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state bonding

Republican hypocrisy watch: Pawlenty and Culver edition (updated)

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Aug 03, 2010 at 08:11:04 AM CDT

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty toured eastern Iowa over the weekend to raise money for several Iowa House Republican leaders and state Senate candidate Bill Dix. It was his fourth Iowa trip during the past year. Since Pawlenty is laying the groundwork for a future presidential bid, journalists covering his latest visit focused on what he is doing for Iowa Republicans, as well as his views on foreign policy, government spending and the economy.

I'm more interested in the way Iowa Republicans embraced Pawlenty. Naturally, they liked his message about retaking the state legislature, and GOP House leaders can really use the campaign cash. But it's surreal to watch Republicans promise their serious consideration for Pawlenty as a presidential candidate when you compare his record with the case conservatives make against Iowa Governor Chet Culver.

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Exploring Paul McKinley's fantasy world

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Jul 12, 2010 at 06:20:00 AM CDT

If Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley believes the spin he serves up to journalists and the Republican Party faithful, he must have an active imagination.

I don't know which is most detached from reality: McKinley's take on Iowa's finances, his views on "state sovereignty" or his election predictions.

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Don't believe everything Republicans tell you about I-JOBS

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Feb 05, 2010 at 07:59:13 AM CST

Iowa Republicans have been throwing around misleading talking points about the I-JOBS program since the Iowa legislature approved the infrastructure bonding initiative last spring. I'm still waiting for Republicans to address some basic questions, like where would they have found $45 million for flood recovery efforts in Linn County without I-JOBS? What was their plan for repairing ten flood-damaged structures at the University of Iowa, if they didn't want to issue $100 million in state bonds to leverage $500 million in federal funds to rebuild the campus?

Some Republicans have called for delaying infrastructure projects until we have enough cash to pay for them up front, but Iowa's worst-ever flooding hit the state during the most severe national recession since World War II. There was no realistic way to pay for flood recovery efforts without state borrowing. Even David Yepsen, a notorious skeptic about state spending, could see that. During the summer of 2008, Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson pointed out, "When you borrow money, that allows you to fix things as quickly as possible," he said. "You can't move as quickly on a 'pay-as-you go' basis." Yet every Republican in the legislature voted against borrowing money to repair the damage from the devastating 2008 floods.

In addition to the flood recovery funds allocated to Linn County and the University of Iowa, the I-JOBS program included $118.5 million for "reconstruction of local public buildings and flood control prevention," to be awarded by competitive grants. It wasn't enough to fully meet local infrastructure needs across the state; requests for that portion of the I-JOBS money totaled $333.6 million. But it was a good start.

Republicans recently seized on a new talking point: some I-JOBS money is supposedly being spent on projects unrelated to disaster recovery. By way of example, State Representative Pat Grassley mentioned the community center in the Des Moines suburb of Windsor Heights. I contacted Windsor Heights City Manager Marketa George Oliver about this allegation, and she forwarded a copy of a letter from Mayor Jerry Sullivan to Grassley. You can view the whole letter here, but the small print is hard to read, so here's the relevant excerpt (emphasis in original):

The City is currently constructing a new Community Center. The structure that used to be in [Colby Park] at this location was originally built in a flood plain and was repeatedly flooded. It sustained flood damage year after year and flood after flood. The new structure is being built out of the flood plain and protected from any future flooding, mitigating the effects of a natural disaster. The Center, once finished, will be a heating/cooling facility in the event of prolonged power outages, which is much-needed in our region. In the event of natural disasters, it will also be available as temporary housing. [...]

The I-Jobs program gave us the ability to make a substantial investment in mitigating and responding to natural disasters. The program was also able to support our efforts in a timely manner, unlike many other grants programs.

Oliver explained to me that a heating/cooling center is a place residents without power can go during a cold spell or dangerous heat wave.

