Iowa House district 43: Chris Hagenow is worried

In a sure sign that Republicans consider House district 43 competitive, State Representative Chris Hagenow’s campaign is spending tens of thousands of dollars on television commercials attacking his Democratic challenger Susan Judkins. The ads repeat several messages a Republican push-poll used against Judkins earlier this fall. My transcript and description of the commercial is after the jump. Bleeding Heartland previewed the House district 43 race here.

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Iowa Senate ad watch: I-JOBS lies edition (updated)

The I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative helped fund more than 1,600 infrastructure projects around Iowa during the “Great Recession.” From the beginning, Republicans have used misleading rhetoric to make their case against I-JOBS. Terry Branstad and GOP lawmakers exaggerated the initiative’s costs and understated its benefits repeatedly during the 2010 campaign.

Now some Iowa Senate candidates are putting lies about I-JOBS at the center of their radio advertising.

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Republicans push-polling for Hagenow in Iowa House district 43

A push-polling campaign with live telephone interviewers is underway in Iowa House district 43, where two-term Republican State Representative Chris Hagenow faces Democrat Susan Judkins. Following my own advice, I took detailed notes on last night’s call.

UPDATE: I am hearing reports of similar push-polls against John Forbes, Democratic candidate in House district 40, and John Phoenix, Democratic candidate in House district 38. If you have received these calls or push-polls targeting other Democratic House candidates, please let me know: desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com. If you get one of these calls, take notes if possible, and don’t be afraid to ask the caller to repeat the question.

SECOND UPDATE: Mark Blumenthal explained the difference between a real opinion survey and a push-poll on his Mystery Pollster blog. Whereas a real poll is designed to collect data from respondents and measure opinions, a push-poll is all about spreading negative information about a political opponent to as many people as possible, under the deceptive guise of conducting a survey.

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Deal settles labor dispute between Branstad and Cedar Rapids

The Cedar Rapids City Council has rescinded a project labor agreement approved last December for the $75 million downtown Convention Complex project.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.

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Iowa third-worst state for deficient bridges

“The Unsafe Bridges of Iowa Counties” wouldn’t be an appealing feature film, but it could be an appropriate subject for a documentary. The Transportation for America coalition released a report today on the state of bridges in the U.S., and the results are not pretty for Iowa. Nationwide, “69,223 bridges – 11.5 percent of total highway bridges in the U.S. – are classified as ‘structurally deficient,’ requiring significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement.” Table 1 and Appendix A of the full report (pdf) rank the states by percentage of structurally deficient bridges. Iowa’s percentage is nearly twice the national average: 21.7 percent of our state’s bridges are deficient. Only Pennsylvania and Oklahoma scored worse on this metric. Iowa is among just five states in which more than 20 percent of bridges are structurally deficient.

Appendix B shows the two busiest structurally deficient bridges in each state. In Iowa, those are an I-80/I-35 bridge over a drainage ditch in Polk County (average daily traffic 82,100 vehicles) and an I-29 bridge over the Floyd River in Woodbury County (average daily traffic 42,100 vehicles).

Appendix C shows the 100 worst counties nationwide in terms of percentage of deficient bridges. Iowa has 17 counties on this list, more than any other state.

Iowa has an unusually large number of towns and more road miles per capita than any other state, to my knowledge. Historically, our state’s political leaders have been reluctant to borrow to pay for infrastructure needs, which explains Iowa’s relatively low debt load and the furious Republican reaction to the last administration’s I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative. Some states routinely borrow to cover infrastructure projects, including our neighbor to the north. I wonder if Minnesota’s much larger state borrowing than Iowa over the years is one reason the state does relatively well in Transportation for America’s report (8.8 percent of bridges in the state are structurally deficient).

In the past, federal highway money has gone predominantly toward building new roads. The Transportation for America report advocates more federal assistance to states for fixing roads and bridges:

Allowing roads and bridges to slip into disrepair ultimately costs state and local governments billions more than the cost of regular, timely repair. Over a 25-year period, deferring maintenance of bridges and highways can cost three times as much as preventative repairs. The backlog also increases safety risks, hinders economic prosperity and significantly burdens taxpayers.

