29 PM CDT

The Republican Party of Iowa is celebrating its "rising stars" tonight at an event featuring Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Judging by what we've heard lately from Iowa GOP leaders, they're gonna party like it's 1929.

Case in point: Iowa Senate Minority leader Paul McKinley. The possible gubernatorial candidate's weekly memos continue to whine about spending and borrowing by Democrats (see also here). Republicans would rather slash government programs and provide "targeted" one-year tax credits.

The lessons of Herbert Hoover's presidency are still lost on these people. I apologize for repeating myself, but excessive government spending cuts can turn an economic recession into a depression. Since state governments cannot run budget deficits, it makes sense for the federal government to help the states "backfill" their budgets. That was the express purpose of the state transfer funds in the stimulus package.

In addition, it is prudent to spend federal funds on projects with long-term benefits. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was in Des Moines on June 23 to highlight the first installment of what will be $41 million in stimulus funds for renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects in Iowa. Energy efficiency programs in particular will have huge collateral benefits, saving consumers money while helping the environment.

No matter how many times Republicans repeat their misleading talking points about the I-JOBS state bonding initiative Democrats passed this year, it is prudent to borrow money for worthwhile projects when interest rates are low. I don't hear McKinley or other Republican leaders telling businesses not to borrow money to make capital improvements.

Share any thoughts about Republican ideas, rhetoric, or career lobbyist Haley Barbour in this thread.

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How you can track I-JOBS spending

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 17, 2009 at 07:32:02 AM CDT

The official website for the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative launched yesterday. It's easy to navigate and includes, among other things:

*the rules for applying for I-JOBS money;

*details on how the bonding money will be directed to various types of infrastructure (transportation, disaster recovery and prevention, environment and water quality, telecommunications and renewable energy, and housing);

*a page where citizens can submit any question about the I-JOBS program;

*an interactive map on the main page which, as I-JOBS money starts to be awarded later this year, will allow users to click on any Iowa county to find out which projects affect that county's residents.

You can receive updates on the I-JOBS program on Twitter as well.

The only thing I couldn't find on the site is a link for reporting waste and abuse of I-JOBS money. If that's not on the site, it should be added, and if it's already there in an obscure location, it should be moved somewhere easier to find. The official page on the use of federal stimulus funds in Iowa has a link for reporting stimulus fraud right on the main page. Perhaps the I-JOBS webmaster could follow that example, or at least put a link for whistleblowers in the "helpful links" section.

Republicans will be looking for any slip-up in the use of I-JOBS money to bolster their misleading talking points about the infrastructure bonding initiative. It should be easy for Iowans to report any problems they see in their communities.

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Infrastructure spending needs strong oversight

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Jun 13, 2009 at 10:45:47 AM CDT

All government spending on infrastructure is not created equal. With good planning and accountability measures, the federal stimulus and state bonding packages approved this year by Congress and the Iowa legislature could turn out to be wise investments with long-term benefits. Without proper monitoring, we could squander lots of borrowed federal and state money.

Laura Dean of the Huffington Post drew my attention to the Project on Government Oversight's review of state websites on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the official name for the stimulus bill). They were specifically looking for resources for those who want to report fraud, waste and abuse in how federal stimulus funds are being used.

The findings are summarized here. Iowa did well as one of only seven states that "listed clear procedures for whistleblowers, such as what information to report, who to report to, and what will be done with that information." ("Report stimulus fraud" is right on the front page of Iowa's site, in the "featured links" section.)

However, there's always room for improvement. The Project on Government Oversight applauded a few especially "whistleblower-friendly websites":

Tied for first prize were Florida and Georgia, whose sites did an excellent job of providing clear procedures and protections for whistleblowers. Next up were Maine, Connecticut, and Texas, whose websites all did a good job of making the whistleblower's job just a little bit easier.

Perhaps the webmaster for Iowa's site on federal stimulus spending can make a few changes based on the Project on Government Oversight's recommendations (pdf file).

As for state spending on infrastructure, the I-JOBS board will choose projects to receive funds soon. The criteria for selection are clear, and state officials understand the need for transparency in the process. Once the money has been allocated, the I-JOBS website should make it easy for citizens not only to track how the money is being spent, but to report any suspected fraud, waste or abuse.

