Culver appoints new economic development director

On Monday Governor Chet Culver appointed Bret Mills as the new director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development. Mills will replace Fred Hubbell, who agreed to serve as interim IDED director this fall after Mike Tramontina resigned due to problems with Iowa’s film tax credit.

Up to now, Mills has been director of the Iowa Finance Authority. Also on Monday, Culver appointed Joe O’Hern to replace Mills as IFA director. For the last three months, O’Hern has been interim deputy director of IDED.

In addition, Culver announced plans to move the HOME Investment Partnership program from IDED to the Iowa Finance Authority: “This not only will help streamline our housing efforts, but it will ensure that IDED is staying true to its mission: attracting new businesses, growing current companies, and retaining and creating jobs statewide.”

The press release from the governor’s office contains more background on the HOME program and short official bios of Mills and O’Hern. Given their qualifications, they should have no trouble being confirmed by the Iowa Senate.

The film tax credit fiasco sparked the turmoil at IDED, and the department won’t issue new credits under that program for the remainder of this fiscal year. However, film credits already awarded will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

The upside is that all state tax credits are being subjected to much more scrutiny. Debates about scrapping or scaling back some of the business tax credits will be among the most contentious issues of the 2010 legislative session. Ordinarily, I would not expect legislators to defy any well-funded corporate interests, but this year the budget is so tight that I see no way they can continue with the status quo. Lee Rood reported for the Des Moines Register earlier this month:

Iowa’s incentives for filmmaking may have been the most generous in the country, but they were not the first of the state’s tax credits to skyrocket in cost.

Over the years, other carrots offered by the state to stimulate job creation, development and research have grown dramatically – while sometimes being subject to limited oversight.

A Des Moines Register review of some of the state’s biggest tax credit incentives found state leaders had reason to worry about runaway costs, lack of transparency and waste long before Iowa’s botched attempt at using tax breaks to jump-start a film industry made international news.

That review found the state auditor had identified almost identical oversight problems in another tax credit program; state law required almost no outside oversight of some of the biggest credit programs; and authorities already knew that a portion of projects that tapped the most widely used programs had problems […]

In yesterday’s Register, Rood reviewed five tax credits that “could cost the state more money over the next five years than the film-making tax incentives […] for research, job training, historic preservation, development in distressed areas and high-quality jobs.”  

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The best news you didn't hear about yesterday

A House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing featuring two low-profile cabinet members won’t make a splash even on a slow-news day, and certainly not when a juicy story like the AIG outrage has so many angles to explore.

But take my word for it: big news came out of yesterday’s Congressional testimony by Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood. The cabinet secretaries announced

a new partnership to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs. The average working American family spends nearly 60 percent of its budget on housing and transportation costs, making these two areas the largest expenses for American families. Donovan and LaHood want to seek ways to cut these costs by focusing their efforts on creating affordable, sustainable communities.

I explain why this is important and welcome news after the jump.

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