Preservation efforts can also extend the expected service life of a road for an additional 18 years, preventing the need for major reconstruction or replacement.4 In addition to the safety imperative, investing in the construction, expansion and repair of our nation’s transportation infrastructure creates jobs today while laying the foundation for long- term economic prosperity. Repair work on roads and bridges generates 16 percent more jobs than construction of new bridges and roads.5

A recent report on the use of federal stimulus funds for transportation showed that maintenance projects created more jobs per dollar spent than new road construction.

Transportation for America’s full report is here. After the jump I’ve posted the 17 Iowa counties that made Appendix C (worst 100 counties nationwide) and the percentage of deficient bridges in each. I also posted an excerpt from the report explaining the criteria for naming a bridge “structurally deficient.”

This page at Transportation for America’s website includes a map and chart with information about all 99 Iowa counties: number of bridges, number of structurally deficient bridges, percent of bridges that are structurally deficient, bridge average annual daily traffic and average daily traffic on structurally deficient bridges. After the jump I’ve posted an excerpt from that page showing Iowa’s five best and five worst counties in this area.

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Court may resolve Branstad, Cedar Rapids labor dispute

Governor Terry Branstad and Cedar Rapids officials have made no progress toward resolving a dispute that could derail $15 million in funding for the city’s Convention Complex project. Branstad administration officials continue to insist that Cedar Rapids set aside a project labor agreement signed in December, because it conflicts with Branstad’s Executive Order 69.

Follow me after the jump for recent news on this story, including comments this week from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

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Branstad's plans for I-JOBS money easier said than done

Governor-elect Terry Branstad would prefer not to spend I-JOBS money that has not already been allocated, but he may not be able to prevent spending those funds on infrastructure. On Thursday, Branstad taped this weekend’s episode of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press”, and Kay Henderson asked him what he planned to do with I-JOBS money that had not already been handed out. Branstad responded,

“First of all, I think most of it has already been spent,” Branstad says. “But that that hasn’t been spent, my general inclination is to say it shouldn’t be spent.” […]

Branstad, who takes office on January 14, says he has no intention of trying to reclaim any state grants that have already been awarded, but he’s going to “analyze” his options for whatever remains in the I-JOBS account.  

“I want to evaluate each and every project based on its merits,” Branstad says. “I don’t think we should just be willy-nilly trying to spend money. Instead, I want to look at protecting the taxpayers’ interest in the process, but if there’s a project that’s been obligated, then we have the responsibility to fulfill it.”

Iowa has already sold all $875 million of I-JOBS bonds. More than $665 million of the bond proceeds have been awarded to specific projects. The incoming governor’s options for dealing with the remaining $200 million are limited:

Deputy Iowa Treasurer Stefanie Devin said it was unlikely that Branstad could stop any of the projects because of rules for how the money is spent.

“They are tax-exempt bonds,” Devin said. “They have to be spent on capital projects. It’s not like you can sit on that money for 20 years.”

I doubt Branstad will be able to find a way around spending this money. Once all the grants have been awarded, he may even quietly acknowledge the benefits of infrastructure projects around the state. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him smiling for the cameras next year at grand openings for projects I-JOBS made possible. Who knows–maybe someday New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (who’s borrowed more in one year than Chet Culver did in four) will persuade Branstad that selling bonds to invest in infrastructure can be “fiscally responsible.”

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IA-Gov news roundup and final debate preview

Governor Chet Culver and Republican Terry Branstad debate for the third and last time today at noon in the Iowa Public Television studios. You can watch live at the Des Moines Register website, IPTV.org or on Mediacom Channel 119. Tonight Iowa Public TV will rebroadcast the debate statewide at 8 pm.

After the jump I’ll cover recent news from the gubernatorial campaign and the main points Culver and Branstad are likely to emphasize today.  

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IA-Gov: Second Culver-Branstad debate preview

Governor Chet Culver and Republican challenger Terry Branstad will debate for the second time tonight at 7 pm. You can watch live online at KCRG in Cedar Rapids, or statewide on Iowa Public Television at 8 pm. I’ll put up a debate discussion thread here later, but first let’s preview each candidate’s message on the big issues likely to come up tonight. As was apparent during the first gubernatorial debate, these two are masters at answering the question they want to answer.