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The case for Kate Gronstal on the I-JOBS Board

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jun 01, 2009 at 03:00:00 AM CDT

Iowa Republicans are bashing Governor Chet Culver for appointing Kate Gronstal to the I-JOBS board, which will decide how to spend $118.5 million of the $830 million in I-JOBS money. Kate Gronstal is the daughter of Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal.

Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn slammed what he called "political nepotism":

"I'm sure there are thousands of qualified engineers in this state that don't raise the red flag that someone who is an immediate family member of a legislator in charge of ramming this through the Senate," Strawn said.

Since Culver "declined to respond" to Strawn's allegation, I want to lay out the case for putting Kate Gronstal on this board.

1. She is qualified for the position as a professionally trained structural engineer. It's not as if the governor put a well-connected person with no relevant experience on the board.

2. By all accounts she is smart and highly capable. People born into political families have certain doors opened for them. I'm sure Marcus Branstad had a leg up on the competition when he was starting his career in Iowa Republican circles. Who cares as long as he is good at what he does?

3. Kate Gronstal's presence on the board will subject its award process to a higher level of scrutiny. That's good.

I supported the large infrastructure bonding package because Iowa's debt load is not that high, interest rates are relatively low, and public works projects can improve the quality of life in the long term while creating jobs in the short term.

However, it is critically important that the I-JOBS money be spent wisely to benefit whole communities, not just a few wealthy developers.

Iowa Republicans never liked Culver's bonding plan, and they'll be watching for any mistakes that bolster their misleading talking points. With Kate Gronstal on the I-JOBS board, Republicans will use any unworthy project approved to highlight alleged Democratic nepotism and mismanagement.

I-JOBS has the potential to make Iowa a better place to live. Governor Culver has appointed a qualified board to administer the program. All the board members, and especially Kate Gronstal, have strong incentives to demonstrate that they can handle this responsibility.

After the jump I've posted the governor's press release containing bios for all members of the I-JOBS Board and the Accountability And Transparency Board, which will "make sure Iowa meets or exceeds the accountability and transparency requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" (also known as the federal economic stimulus bill).

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Good news for water quality in Culver's final bill signings

by: desmoinesdem

Thu May 28, 2009 at 11:45:09 AM CDT

Governor Chet Culver signed more than two dozen bills on May 26, the last day he was able to take action on legislation approved during the 2009 session. Two of the bills made up the last piece of the I-JOBS program, four more are aimed at helping veterans and Iowans on active duty, and the rest cover a wide range of issues.

Some good news for water quality was buried in the long list of bills and veto messages signed on Tuesday. For the details, follow me after the jump.

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Tax reform stalled, bonding package still moving

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Apr 17, 2009 at 12:58:17 PM CDT

I was expecting a showdown in the Iowa House this week over the tax reform package that Governor Chet Culver worked out with key Democratic legislators. Republican State Representative Chris Rants announced his intention to amend the tax bill so that marriage would be defined as between a man and a woman.

However, the tax bill never came up for a vote before legislators went home for the weekend. House Speaker Pat Murphy said on April 15 that he had only 50 votes in favor of the proposal:

According to Murphy, he had lined up 52 Democrats to vote for the bill, but two Democrats changed their minds after adjustments sought by the governor broadened the number of Iowans who would get a tax cut -- and amounted to a roughly $50 million reduction in the amount of income taxes collected.

"All we need is one person to change their mind," Murphy says. "...We're still optimistic we'll get it done before we adjourn."

Murphy is counting on Governor Chet Culver, a fellow Democrat, to help find the extra vote that will get the bill passed.

"We still believe that it is a middle class tax cut," Murphy says. "We still believe it simplifies the tax code and we are optimistic that we will pass it yet this year."

Murphy may be optimistic, but I'm feeling a sense of deja vu. Two months ago House Democrats were stuck at 50 votes for the "prevailing wage" bill heading into a weekend. The governor and legislative leaders failed to find the 51st vote to pass that measure.

If Murphy's assessment is correct, two Iowa House Democrats supported the original tax reform bill but not the deal worked out with the governor. Does anyone know who they are, and why they are refusing to get behind the revised tax bill? Do they disagree with changes to the bill, or are they spooked by pressure they are getting from anti-tax conservative activists? It would be a big mistake for the legislature to let this bill die now. Overhauling the tax system won't become politically easier during an election year.

