Higher Education Economic Impact Studies Are Usually Hooey

ISU economist Dave Swenson returns to the important topic of exaggerated claims about job creation and other economic impacts. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The Iowa Department of Education released a study recently claiming Iowa’s community colleges support $5.4 billion in income and 107,170 jobs in Iowa.

The claim is ludicrous, and I’ll get to the details in a bit, but it is on par with a range of private and public economic impact studies of higher education that contort econometric methods in ways never intended in order to provide ever-desperate college and university administrators with economy-benefiting claims that wow legislators and garner public support.

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Iowa attorney general: Outside counsel should defend collective bargaining law

To “avoid any questions about a potential conflict,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller will request that outside legal counsel defend the state against a public employee union’s legal challenge to Iowa’s new collective bargaining law. AFSCME, the largest labor union representing state workers, and four of its members filed suit on February 20, charging that House File 291 violates Iowa constitutional provisions on equal protection and non-interference in contracts. In a statement I enclose in full below, Miller said he will ask the Iowa Executive Council to approve other counsel for this case, because “the new collective bargaining law has the potential to existentially threaten the viability of public sector unions,” which have supported him in past campaigns.

The council is likely to approve Miller’s request. Its five members are Governor Terry Branstad, Secretary of State Paul Pate, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and State Auditor Mary Mosiman. Branstad’s spokesperson Ben Hammes told Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press, “[Miller] summed it up when he said that AFSCME had supported him in the past and he wants to avoid any questions about a potential conflict.”

The Attorney General’s Office defended the Branstad administration against a lawsuit challenging the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home, for which AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan was a plaintiff. But outside counsel defended the state when Democratic lawmakers and Homan challenged the governor’s use of line-item vetoes to close Iowa Workforce Development offices.

Miller may need to ask outside counsel to be appointed if other labor unions and public employees file additional lawsuits challenging the collective bargaining law. Aside from the points raised by AFSCME, several other provisions may raise constitutional questions:

• The law bans automatic payroll deductions for labor union dues, while allowing such deductions to continue for professional association memberships or recurring charitable contributions.

• The law may violate free association rights by requiring unions to win a majority of all eligible voters, not just those who cast ballots, in order to stay certified.

• The law eliminates a quid pro quo contained in the first paragraph of Chapter 20, which could be seen as a due process violation.

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Read the first lawsuit challenging Iowa's horrible new collective bargaining law

AFSCME Iowa Council 61 and four of its members filed suit today in Polk County District Court, saying the collective bargaining law Governor Terry Branstad signed on Friday is unconstitutional. I enclose below the petition filed on behalf of Iowa’s largest union representing state employees, as well as the plaintiffs’ request for expedited hearing. The filing repeatedly refers to “the amendments” because House File 291 amended Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code, which has regulated collective bargaining since 1974.

The new law’s disparate treatment of “public safety workers” and other public employees is the central issue raised in AFSCME’s lawsuit. Plaintiffs argue that Article I, section 6 of the Iowa Constitution requires that “all laws of a general nature shall have a uniform operation” and that the legislature “shall not grant to any citizen, or class of citizens, privileges or immunities, which, upon the same terms shall not equally belong to all citizens.” All four individual plaintiffs fail to qualify as “public safety workers,” and therefore have lost almost all meaningful collective bargaining rights, even though some of their occupations are as dangerous or more so, compared to some of the “public safety” jobs. Johnathon Good is a corrections officer, Ryan De Vries is a police officer III, Terra Kinney is a motor vehicle enforcement officer, and Susan Baker is a drafter for the University of Northern Iowa. Excerpt from page 7 of the petition:

The arbitrary definition of “Public Safety Employee,” the arbitrary classification of public employees as “Public Safety Employees” or other public employees and the arbitrary classification of bargaining units into those whose members are at least thirty percent “Public Safety Employees” and those whose members are not which are included in the Amendments deprive Officer Good, Officer De Vries, and Ms. Baker of the constitutional guaranty of equality of all before the law that is set forth in Art. I, § 6 of the Iowa Constitution.

