The Cedar Rapids City Council has rescinded a project labor agreement approved last December for the $75 million downtown Convention Complex project. Governor Terry Branstad's administration said it would withhold $15 million in I-JOBS state funding for the convention project, because Cedar Rapids had violated his executive order against project labor agreements (full text of order here). Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett and other city officials maintained that the governor's executive order did not apply to project labor agreements signed before Branstad took office.
The dispute seemed likely to be settled in court after the governor rejected two compromise offers from Corbett. However, the convention center is a crucial part of Cedar Rapids' downtown revitalization plans, and construction could not go forward without the $15 million in I-JOBS money. So Corbett negotiated a different solution:
In turn, the city has agreed to rescind the project's project labor agreement - the governor opposes such agreements on public projects - between the city and the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building and Construction Trades Council.
Meanwhile, the city is promising the trades council that the city will use a project labor agreement on the $21-million renovation of the city-owned Five Seasons Hotel next to the Convention Complex and the new $10-million parking ramp across First Avenue East from the hotel and Convention Complex. Neither project involves state funds.
"Everybody gets a little, everybody gives a little," said Corbett, a former speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives. "We have an agreement with all the parties, and that's how compromise is supposed to work. ... Ultimately, the taxpayer wins because they aren't involved in a costly legal dispute." [...]
The City Council voted last night to formally rescind the existing agreement with the trades council and to develop a new project labor agreement with the council on the hotel and ramp projects.
According to Rick Smith of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, federal litigation is pending over the Branstad administration's decision to set aside project labor agreements on state-funded projects in Coralville and Marshalltown. The Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council and the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building and Construction Trades Council jointly filed that lawsuit.
UPDATE: I agree with Todd Dorman:
I'm a little disappointed that we'll probably never get an definitive answer on whether Branstad's order, as it applies in local projects like this one, oversteps his executive authority. The order as written is remarkably broad and sweeping and seems to extend the governor's power far beyond the executive branch he controls. It reads a lot like legisaltion, and that, as the term implies, is usually the job of the Legislature.
Essentially, the legislature approved a state grant program in a a bill signed by a governor, in this case the Big Lug [Chet Culver]. Then, Branstad takes office and issues an order that in turn modifies the terms of that legislation, and for that matter, any legislation that hands out state dollars for a local projects, without any legislative input or approval. Enforcing his order amounts to the deappropriation of millions of dollars simply by executive edict.
I'm not sure why any lawmakers, regardless of party, would be OK with that sort of precedent. Republicans who think it's swell now won't feel that way when a Democratic governor takes Branstad's precedent and runs.
The Branstad administration's disregard for local authority is one of the most under-reported stories of the year. I'm not talking only about this executive order, but also about Branstad's preferred property tax reform plan and zero growth for K-12 budgets, both of which would leave local officials with fewer options.