In other economic policy news, Jason Hancock reports today that prospects look good for three bills which, combined, would approve $700 billion in bonding for infrastructure projects in Iowa. Click here for more details about the bills and what they would pay for. The main difference between this package of bills and Culver's bonding proposal is that the governor wanted $200 million from bonding to pay for roads and bridges. Legislators have specified that the bonds must be used to fund other kinds of infrastructure projects.

Many Iowa legislators wanted to pass a small gas tax increase this year and next to fund more road projects, but a veto threat from Culver killed that proposal. The federal stimulus package approved this year did include about $358 million in highway funds for Iowa (click that link for more details). I'm with legislators on this one. I'd rather see money raised through bonding used for other kinds of projects.

I am glad to see Democrats move ahead on the bonding bills despite a recent Des Moines Register poll. The poll indicated that just 24 percent supported "Governor Chet Culver's plan to borrow money to speed up public works projects," while 71 percent said the state should "pay for the projects as it has the money over time." That's a badly-worded poll question if I ever heard one. I'll bet that people who say we should only take on what we have cash for right now will change their mind once bonding money starts funding projects in their own cities and counties.

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Republican hypocrisy watch: Steve King edition

by: desmoinesdem

Sat Mar 14, 2009 at 17:58:11 PM CDT

Yesterday I posted here that Representative Tom Latham (IA-04) has been taking credit for earmarks in the 2009 omnibus spending bill that he voted against.

Alert Bleeding Heartland user frogmanjim informed me that Representative Steve King (IA-05) has been playing the same game. King's office issued an upbeat statement about $570,000 included in the economic stimulus bill that will go toward widening U.S. Highway 20 in a rural area of northwest Iowa. Of course, the statement did not mention that King voted against the stimulus. Nor did the brief news item in the Sioux City Journal.

I had a feeling that King would take credit for stimulus spending. During last year's campaign he repeatedly misled voters about his role in securing money to widen Highway 20 (see here and here).

Time for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to add Steve King's name to the Republican Hypocrisy Hall of Fame. More than 30 House Republicans have already been inducted.

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More details on highway stimulus funds coming to Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 14:52:10 PM CST

The White House released detailed information today on the $28 billion the stimulus bill directs toward highway construction. According to a press release (sorry, no link), the highway spending will "lead to 150,000 jobs saved or created by the end of 2010." An estimated 95,000 jobs would come from the "direct impact of building new roads and fixing old ones," while 55,000 jobs would come from "the economic activity generated when these new workers spend more than they would have otherwise."

It is also worth noting that jobs in highway construction tend to pay better than average. The typical, or median hourly wage for all jobs in the economy was $15.10 in 2007 according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But for workers in the highway industry, the typical hourly wage was $18.31, a premium of over $3 per hour over the economy-wide median wage.

Looking more closely at different types of jobs within the industry helps to explain the difference. The median wage of blue collar, or production workers-folks who do jobs like welding and mixing-comes to about $16 per hour in highway construction compared to about $13.50 in the overall economy.

This page at Recovery.gov has a map you can use to see how much money in highway funds will go to individual states.

Iowa is slated to receive about $358 million, of which about $240 million can be used in any part of the state.

The remaining money is to be allocated as follows: $10.7 million for "mandatory transportation enhancements," $20.8 million for use in urban areas, $73.2 million for use in suburban areas and $13.4 million for use in rural areas. (By the way, "'enhancement' is a legally defined term for projects such as sidewalk repairs, bicycle paths, and beautification projects.")

Decisions within each state on where to spend the money need to be made quickly:

Parts of the allocation are set aside to make sure that urban, suburban, and rural areas alike all get a share. But since local leaders -- mayors and governors -- know their communities best, much of the money is left to states' discretion. And if states don't use it, they lose it. To make sure that funds go out quickly to give our economy the jolt it needs, states have 120 days to assign the funds to specific projects.