Jobs, flood recovery, tv ads and more are after the jump.

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"Heated sidewalks": A lie coming to a statehouse race near you

Direct mail attacking Democratic incumbents has reached voters in many competitive Iowa House and Senate districts. From reports I’ve heard, most mailers employ cookie-cutter messaging about unsustainable spending, or supposedly “forced” property tax increases, which have been debunked again and again.

One GOP talking point had me stumped: in press conferences, message-testing phone calls and campaign mailers, Republicans have accused Democrats of spending thousands of dollars on “heated sidewalks.”

Follow me after the jump for background on the origin of this canard. You’ll be “shocked” to learn that Iowa House and Senate Democrats did not vote to spend money on heating sidewalks, nor are such sidewalks planned or installed anywhere in Iowa.  

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Branstad can't quit lying about I-JOBS costs

Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad is rolling out two new commercials this week to highlight the campaign’s new applications for Droid, Blackberry, iPad and iPhone. I’m not a smart phone user, so others will have to review the applications.

The main thing I learned from the television ads, which I’ve posted below, is that no amount of fact-checking will deter Terry Branstad from lying about the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding program.

UPDATE: The Iowa Democratic Party produced a web video imagining what a Terry Branstad app would really look like. “Nothing says innovation quite like moving backwards.”

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Branstad hypocrisy watch: State debt edition

During Tuesday night’s debate, Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad bashed the “ill-fated” I-JOBS infrastructure bonding program as a “huge” mistake. Bleeding Heartland has noted before that Iowa’s debt load is still low by national standards, and Branstad grudgingly acknowledged that fact. At the same time, he argued that Iowa’s debt load is moving in the wrong direction and had tripled since he left office.

As usual, Branstad exaggerated the I-JOBS repayment costs and failed to explain how he would have financed rebuilding after the worst floods in Iowa history on a “pay as you go” basis during a severe recession. I was intrigued to see a couple of new angles in the Republican’s case against I-JOBS, though.  

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Fact-check fail: Iowa journalists blow off Branstad's lies and hypocrisy

Terry Branstad launched a new campaign ad on Tuesday. Like his previous commercials, the “Big Bad Debt” spot strings together a bunch of numbers (some of them wrong) to create the false impression that Iowa’s in bad fiscal shape.

The commercial invites a lot of tough questions journalists could be asking the Branstad campaign, such as:

Why do you keep claiming Iowa has a $1 billion budget deficit when the state budget is balanced?

Why do you keep citing months-old warnings about Iowa’s “budget cliff” when the latest revenue collections were stronger than projected, and the ending balance for fiscal year 2010 will be much larger than expected?

Why are you still using inflated estimates for the I-JOBS repayment costs, when you know the bonds were sold at lower interest rates more than a year ago?

You keep attacking $2.5 billion in “overspending,” alluding to federal stimulus money and funding from the state reserves. How would you balance the state budget without accepting any federal stimulus money or using state reserve funds?

Why are you making the I-JOBS borrowing the centerpiece of your case against Culver when Branstad also borrowed to fund infrastructure projects when he was governor, and sometimes had to borrow money to address the state’s cash-flow problems?

Why are you bragging about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s upcoming Iowa visit when Christie presided over more state borrowing in his first year than Culver has in his whole term?

The ad is after the jump, along with the kind of scrutiny Iowa’s media should be providing.

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Branstad can't defend his record on flood prevention

State Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids toured Iowa last week to discuss former Governor Terry Branstad’s record of inaction on flood prevention. This press release from September 3 highlights five key recommendations from 1994 Iowa Flood Disaster Report prepared by Brig. Gen. Harold Thompson of the Iowa National Guard (click here for a pdf file of the report) .

1. “Reducing vulnerability to future floods is as important as improving disaster relief capabilities and programs.” – Terry Branstad took no action on this recommendation

2. Communities need “adequate state assistance in mitigating future flood damage” – Terry Branstad took no action on this recommendation

3. Better flood technology and information including “electronic river monitoring,” “detailed river basin modeling,” and “extensive mapping” – Terry Branstad took no action on this recommendation

4. Incorporate “watershed management” including “wetland restoration” and “unchannelized streams” which can “play a large role in reducing flood damage downstream” – Terry Branstad took no action on this recommendation

5. “The State of Iowa should review the floodplain management responsibility [and] create a viable, effective program with adequate resources” – Worse than no action, the report says that Terry Branstad allowed the state’s program to “erode” and then took no action to restore the program

For a guy whose central campaign message is, “We did it before, and we can do it again,” Branstad has remarkably little to say in defense of his record. In fact, he didn’t respond directly to Hogg’s comments last week. Instead, his campaign manager attacked the messenger and tried to change the subject.  

