Expungement clinic makes debut in Linn County

Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker and Mahder Serekberhan, a recent graduate of Mt. Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, describe efforts to break cycles of hardship stemming from encounters with the criminal justice system. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The Linn County Board of Supervisors, the City of Cedar Rapids and Iowa Legal Aid have teamed up to offer a legal clinic this fall for Linn County residents seeking relief from the consequences stemming from encounters with the criminal justice system. This Expungement and Employment Barriers Resource Clinic will be held Saturday, September 22 in Cedar Rapids at the Linn County Community Services Building located at 1240 26th Ave Court SW.

Anyone who has experienced Iowa’s criminal justice system and needs help with expungement, court debt, background check issues, or obtaining a driver’s license or vehicle registration can sign up by visiting the Linn County Board of Supervisors website at www.linncounty.org, or by calling Iowa Legal Aid at 515-243-1193. In addition, the clinic will host several community organizations that will offer assistance with housing, financial planning, education, and other issues.

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New Branstad ad airbrushes his record

Terry Branstad’s campaign launched its third television ad today, about a month after his first commercials started running statewide in Iowa. The new commercial depicts Branstad as “the real conservative change we needed then… and now.”

Here’s the ad script:

The farm crisis … Budget deficits… Skyrocketing unemployment…

That’s what Terry Branstad faced when he was elected governor.

But this Winnebago County farm kid put his rural values right to work, recruiting thousands of jobs, cutting out half the state agencies and taxes $124 million – leaving us record employment, and a $900 million surplus.

Terry Branstad is the real conservative change we needed then… and NOW.

Time for a reality check.

Branstad was first elected governor near the bottom of one economic cycle (at that time the most severe recession since World War II) and was fortunate to retire near the peak of the Clinton boom years. However, job gains during Branstad’s tenure as governor did not fulfill promises he made during his campaigns.

Iowa reorganized state government in 1985, eliminating some agencies and merging others into larger departments. On the other hand, total state government employment increased from 53,342 in 1983 to 61,400 in 1999. Total receipts in the state’s general fund increased from $1.899 billion in 1983 to $4.881 billion in 1999. That 166 percent increase was more than the rate of inflation during the same period, and Iowa’s population was no larger when Branstad retired than it was when he was first elected.

The huge growth in the general fund budget would not have been possible without various tax increases Branstad signed into law. Increased revenue from two sales tax hikes dwarfed the $124 million in tax cuts highlighted in Branstad’s new commercial. Those cuts came primarily from reducing income and estate taxes, delivering most of the benefits to wealthier Iowa families. Unfortunately, Branstad’s sales tax increases disproportionately hit lower-income families, who spend a greater share of their money on essentials.

Branstad was far from reluctant to raise taxes. He asked the state legislature to increase the sales tax in his very first budget address, within days of being inaugurated in 1983.

I expect Branstad to win the Republican primary on June 8 despite his accountability problem. Bob Vander Plaats is a strong speaker but doesn’t have the financial resources to publicize his case against the former governor. Rod Roberts isn’t trying to make a case against Branstad, as far as I can tell. His function in the campaign seems to be to prevent Vander Plaats from consolidating the conservative vote in the primary.

However, during the general election campaign, Branstad will face an opponent with the resources to compare his record with his rhetoric. I wonder how many conservative Republicans will either stay home in November or check the Libertarian box in the governor’s race.

UPDATE: Kathie Obradovich says the $124 million figure “is the campaign’s calculation of the net result of all the tax changes enacted under Branstad – an overall reduction of $124 million, in 2008 inflation-adjusted dollars.” I would like to see a calculation of all the Branstad-era sales and gas tax increases in 2008 dollars. Hint: it would work out to a lot more than $124 million.

SECOND UPDATE: Branstad “had an elective heart procedure” today to put a stent in a partially blocked artery. I hope he feels better soon. His campaign released a statement from his doctor saying, “Governor Branstad should be able to resume his normal campaign schedule within the next few days and should quickly return to his normal lifestyle without limitations. He should be fully capable of performing the activities of a candidate and a Governor.”  

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Young, Green, and Out of Work

(Thanks for the cross-post. The unemployment numbers are disturbing. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

by Rinku Sen & Billy Parish

Last week, the Labor Department reported that youth unemployment stands at 18.2%, nearly twice the national average of 9.8%. The percentage of young people without a job is a staggering 53.4 percent, the highest figure since World War II. Looking deeper, the statistics for youth of color are terrible and telling.

According to the most recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40.7% of black youth between 16-19 are unemployed, almost double the amount of whites teenagers (23%). For Latinos the same age, the rate is nearly 30%. Get a little older and the gap grows wider. Unemployment for black Americans aged 20-24 is 27.1%, over twice that faced by white youth (13.1%) in the same age range.