As a rule, federal highway funds tend to go toward new road construction, but it would be better to direct the stimulus funds primarily toward fixing the roads and bridges we have. Repairing crumbling roads and bridges improves safety, the quality of life and property values in existing neighborhoods. Building new roads stimulates sprawl without solving traffic congestion problems.

Sprawling development also increases "vehicle miles traveled" per capita and consequently greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Spending stimulus highway money on a "fix-it-first basis" would not only be wise, but also popular. As I mentioned in my previous post, a national survey by Hart Research Associates, released last week, found that "An overwhelming majority of Americans believe restoring existing roads and bridges and expanding transportation options should take precedence over building new roads [...]."

Here's hoping Iowa transportation officials will spend the stimulus money wisely.

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Action: Public meeting on transportation policy tonight

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Mar 03, 2009 at 08:00:36 AM CST

I didn't know about this event when I posted my weekly calendar, but I received an action alert from 1000 Friends of Iowa about an important meeting tonight in Des Moines. The full action alert is after the jump, including details on the place and time. Here is an excerpt:

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) & the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) have scheduled a Public Input Meeting to gather comments from citizens regarding the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's (DMAMPO) transportation planning process.

Every four years the FHWA & the FTA conduct a certification review of the DMAMPO. The review evaluates the effectiveness of the DMAMPO's transportation planning process, and ensures federal guidelines are being followed. Each MPO is required to solicit and utilize citizen input in local transportation decisions. If citizen input isn't resulting in changes that reflect the unique transportation needs of the community, the public participation process must be adjusted to make certain it does. [...]

The experience of 1000 Friends of Iowa is that the FHA pays attention to the comments of citizens. In the 2005 Transportation Planning Certification Review Summary Report under "Overview of Findings From the 2005 Certification Review", the FHWA & FTA noted that "The Year 2030 Long-Range Transportation Plan appears to be a collection of local transportation desires rather than a document offering a regional focus for the Des Moines metropolitan area's future transportation system. The Plan needs to provide a regional vision, rather than just serve as a compilation of local priorities."  

(emphasis added) With federal stimulus dollars on the way and the state of Iowa potentially
issuing new bonds to pay for infrastructure, it is critical that we not blindly follow a bunch of local wish lists for new roads. We should fix what we have first.

Speaking of which, a new national survey by Hart Research Associates found that

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe restoring existing roads and bridges and expanding transportation options should take precedence over building new roads [...]

To accommodate future U.S. population growth, which is expected to increase by 100 million by 2050, Americans favor improving intercity rail and transit, walking and biking over building new highways. When asked what the federal government's top priority should be for 2009 transportation funding, half of all respondents recommended maintaining and repairing roads and bridges, while nearly one third said "expanding and improving bus, rail, and other public transportation." Only 16 percent said "expanding and improving roads, highways, freeways and bridges."

When asked about approaches to addressing traffic, 47 percent preferred improving public transportation, 25 percent chose building communities that encourage people not to drive, and 20 percent preferred building new roads. fifty-six percent of those surveyed believe the federal government is not devoting enough attention to trains and light rail systems, and three out of four favor improving intercity rail and transit.

Transportation for America, a new coalition of more than 225 organizations, has called on President Barack Obama and Congress to "launch a new federal transportation mission." The federal transportation program comes up for reauthorization in Congress later this year.

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More details on what's in the stimulus for Iowa

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 17, 2009 at 15:02:54 PM CST

As President Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill in Denver,

The White House today released state-specific details on the local impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a nationwide effort to create jobs, jumpstart growth and transform our economy to compete in the 21st century. The compromise package of $789 billion will create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years. Jobs created will be in a range of industries from clean energy to health care, with over 90% in the private sector.

Below are links to tables and fact sheets outlining the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The estimates are derived from an analysis of the overall employment impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act conducted by Christina Romer, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, Chief Economist for the Vice President, and detailed estimates of the working age population, employment, and industrial composition of each state.

Note: all of the links below are to pdf files.

Overview on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on Working Families

Employment Numbers by State

Employment Numbers by Congressional district

Education Fact Sheet

Energy Fact Sheet

Health Care Fact Sheet

Infrastructure Fact Sheet

I have not had time to read these documents yet. Please use this comment thread to write about what you like and don't like about the stimulus.

