Three reasons Geri Huser should not have picked the fight the Iowa Utilities Board just lost

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The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) announced yesterday that it "has started the process to transfer funds earmarked for the Iowa Energy Center (IEC) at Iowa State University and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) at the University of Iowa." The retreat came less than a week after a spokesperson had insisted, "The board will disburse the funds when they are satisfied (the centers) have answered all the board’s questions."

Restoring the flow of money means the centers charged with promoting alternative energy and efficiency and "interdisciplinary research on the many aspects of global environmental change" no longer face possible staff layoffs or program cuts. But yesterday’s climb-down won’t erase the damage done by IUB Chair Geri Huser’s unwise and unprecedented decision to withhold funding, in the absence of any legal authority to do so. She miscalculated in three ways.

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Iowa Utilities Board Chair Geri Huser's disturbing power play

In an unprecedented and "perhaps illegal" step, Iowa Utilities Board Chair Geri Huser is "withholding funding from the state’s renewable energy research center until its leaders satisfy her questions about its programs and finances," Ryan Foley reported today for the Associated Press.

Huser’s overreach reflects a serious misunderstanding of her role as a member of the Iowa Energy Center’s advisory council. Her power play also raises questions about why Huser would go to such extraordinary lengths to disrupt activities at a center that has been promoting energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable technologies for nearly 25 years.

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New poll is testing messages and attitudes about the University of Iowa

A poll in the field this week is measuring Iowans’ views of the University of Iowa and whether certain changes would increase the perceived value of a degree from the university. The phrases enclosed below reflect what one respondent was able to recall from the survey, which lasted approximately 15 minutes.

I hope to update this post with much more detail about the question wording. If you receive this call (or any message-testing poll), please take notes and send them to the e-mail address at the bottom right of the Bleeding Heartland front page.

The survey included at least one question about the performance of the University of Iowa’s new president, Bruce Harreld. In interviews with Iowa Public Television and Iowa Public Radio today, Harreld said he has been "building trust" by meeting with as many stakeholders on campus as possible. He also endorsed a plan to seek more state funding for the university next year. Jeff Charis-Carlson reported for the Iowa City Press-Citizen on November 6 that the "faculty vitality" proposal would provide $4.5 million for recruiting new faculty and increasing salaries of tenure-track faculty during the 2017 fiscal year. Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter orchestrated adding $4.5 million to the budget request for the University of Iowa a few days after the regents hired Harreld. The move was widely perceived as an effort to placate those who disapproved of the hiring before a scheduled meeting of the Faculty Senate. Iowa Public Television’s "Iowa Press" program will broadcast the full episode with Harreld this Friday and Sunday.

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Kraig Paulsen lands sweetheart deal at Iowa State University

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When Kraig Paulsen announced plans to resign as Iowa House speaker and not seek re-election in 2016, he indicated he would continue to work as an in-house attorney for the trucking company CRST International Inc.

News broke last week that Paulsen has landed a high-paying position at Iowa State University’s College of Business. University officials waived a policy requiring such jobs to be advertised when they offered Paulsen the job, Vanessa Miller reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on November 6.

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Weekend open thread: Lousy deal-making edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

In what the Des Moines Register’s editors described as a "new low in the out-of-control race to keep or attract employers," a state board unanimously approved $4.75 million in financial assistance to Kraft Heinz, which plans to replace a large factory in Davenport with a new facility on the northwest side of town. Although at least 900 people are expected to lose their jobs in the downsizing, the city of Davenport will put up $10 million in tax-increment financing to support the project. The Iowa Department of Transportation and the city are expected to commit $5.8 million for road work around the new factory site too. Never one to shy away from handing state funds to large corporations, Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham has let all downsizing companies know that the state of Iowa’s wallet is open: "’Will I take this deal any day? You bet,’ Durham said Thursday morning. ‘This is a future play.’" Durham also told reporters she "expects the state to do more of these kinds of deals in the future, as more massive companies merge."

Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson characterized the Kraft Heinz incentive package as "bizarre," adding, "The idea of providing public assistance for a company that has billions of dollars of annual sales cannot make sense to anybody." The Register’s editors noted, "the company could get $20.75 million in state and local assistance," which "works out to nearly $43,700 for every job Kraft Heinz agrees to keep"—and roughly 200 of the jobs the company promised to save will pay less than $37,000 a year."

Speaking of lousy deals, Iowa’s plan to privatize Medicaid looks worse and worse. A post in progress will discuss this policy in more detail; for now I enclose below excerpts from several stories by Jason Clayworth for the Des Moines Register. In recent weeks, Clayworth has exposed damning facts, including:

Some claims made in bidding documents from the four private insurers chosen to manage Medicaid in Iowa "contain unverifiable data, misleading statements or half-truths."

No data support the government’s estimate that privatizing Medicaid would save $51 million from the state budget during the first six months of the program.

The insurers selected to manage Medicaid "have each been held accountable in other states for serious service and administrative errors, including some that wrongly delayed or denied medical services to poor residents […]."

Iowa’s Medicaid director Mikki Stier "had improper communications with an insurance company consultant and former lawmaker during a critical review period that ended with the for-profit company being selected" as a managed care provider for Medicaid.

A November 6 letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to Stier enumerated "significant concerns" about the transition to managed care; excerpts from that letter are at the end of this post. Federal officials and Iowa Senate Democrats have scheduled "listening sessions" around the state to focus on Medicaid privatization. Click through for meeting details, as well as a list of state and federal officials to contact with concerns. Only the feds can stop this train by denying the necessary waivers. Branstad administration officials have been unmoved by any of the Register’s revelations or by the risks to vulnerable Iowans, which many speakers raised during Legislative Oversight Committee hearings on November 3.

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13 ways a top Branstad administration lawyer didn't comply with state policies

The Iowa Department of Administrative Services presents itself as "an organization of excellence, providing services and support to meet our stakeholder agencies’ needs and ever mindful of good stewardship in resource utilization." Among other responsibilities, DAS "handles personnel matters for all of state government."

Yet the agency’s former top attorney Ryan Lamb didn’t comply with various personnel rules during the nearly three years he worked for state government, State Auditor Mary Mosiman revealed yesterday in a detailed report (pdf). The headline news from the audit: Lamb was "overpaid" and "unqualified" for his job. Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press,

A key lawyer in Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration wasn’t qualified for his position and was paid $22,600 that he shouldn’t have received while on military leave, according to a report released Thursday.

Department of Administrative Services chief legal counsel Ryan Lamb also failed to record vacation days and was promoted and given major raises even though he didn’t have a resume on file […].

That sounds bad. But wait! There’s more.

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