Republicans will continue to attack the I-JOBS program during this year's campaigns for governor and state legislature. Democrats need to be ready to defend these infrastructure investments, because journalists will sometimes pass along ill-informed claims like Grassley's without providing context or an opposing view. In addition, some Republican candidates may falsely suggest that I-JOBS pays for ongoing spending programs instead of capital projects, like bridge and sewer repairs. Maybe they are thinking of Republican Terry Branstad, who borrowed money to solve the state's cash flow problems in 1992.

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Iowa Senate approves government reorganization bill

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Feb 02, 2010 at 10:06:04 AM CST

Last night the Iowa Senate passed Senate File 2088, which would reorganize state government, after four hours of debate. All 32 Democrats in the chamber voted for the bill, along with three Republicans: Shawn Hamerlinck, Larry Noble and Pat Ward.

Click here for the full text of the bill. According to analysis by the Legislative Services Agency, Senate File 2088 would reduce state spending from the general fund by $74 million in fiscal year 2011 and $36 million the following year (here's the link to the fiscal note on the bill). In addition, "Other funds, including local government pots of money, would save $44 million next budget year and just under $14 million the following year." Jennifer Jacobs posted some of the key provisions and amendments at the Des Moines Register's blog.

Unlike the 1985 state government reorganization, the current bill does not merge any state agencies. It doesn't close any of Iowa's four mental health institutes, but downsizes the one at Clarinda. That switch outraged legislators from southwest Iowa, because the Iowa Department of Human Services had recommended closing the Mount Pleasant Mental Health Institute in southeast Iowa instead.

Senate File 2088 requires bulk purchasing and centralized payroll and technology systems for most state agencies but exempts the three state universities from those provisions.

Rod Boshart recapped one of the more contentious episodes during last night's debate:

The debate stalled when 11 majority Democrats joined the 18-member GOP minority in supporting an amendment to block a proposal to move the community empowerment program for early childhood education from the neutral state Department of Management to the Department of Education.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, switched his vote to be on the prevailing side then called a closed-door caucus after which senators voted 31-19 to reconsider the issue and approve the move of empowerment to the education agency by a 27-23 margin.

I wasn't familiar with the Iowa Community Empowerment program, which is geared toward families with children under age six. Since early education programs are part of the Iowa Empowerment Board's mission, it seems logical to bring the program to the Department of Education.

The original bill had eliminated the Property Assessment Appeal Board, but an amendment to keep that body intact passed by 46 to 4. Politically, that was a smart vote for the senators. Many Iowans are likely to see property tax increases this year, so it's not a good time to make it more difficult for citizens to challenge their assessments.

Several Republicans have expressed doubt that the bill would guarantee the promised savings. Democrats rejected a number of Republican amendments, including one that would have increased health insurance costs for state employees and one that would have required a two-thirds vote in the legislature to approve any state bonding. (Such a threshold would have prevented last year's passage of the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative.) A complete bill history, including all amendments considered, is here.

Earlier in this session, the Iowa Senate approved Senate File 2062, a separate bill on early retirement incentives. That measure is expected to save about $57.4 million in fiscal year 2011, "including a $26.4 million savings to the state's general fund." That bill passed on a bipartisan 41-7 vote. The full text is here, and the bill history is here.

UPDATE: Over at Iowa Independent, Lynda Waddington reports,

Mental health advocates haven't gotten everything they wanted in relation to new state policies governing psychiatric medications for individuals receiving state assistance. But they scored a big win Monday night when the Iowa Senate approved new language that ensures existing patients' medications won't be automatically switched in order to save the state money.

Read her whole story for more details and background.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Jan 08, 2010 at 08:08:56 AM CST

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor's race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state's major events of the decade.

After the jump I've posted links to Bleeding Heartland's coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn't manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent's compilation of "Iowa's most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009," as well as that blog's review of "stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010."

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We have a candidate in House district 37

by: desmoinesdem

Fri Dec 11, 2009 at 14:41:57 PM CST

2008 was a good election for Iowa Democrats, but we still lost several very close statehouse races. In House district 37 (map here), Republican Renee Schulte defeated first-term incumbent Art Staed by 13 votes (0.07 percent).