Note: while House Republican leaders proudly proclaim that no one in their caucus voted for the stimulus, I heard on the news this morning that 22 of the 24 Republican governors support the bill.

That's the difference between someone whose main task is to build an electoral comeback on Democratic failure and someone who has to govern in this difficult economy.

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Open thread on good news and bad news in the stimulus bill

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 14:01:18 PM CST

It didn't take long for representatives and senators to reach a compromise on a $790 billion stimulus bill. Chris Bowers posted a good summary of the bill at Open Left. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's selling point is that the bill that came out of conference creates more jobs than the original Senate bill while spending less money than the original House bill.

I don't believe the bill is large enough to do the job it's supposed to do, especially since it still contains costly measures that won't stimulate the economy much (such as fixing the alternative minimum tax, which hits high-income Americans).

I hope President Barack Obama will take a tougher line in future negotiations with Congress. He did too much pre-compromising with Republicans, to the detriment of the final bill. His original suggestion of an $800 billion price tag for the stimulus, seen by some as a "floor" that would increase when Congress got to work, became a "ceiling" above which any bill was viewed as too expensive.

He also included too many non-stimulative tax cuts in his original proposal to Congress. Predictably, Republicans demanded (and got) even more concessions, even though none of them voted for the bill in the House and only three voted for it in the Senate.

Bowers noticed one Q and A from Obama's prime-time press conference the other night, which hints that the president learned a lesson about negotiating from this experience.

Bowers believes that "The deal isn't perfect, but it is still probably the best piece of legislation to pass Congress in, oh, 15 or 16 years."

David Sirota is also mostly pleased:

I'm not happy that the stimulus bill was made less stimulative by reactionary Republicans and embarrassingly incoherent Democrats. I'm also not happy that direct spending on infrastructure/social programs comprises a miniscule 4.6% of all the government funds spent to deal with this economic crisis. However, considering how far progressives have pushed the debate, I'd say the deal on the economic stimulus package is a huge victory.

Remember, only months ago, the incoming administration and the Congress were talking about passing a stimulus bill at around $350 billion. Remember, too, that Obama started out pushing a stimulus package chock full of odious tax cuts. Now, we've got a bill that's $790 billion (including a sizable downpayment for major progressive priorities) and stripped of the worst tax cuts.

Your opinion of the stimulus may depend on which issues you care about most. Open Left user WI Dem noticed that the compromise bill included more funding for high-speed rail but less for urban public transit, which "has a far greater effect on CO2 [emissions] and on people's daily lives."

Via the twitter feed of Daily Iowan opinion writers, I found this piece by Climate Progress on "what's green" in the stimulus compromise.

The Republican Party is already planning to run ads against 30 Democrats who will vote for the stimulus. It makes sense for the GOP to bet against the stimulus, because they won't get credit if it succeeds, and their best hope for a comeback in the next election cycle is for Democrats to fail. The main risk for them is that if the stimulus package succeeds, the upcoming advertising campaign people could make more people remember that Republicans tried to stand in its way.

Speaking of Republican propaganda, contrary to what your wingnut friends may tell you, the stimulus bill does not earmark $30 million to save "Nancy Pelosi's mouse." It does include some funding for federal wetlands restoration, however.

UPDATE: TPM's Elana Schor provides surprising proof that no politician is wrong 100 percent of the time. Apparently Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma got a $2 billion "clean coal" earmark out of the stimulus bill.

Greg Sargent explains how "Pelosi's mouse" went from fabrication to talking point for right-wing television pundits.

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Grassley names his price

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Feb 05, 2009 at 10:22:56 AM CST

I learned at Iowa Independent that Senator Chuck Grassley told reporters on Wednesday that he would vote for the economic stimulus "regardless of what else is in the bill" if the Senate approved an amendment providing for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 4 percent interest.

He remained critical of the spending in the bill:

"People at the grassroots see it as a lot of spending and not very much stimulus," Grassley said. "Somebody thinks they're fooling the people of this country with this package, but they aren't."