The petition also argues that “transition procedures” altering and terminating bargaining procedures and schedules established in the union contracts violate Article I, section 21 of the Iowa Constitution, which prohibits passing a “law impairing the obligation of contracts.”

Before the text of House File 291 became public, Republican lawmakers were rumored to be at odds over whether to exempt “public safety workers” from most of the new restrictions on collective bargaining. Supposedly Iowa House Republicans opposed that division, while key GOP senators wanted to copy the political strategy used in Wisconsin six years ago. The collective bargaining bill Iowa House Republicans approved in 2011 did not treat law enforcement officers or firefighters differently from other public employees.

Sources in Iowa’s labor community expect other lawsuits challenging the collective bargaining law to be filed later this year. The two main union-busting provisions are seen as particularly ripe for challenge: onerous election requirements for unions to stay certified, and a ban on automatic payroll deductions for union members, even though employees will still be able to automatically deduct membership fees in other professional associations and recurring charitable donations. Neither provision was part of the 2011 Iowa House collective bargaining bill.

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A year's worth of guest posts, plus tips for guest authors

One of my blogging new year’s resolutions for 2016 was to publish more work by other authors, and I’m grateful to the many talented writers who helped me meet that goal. After the jump I’ve linked to all 140 guest posts published here last year.

I encourage readers to consider writing for this site in 2017. Guest authors can write about any political issue of local, state, or national importance. As you can see from the stories enclosed below, a wide range of topics and perspectives are welcome here.

Pieces can be short or long, funny or sad. You can write in a detached voice or let your emotions show.

Posts can analyze what happened or advocate for what should happen, either in terms of public policy or a political strategy for Democrats. Authors can share first-person accounts of campaign events or more personal reflections about public figures.

Guest authors do not need to e-mail a draft to me or ask permission to pursue a story idea. Just register for an account (using the “sign up” link near the upper right), log in, write a post, edit as needed, and hit “submit for review” when you are ready to publish. The piece will be “pending” until I approve it for publication, to prevent spammers from using the site to sell their wares. You can write under your own name or choose any pseudonym not already claimed by another Bleeding Heartland user. I do not reveal authors’ identity without their permission.

I also want to thank everyone who comments on posts here. If you’ve never participated that way, feel free to register for a user account and share your views. If you used to comment occasionally but have not done so lately, you may need to reset your password. Let me know if you have any problems registering for an account, logging in, or changing a password. My address is near the lower right-hand corner of this page.

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Senate should demand full disclosure of Branstad donors before his confirmation

The Branstad-Reynolds Scholarship Fund, which collected money to pay for Governor Terry Branstad’s 2011 and 2015 inaugural celebrations, has not disclosed the names of donors who contributed $1.1 million in 2015, Ryan Foley reported today for the Associated Press. That information should have been included on the non-profit’s 2015 tax return. However, the return filed on November 15, 2016 named only one donor: Principal Financial Group, which gave $25,000.

Before considering Branstad’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to China, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should insist that the governor bring his non-profit into compliance with federal law. Senators should also scrutinize all donations to the group, to see whether Branstad did any political favors for individuals or businesses that bankrolled his inaugural.

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The 16 Bleeding Heartland posts I worked hardest on in 2016

For the first time last year, I put some thought into what posts had consumed the greatest amount of my energy. I realized that some of those deep dives were among my most satisfying writing projects. That new awareness informed my editorial choices in good and bad ways. Unfortunately, some election-related stories I would have covered in previous cycles didn’t get written in 2016, because I was immersed in other topics. On the plus side, those rabbit holes led to work I’m proud to have published.

Assembling this post was more challenging than last year’s version. Several pieces that would have been among my most labor-intensive in another year didn’t make the cut. A couple of posts that might have made the top ten were not ready to go before the holidays. Maybe they will end up in a future collection of seventeen posts I worked hardest on in 2017.

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