This week Cedar Rapids attorney Mark Seidl announced his plans to run in this district and laid out his priorities:

"Although no one would have wished for any of them, the natural, fiscal, and economic disasters that have struck us in recent years present unique opportunities for rethinking each level of our government," Seidl said.  "In going forward, we must concentrate on reconstituting and enhancing our advantages-recreating two cities which are an essential part of Iowa's character, conserving our tremendous natural resources in agriculture and renewable energy production, and preparing the next generation of Iowans to be leaders and innovators in the future."

This district is winnable in light of Schulte's tiny margin of victory and a slight Democratic voter registration advantage. Nevertheless, Seidl will need to pound the pavement to win back this seat. Schulte is a hard worker who was out door-knocking last Friday, 11 months before the election when the temperature was in the 20s. Also, Schulte may benefit from an "enthusiasm gap" if Democratic voters are demoralized and Republicans energized next November.

Schulte bucked the majority of her party by voting for a bill that allowed authorities to impose a local option sales tax in disaster areas. Linn County voters approved the 1-cent tax in March, and the proposal received a majority of votes in Cedar Rapids as a whole. I don't know whether it carried the Cedar Rapids precincts that are in House district 37.

Like other House Republicans, Schulte voted against the I-JOBS state bonding initiative, which allocated $45 million to Linn County for disaster relief (here is how that money was allocated).

I suspect that in this district, much will depend on how voters perceive the effectiveness of the state's response to the 2008 floods.

UPDATE: Schulte is already organizing volunteers to help with voter contacts. We will need all hands on deck in this district.

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Revisionist history watch: Branstad budget edition

by: desmoinesdem

Mon Dec 07, 2009 at 11:55:02 AM CST

The editors of the conservative Fort Dodge Messenger are ecstatic about Terry Branstad's gubernatorial campaign, and they got a little carried away in this Sunday editorial:

Iowa must return to a pay-as-you-go approach to budgeting. Government spending should be carefully aligned with anticipated revenues. As governor, Branstad rigorously adhered to that philosophy. He pledged it will once again become central to state budgeting if he is elected.

Who are they kidding?

Branstad's sleight of hand on the budget was so notorious that as a three-term incumbent, he almost lost the 1994 GOP primary to Fred Grandy. That campaign centered on "the Mastercard governor" and his record of fiscal mismanagement, including keeping two sets of books to hide deficits.

As State Representative Chris Rants has noted, Branstad likes to take credit for budget reforms that were not his idea and were intended to prevent future governors from repeating his mistakes.

That's to be expected from a politician, but I expect more reality-based commentary from newspaper editors.

By the way, did you notice how the Messenger editors suggested that Iowa is no longer doing "pay as you go" budgeting? That Republican talking point is supposed to make people believe that Democrats have borrowed money to fund budget line items. In fact, the I-JOBS state bonding program was for capital investment projects. Investors understood that distinction. That's why the bonds were sold at lower interest rates, and the Bond Buyer daily rated I-JOBS one of the country's top 10 best financing deals for 2009.

Even after factoring in the I-JOBS program, Iowa's state debt per capita is low by national standards.

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Republicans trying to have it both ways on I-JOBS

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Nov 11, 2009 at 11:21:01 AM CST

Attacking Governor Chet Culver's I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative continues to be a staple of Republican Party rhetoric. I've written about the GOP's misleading talking points before, but State Representative Chris Rants added a new twist at last night's fundraising dinner in Scott County. Not long ago, Rants altered his stump speech to complain about Sergeant Bluff receiving an I-JOBS grant while Culver's recent across-the-board budget cuts will cost the community a larger amount. Speaking to a crowd of 300 in Bettendorf, Rants put a local spin on this story:

Rants began his remarks by sharing the story about Lt. Governor Patty Judge coming to Sergeant Bluff, a town that Rants represents, to give them an I-Jobs grant to refurbish the city hall. Rants then told the audience, "What Patty Judge giveth, Chet Culver taketh away." Rants then told the crowd that Culver's fiscal mismanagement will force the Sergeant Bluff school district to increase property taxes by over $400,000.