Senator Tom Harkin's office put out a statement on Tuesday listing some of the proposed spending that would benefit Iowans:

February 3, 2009

HARKIN: $1.5 BILLION INCLUDED FOR IOWA IN SENATE STIMULUS PACKAGE

Washington,  D.C. - U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today announced that there are more than $1.5 billion in critical investments for  Iowa included in the Senate version of The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These investments will create and save jobs; help with budget shortfalls to prevent deep cuts in basic services such as health, education, and law enforcement; cut taxes for working families and invest in the long-term health of our economy.

"The economy is now shedding an average of 17,000 jobs a day, and new foreclosures average 9,000 a day.  We are facing what could be the deepest, longest recession since the Great Depression.  We must act quickly and boldly,"  said Harkin.  "This bill will create jobs now while also laying the foundation for a stronger economy that works for all Americans in the future."

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $888 billion in investments and tax cuts.  Of this total, $694 billion will enter the economy by the end of Fiscal year 2010, meaning that 78 percent of the monies allocated will reach the American people by September 30, 2010, providing an immediate boost to the overall economy and creating an estimated four million jobs nationwide.

Below are the approximate investments Iowa could see if the Senate bill is passed and signed into law by the president.  These amounts only include major accounts that are allocated by formula, and do not include the considerable funds that will be allocated competitively by the executive branch.

Nutrition Programs

·         $2.3 million for School Lunch Programs
·         $109 million for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
·         $776,000 for the Emergency Food Assistance Program
Homeland Security Programs

·         $639,000 for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program
Clean Water Programs

·         $24 million for the Drinking Water Fund
·         $54 million for the Clean Water Fund
Transportation Funding

·         $389 million for  Iowa 's Highway fund
·         $46 million for Transit Funding
Housing Programs

·         $7.6 million for public housing capital
·         $14.8 million for HOME funding
·         $16.8 million for homelessness prevention
Law Enforcement / Crime funding

·         $14 million for Byrne/JAG funding
·         $978,000 for crime victim programs
·         $1 million to protect children against internet crimes
·         $3.2 million to assist women who are victims of violence
Energy Programs

·         $6.6 million for  Iowa 's energy program
·         $48.6 million for weatherization programs
Labor, Health and Human Service and Education Programs

·         $18.1 million for Child Care and Development Block Grants
·         $5.2 million for Head Start
·         $625.6 million for the state stabilization fund
·         $65.4 million for Title 1 programs
·         $140.1 million for Special Education Part B Grants
·         $46.1 million for Higher Education Facilities
·         $1.6 million for Adult Employment and Training

·         $78.7 million for School modernization
·         $5 million for education technology
·         $2.2 million for Community Service Block Grants
·         $441,000 for Senior Meals
·         $3.9 million for Employment Service Grants
·         $5 million for Dislocated Worker Grants
·         $5.4 million for vocational rehabilitation programs
·         $7.2 million for immunization programs
 

Some of these programs yield more "bang for the buck" than others, and there's an argument to be made that the stimulus bill has too much of a grab-bag quality. Yesterday Daily Kos user TocqueDeville lamented the fact that Democrats put together a spending bill instead of "a big, unifying vision for the future - a Rebuilding America Act." I agree with much of the critique and would have liked to see some different spending priorities.

That said, even an imperfect spending bill will do more to stimulate the economy than the tax cuts favored by Republicans.

I don't know the specifics of the amendment Grassley supports, but in general making low-rate mortgages more accessible would be good. It was stupid as well as unethical for Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and other wise men of Wall Street to encourage so many Americans to buy adjustable-rate mortgages.

I was surprised to see Grassley say that the low-rate mortgage provision would be enough to win his vote for the stimulus. Senator Judd Gregg got a post in Barack Obama's cabinet and still won't vote for the bill.

If Grassley ends up voting yes on the stimulus, the wingnuts will go ballistic, but what can they do other than add a line to Grassley's entry on the Iowa Defense Alliance "Wall of Shame"?

In other stimulus-related news, Obama published an op-ed in the Washington Post making the case for this package. Excerpt:

This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for America's long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it's a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent.

In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.

I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.

It's a start, but I agree with early Obama supporter Theda Skocpol. Obama mishandled this effort by making bipartisanship (instead of saving the economy) his measure of success. He can undo some of the damage by going directly to the people to make the case for the stimulus. But unfortunately, the Republicans still have the upper hand if they vote against the bill and blame the president for not giving them enough input.

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