The glaring differences indicate that unemployment is not only decidedly raced, but also that the current economic condition is wholly unforgiving for young people of color. Only a massive, well-funded set of green jobs programs explicitly designed to close those racial gaps can create a truly vital, full-employment economy.

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Tramontina resigns over problems with film tax credits

Talk about a bolt from the blue:

A memo from auditors investigating irregularities in a state tax-credit program for filmmaking paint a picture of movie producers and film executives taking personal advantage of the program and state administrators paying little attention.

The director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, Mike Tramontina, abruptly resigned Friday after allegations of mismanagement of the program surfaced. The department oversees the Iowa Film Office. The manager of that office, Tom Wheeler, was placed on paid administrative leave.

The departure of Tramontina, who was appointed to the post by Gov. Chet Culver in 2007, came after preliminary findings from auditors looking into allegations that filmmakers had purchased luxury vehicles for themselves.

According to the memo obtained by The Des Moines Register, auditors found a long list of bookkeeping lapses and poor oversight in the program, which has spent $32 million on tax credits for 20 film projects since its inception in 2007. The program was aimed at promoting filmmaking in Iowa as a way to contribute to the local and state economy.

The governor’s office announced Tramontina’s resignation at 4:56 pm on Friday. Culver also suspended the tax credit program until auditors complete a review of it.

State Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington, told the Des Moines Register “he talked to state officials about problems with the movie tax credits about a month ago, when labor officials complained that few Iowans were getting hired to work on the movies.” Courtney raised those concerns again in a meeting with the Iowa Economic Development Board the day before Tramontina resigned:

“I’m hearing nothing but complaints that workers are being brought in from other states” during film productions in Iowa, Courtney said. “I don’t imagine we have a lot of Clint Eastwoods running around, but with a little training, we could be doing many of those jobs.”

Michael Tramontina, the state’s economic development leader, said he couldn’t put a number on how many jobs are created, since many are temporary – from contractors used to build sets to caterers and “extra” actors.

“Anecdotally from the film industry, it ranges from 20 to 60 percent Iowans” employed on films produced in Iowa, Tramontina said. […]

Tramontina said the agency is working to develop “employment thresholds” for a film, but hitting a number is complicated.

Employment requirements should depend on the kind of film being made – whether it’s a feature film being made over three to six months or a TV series that might run for years. […]

Courtney said lawmakers might need to address closing what he called “an open door” in film tax credits if Tramontina’s agency is unable to do it. He said most Iowa economic development incentives carry job-creation requirements. “Iowa has a bright future in the film industry, but we have to help the people who live here.”

While Republicans harp on the need to cut spending further, it’s equally important to subject every tax credit to scrutiny. The Iowa Policy Project has found that expenditures on tax credits for business have “skyrocketed” in recent years, far outstripping the rate of increase in spending from Iowa’s general fund. These tax credits should be on the table as legislators look for ways to balance the budget.

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Two job listings for talented activists

Periodically I post job listings at Bleeding Heartland, so please let me know of any progressive or environmental organizations hiring in Iowa (desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com).

Democracy for America is hiring “public option field organizers” in 12 states, including Iowa. This is a short-term position but does include health benefits. You can read more about the position and apply here.

I learned today that the I-WILL coalition (formerly known as the Sustainable Funding Coalition) has a one-year position available:

Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy campaign seeks a qualified campaign manager or consulting firm to oversee a statewide ballot campaign from November 2009-November 2010.  The coalition supports a proposed November 2010 constitutional amendment to establish Iowa’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.  Candidates should have extensive campaign experience-ballot campaign experience preferable, along with experience in fundraising and managing vendors.  Ideal candidate will possess significant skills in coordinating and facilitating decision-making for large, diverse coalitions; ability to relate to diverse organizations and interest groups.  Salary is commensurate with experience.

For a complete position description or to apply, e-mail resume by and cover letter by September 30 to: Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy, attn: Rosalyn Lehman, 303 Locust St, Ste 402, Des Moines, IA 50309 or rlehman@tnc.org.

Speaking of jobs, take heart, college students: the Des Moines-Ames metro area is supposedly the best in the country in terms of number of job-seekers per job available.

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Iowa Democrats supported fair pay for women

The Democrats representing Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives did us proud today.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (background here) passed by a mostly party-line 247-171 vote (roll call here).

Also, the Paycheck Fairness Act passed 256-163 (roll call here).

As expected, Bruce Braley, Dave Loebsack and Leonard Boswell voted yes on both measures. Republicans Tom Latham and Steve King voted no on both.

So, King and Latham don’t care if women get paid less than men for doing the same job.

Also, they don’t see anything wrong with a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that said women have less than a year from the employer’s initial discriminatory act to file a lawsuit seeking redress. Never mind that it may be years before a female employee finds out that her boss is systematically paying her less than male colleagues doing the same job at the same performance level.

Now both bills head to the Senate, where Democrats should be able to break Republican filibusters, especially if Al Franken and/or Roland Burris have been seated by the time the votes take place.

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