Rants then asked if anyone in the room knew what Governor Culver's budget cuts were going to cost the property tax payers in the Davenport School district. Rants informed them that the cost will be $7.6 million. He also drove home the point that, while Sergeant Bluff received $250,000 I-Jobs grant to remodel their city hall, the city of Davenport has not received any I-Jobs money for its big sewer project. Rants' ability to talk about local issues played well with the audience. Of all the candidate speeches, Rants was the one candidate who grabbed everyone's attention.

It is clever for Rants to capitalize on local resentment about I-JOBS. Although entities in Scott County have received more than $5 million in I-JOBS grants, officials in the Quad City area have understandably been frustrated by the lack of I-JOBS support for Davenport's sewer and flood prevention projects.

What Rants glosses over is that without I-JOBS, unmet needs for infrastructure improvements would be even greater. The I-JOBS program includes $118.5 million for flood prevention and reconstructing buildings in communities affected by last year's flooding. But requests for that portion of the I-JOBS money totaled $333.6 million.

I-JOBS allocated $80 million for water quality improvements, including sewer construction and repair. Substandard and outdated sewer systems are a huge environmental problem in Iowa, as the Des Moines Register's Perry Beeman and Chase Davis chronicled last week here and here. Iowa has more than 500 unsewered communities. At least I-JOBS and the federal stimulus package will help make a dent in this problem.

Rants wants to have it both ways, criticizing Culver for borrowing while claiming the governor's program hasn't done enough for Scott County. If Republicans in Congress and the state legislature had had their way, Iowa cities and towns would not be getting any help this year for improving their sewage systems.

I have yet to hear Rants or any Republican candidate explain how they would have paid for flood recovery projects without state borrowing. For instance, I-JOBS included $100 million targeted for the University of Iowa, which unlocked $500 million in federal funding to help rebuild flood-damaged buildings on campus. How would Republicans have addressed this problem? Would they have turned down the federal funding, and if not, where would they have found $100 million to match the federal dollars?

Linn County received $45 million from I-JOBS for flood recovery. That's in addition to money raised from the local-option sales tax (which most Republicans opposed). How would Republican candidates have paid for flood recovery in the Cedar Rapids area without I-JOBS?

Terry Branstad's criticism of I-JOBS reaches a special level of hypocrisy. He asserted on Saturday night, "Too much debt is bad and those that create it should be thrown out of office." But while he was governor, Branstad used state bonding several times, and his total borrowing in inflation-adjusted dollars was larger than the I-JOBS program. After the jump I've posted a press release from the Iowa Democratic Party, which contains more details about Branstad's use of state bonding.

It's also worth noting that interest rates are currently near historic lows. That, coupled with Iowa's rock-solid bond rating, reduced the cost of the I-JOBS borrowing. I would wager that the state had to pay higher interest rates on bonds issued while Branstad was governor.

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16 public shelters receive I-JOBS funding

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Sep 01, 2009 at 15:28:45 PM CDT

I saw on Radio Iowa's site that 16 shelters serving the homeless and victims of family violence will receive a total of $10 million through the I-JOBS state bonding initiative.

Grants will provide approximately half the funding to build new shelters in Des Moines, Iowa City, and Sioux Center. The other grants will pay for almost all of the renovation costs at 13 shelters in Muscatine, Dubuque, Mason City, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Waverly, Boone, Davenport, and Burlington. Click here for more details about the 16 shelter projects.

According to the governor's office,

Last year, more than 17,000 people sought help at Iowa's shelters. Nearly 8,000 of these clients were members of families, and close to 40% of them were children.

