Governor taps American Rescue Plan for IT project predating pandemic

Governor Kim Reynolds has allocated $13 million from the state’s American Rescue Plan funds for a data project that has been in the works since 2019.

Last year, the governor approved a request from the state’s Office of Chief Information Officer (OCIO) to pay for the Master Data Management Program with $13 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. But those funds were never spent, according to pandemic spending reports and documents obtained through public records requests.

OCIO recently transferred the $13 million earmarked for the data management project back to the agency that administers Iowa’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, spokesperson Cayanna Reinier told Bleeding Heartland on September 29. She added that OCIO is “in the process of restarting” the project and “looking forward to moving ahead” with it, now that the governor’s office has approved the use of American Rescue Plan funds.

It’s far from clear this program is an eligible expense under the latest federal relief package.

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Exclusive: Other agencies covered $900K in governor's office costs

Governor Kim Reynolds’ office was able to spend nearly 40 percent more than its $2.3 million budget appropriation during the last fiscal year, mostly by shifting personnel costs onto other state agencies.

Documents Bleeding Heartland obtained through public records requests show that eight state agencies covered $812,420.83 in salaries and benefits for nine employees in the governor’s office from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. In addition, the Office for State-Federal Relations in Washington, DC remained understaffed, as it has been throughout Reynolds’ tenure. The vacant position should allow roughly $85,000 in unspent funds to be used to balance the rest of the governor’s office budget, as happened last year.

The governor’s communications director Pat Garrett did not respond to four inquiries over the past two weeks related to the office budget. But records indicate that unlike in 2020, federal COVID-19 relief funds will not be tapped to cover salaries for Reynolds’ permanent staffers in fiscal year 2021.

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IA-Gov: Deidre DeJear launches campaign, rolls out endorsements

Deidre DeJear made it official on August 14: she’s running for governor, “because Iowa is worth it.” The 2018 Democratic nominee for Iowa secretary of state spent several weeks on the road over the past month hearing about the challenges facing communities of all sizes. In a news release, she indicated education, small business development, and job growth would be the focus of her campaign:

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Liz Bennett, Breanna Oxley face off in open Iowa Senate primary (updated)

Catching up on some news from before the holiday weekend: a competitive Democratic primary is shaping up for an open Iowa Senate seat covering part of Cedar Rapids. Four-term State Representative Liz Bennett confirmed on June 30 that she will run for the district that State Senator Rob Hogg has represented since 2007. Hogg won’t seek re-election in 2022, he announced last month. Iowa has yet to adopt a new political map, but this district will cover some part of the city of Cedar Rapids.

Bennett is the ranking Democrat on the Iowa House Economic Growth Committee and a member of the Human Resources, Natural Resources, and Information Technology committees, as well as the Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations subcommittee. Having won four previous state legislative races, she will be the early favorite in the Iowa Senate primary.

Bennett is also the first out LGBTQ woman elected to the Iowa legislature and the only out LGBTQ person now serving at the statehouse. Only one out LGBTQ person has ever served in the Iowa Senate: Matt McCoy, who did not seek re-election in 2018.

Breanna Oxley, a public school teacher and education activist, was first to declare her candidacy for the Cedar Rapids Senate district on June 15. She told Bleeding Heartland last week she is staying in that race. Her endorsers include former U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack, former State Senator Swati Dandekar, and former Linn County Supervisor Linda Langston.

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Iowa Republicans have abandoned executive branch oversight

Governor Kim Reynolds has been lucky at key points in her political career. Terry Branstad passed over more experienced contenders to select her as his 2010 running mate, allowing a little-known first-term state senator to become a statewide elected official. Six years later, Donald Trump won the presidency and named Branstad as an ambassador, setting Reynolds up to become governor without having to win a GOP primary first.

Most important, Reynolds has enjoyed a Republican trifecta her entire four years as governor. Not only has she been able to sign much of her wish list into law, she has not needed to worry that state lawmakers would closely scrutinize her administration’s work or handling of public funds.

During the legislative session that wrapped up last month, the GOP-controlled House and Senate rejected every attempt to make the governor’s spending decisions more transparent. They declined to hold even one hearing about questionable uses of federal COVID-19 relief funds or practices at state agencies that disadvantaged thousands of Iowans.

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In unprecedented move, Iowa Senate GOP bypasses budget subcommittees

Passing a budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1 is the most important unfinished business for the Iowa legislature’s regular 2021 session. But House and Senate Republican leaders haven’t found consensus on spending targets for several large pieces of the roughly $8 billion state budget.

In a move without precedent in decades, Senate Republicans declined this this year to participate in the joint appropriations subcommittees where lawmakers review and discuss agency spending requests. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver and Appropriations Committee chair Tim Kraayenbrink did not respond to Bleeding Heartland’s inquiries about who made the decision or why.

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