Attacking Governor Chet Culver’s I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative continues to be a staple of Republican Party rhetoric. I’ve written about the GOP’s misleading talking points before, but State Representative Chris Rants added a new twist at last night’s fundraising dinner in Scott County. Not long ago, Rants altered his stump speech to complain about Sergeant Bluff receiving an I-JOBS grant while Culver’s recent across-the-board budget cuts will cost the community a larger amount. Speaking to a crowd of 300 in Bettendorf, Rants put a local spin on this story:
Rants began his remarks by sharing the story about Lt. Governor Patty Judge coming to Sergeant Bluff, a town that Rants represents, to give them an I-Jobs grant to refurbish the city hall. Rants then told the audience, “What Patty Judge giveth, Chet Culver taketh away.” Rants then told the crowd that Culver’s fiscal mismanagement will force the Sergeant Bluff school district to increase property taxes by over $400,000.
Rants then asked if anyone in the room knew what Governor Culver’s budget cuts were going to cost the property tax payers in the Davenport School district. Rants informed them that the cost will be $7.6 million. He also drove home the point that, while Sergeant Bluff received $250,000 I-Jobs grant to remodel their city hall, the city of Davenport has not received any I-Jobs money for its big sewer project. Rants’ ability to talk about local issues played well with the audience. Of all the candidate speeches, Rants was the one candidate who grabbed everyone’s attention.
It is clever for Rants to capitalize on local resentment about I-JOBS. Although entities in Scott County have received more than $5 million in I-JOBS grants, officials in the Quad City area have understandably been frustrated by the lack of I-JOBS support for Davenport’s sewer and flood prevention projects.
What Rants glosses over is that without I-JOBS, unmet needs for infrastructure improvements would be even greater. The I-JOBS program includes $118.5 million for flood prevention and reconstructing buildings in communities affected by last year’s flooding. But requests for that portion of the I-JOBS money totaled $333.6 million.
I-JOBS allocated $80 million for water quality improvements, including sewer construction and repair. Substandard and outdated sewer systems are a huge environmental problem in Iowa, as the Des Moines Register’s Perry Beeman and Chase Davis chronicled last week here and here. Iowa has more than 500 unsewered communities. At least I-JOBS and the federal stimulus package will help make a dent in this problem.
Rants wants to have it both ways, criticizing Culver for borrowing while claiming the governor’s program hasn’t done enough for Scott County. If Republicans in Congress and the state legislature had had their way, Iowa cities and towns would not be getting any help this year for improving their sewage systems.
I have yet to hear Rants or any Republican candidate explain how they would have paid for flood recovery projects without state borrowing. For instance, I-JOBS included $100 million targeted for the University of Iowa, which unlocked $500 million in federal funding to help rebuild flood-damaged buildings on campus. How would Republicans have addressed this problem? Would they have turned down the federal funding, and if not, where would they have found $100 million to match the federal dollars?
Linn County received $45 million from I-JOBS for flood recovery. That’s in addition to money raised from the local-option sales tax (which most Republicans opposed). How would Republican candidates have paid for flood recovery in the Cedar Rapids area without I-JOBS?
Terry Branstad’s criticism of I-JOBS reaches a special level of hypocrisy. He asserted on Saturday night, “Too much debt is bad and those that create it should be thrown out of office.” But while he was governor, Branstad used state bonding several times, and his total borrowing in inflation-adjusted dollars was larger than the I-JOBS program. After the jump I’ve posted a press release from the Iowa Democratic Party, which contains more details about Branstad’s use of state bonding.
It’s also worth noting that interest rates are currently near historic lows. That, coupled with Iowa’s rock-solid bond rating, reduced the cost of the I-JOBS borrowing. I would wager that the state had to pay higher interest rates on bonds issued while Branstad was governor.