The need is greater this year, probably because of the recession and growing number of foreclosures. From the Radio Iowa report:  

Tim Wilson, executive director of the shelter in Cedar Rapids, says there is an increased demand for services. "We have been very full from the spring through the summer on the men's beds and particularly the family units. Lately, we've been turning away many more people than we can actually accommodate," Wilson said.

Iowa Republicans keep bashing the I-JOBS program, but their false advertising and misleading talking points aren't doing a thing to help the thousands of Iowans who need shelters during these tough times.

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Fake objectivity in action

by: desmoinesdem

Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 10:00:00 AM CDT

Disappointing stuff from Lynn Campbell of IowaPolitics.com:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong has refused to take down his statewide radio ad, despite complaints and threats of legal action by the Iowa Democratic Party.

"We have no intention to take down the ad," Marlys Popma, Fong's campaign manager, told IowaPolitics.com today. "We're very confident that everything in the ad is completely accurate."

Fong on Monday launched the 60-second ad called "Iowa Dream" that focuses on introducing himself and outlining his story for Iowa Republicans, but also says: "We have a state government that borrowed almost a billion dollars to pay its bills." Popma said the $830 million I-JOBS program will actually cost the state about $1.4 billion by the time it's paid off.

Campbell goes on to quote Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan's statement calling the ad "materially false and misleading." Finally, Campbell quotes Popma as saying the Fong campaign hasn't heard directly from the Iowa Democratic Party.

This is a perfect example of bogus "objective" journalism that offers readers nothing but "he said/she said." If Campbell has spent even 10 seconds wondering whether the state of Iowa is borrowing a billion dollars to pay its bills, you'd never know it from her story.

Yet Fong's claim can be disproved by minute or two of online research. The I-JOBS program is funding special infrastructure projects, not line items from the budget. If Iowa were borrowing money to meet ongoing spending commitments, the state would not have a AAA bond rating, and the I-JOBS bonds would not have a AA rating.  

For whatever reason, Campbell makes this story about Republican confidence and Democratic "complaints" instead of about the accuracy of Fong's ad.

I recommend that the folks at IowaPolitics.com read this piece by Philip Meyer on "The Next Journalism's Objective Reporting." Excerpt:

True objectivity is based on method, not result. Instead of implying that there is an equal amount of weight to be accorded every side, the objective investigator makes an effort to evaluate the competing viewpoints. The methods of investigation keep the reporter from being misled by his or her own desires and prejudices.
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Comparing Branstad and Culver: budgets and floods

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 22, 2009 at 08:46:02 AM CDT

I stand by my prediction that former Governor Terry Branstad will not seek his old job again, but I can't resist responding to these comments by Republican blogger Constitution Daily:

Now back to Branstad, his credentials as a governor are amazingly good. He governed during the farm crisis and floods of 1993, all while balancing a budget and even having a surplus. [...]

Branstad against Culver will be a great campaign. Culver has shown no leadership skills even within his own Party. The flood will be a defining issue. Branstad led us through that with ease where Culver still has us wading through the muck. Culver has no excuses and no one to shift blame to. This is a big advantage for Branstad.

Also with Culver, the budget is massively in the red. Whether or not you agree, the perception is that Branstad always had a balanced budget and didn't grow government. That is what people want and dream of returning to. Can you imagine the debates between the two? How would Branstad not come out smelling like a rose not just on rhetoric but actual experience?

If Constitution Daily is old enough to have been politically aware during Branstad's tenure, he is suffering from serious memory loss. I'll explain why after the jump.

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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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Christian Fong dusts off Obama's playbook

by: desmoinesdem

Tue Jul 07, 2009 at 11:43:26 AM CDT

Given Barack Obama's Iowa caucus breakthrough and convincing general-election victory here, it was only a matter of time before someone else built an Iowa campaign around his strategy. I didn't count on a Republican being the first person to try, though.

Enter Christian Fong, who made the Republican race for governor a lot more interesting last week.

Some early impressions of Fong's personal narrative, political rhetoric and electoral prospects are after the jump.  

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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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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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