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Bad news for fans of Lake Delhi

The Federal Emergency Management Agency decided this week against providing federal funds to rebuild the Lake Delhi dam in northeast Iowa after last month’s catastrophic breach:

A written analysis by FEMA officials said the Lake Delhi Recreation Association is a private, non-profit association formed to provide recreational services.

“The applicant does not provide any essential governmental service to the general public. The lake is not used for electricity, drinking water, or irrigation. It is used only for recreation,” the federal document said.

FEMA’s analysis also said that the “Combined Lake Delhi Benefited Recreational District and Water Quality District,” which levies property taxes to operate the dam, doesn’t meet the definition of a government agency for FEMA eligiblity purposes.

“It was not formed for a public purpose, nor does it provide essential governmental services to the general public,” the document said.

Today’s announcement does not affect  Lake Delhi residents who are getting individual assistance from FEMA to help rebuild flood-damaged homes, Josephson said. Individual assistance is covered by a separate federal program.

Even worse, the new determination reverses FEMA’s agreement two years ago to provide $2 million for repairing the Lake Delhi dam caused by flooding in 2008. Governor Chet Culver had harsh words for FEMA:

“This is an example of a federal government agency changing rules and regulations, and its interpretation of them, in the middle of a great hardship, getting in the way of help for Iowans who have lost so much in the floods,” Culver said.

He is encouraging the people of Lake Delhi to appeal the FEMA decision.

“It is the right thing to do and I will support them in these efforts,” Culver said. ” Let me say in the clearest possible terms – this is a matter of fairness. We will do everything we can to make things right.”

Representative Bruce Braley, who represents the Lake Delhi area in Congress, issued a more cautious statement saying there are no “easy answers” for this “complicated issue.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad had no comment on FEMA’s decision. Earlier this month, Branstad accused Culver of promising too much and delivering too little to flood victims. That took chutzpah, since Branstad has never explained how Iowa could have paid for flood recovery and prevention measures without the I-JOBS state bonding program he and other Republicans criticize. Branstad has also declined to answer Iowa Independent’s questions about how his proposal to eliminate the Iowa Department of Economic Development “would impact Linn County flood victims still plodding through a lengthy federal property buyout process.”

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2010 Iowa flooding thread

After a not-very-wet June, this summer’s weather has turned disastrous across much of Iowa. Many communities in the eastern part of the state were devastated in July. The dam failure that ruined Lake Delhi attracted most of the media attention, but extensive property damage occurred in many other communities, including Waterloo, Oelwein and Maquoketa.

Central Iowa has had close to 10 inches of rain in the past few days, and floodwaters in Ames are higher than they were in 1993 or 2008. Parts of I-35 and Highway 30 near Ames were closed on August 11, and the city’s water treatment plant is not operational, so there is a boil order for drinking water.

Oskaloosa, Fort Dodge and parts of the Des Moines area have also experienced some terrible flash flooding.

A 16-year-old girl died after her car was one of three swept off the road near Altoona. Amazingly, 10 of her friends escaped. Please don’t try to drive across roads covered by water. Most people who drown during floods die in their cars.

The immediate concern is keeping people safe and restoring damaged property, but at some point Iowa policy-makers need to do something to improve our floodplain management. During this year’s legislative session, lobbyists for city officials and chambers of commerce were able to block even minimal steps recommended by the state’s Water Resources Coordinating Council.

I noticed that uber-hack Krusty Konservative is blaming I-JOBS for failing to prevent this summer’s flooding. The reality is we need to invest more in flood prevention. State Senator Rob Hogg of Cedar Rapids recently estimated that for “about $700 million over the next 10 to 20 years […] we can hold thousands of acre-feet of water in our watershed, reap many economic and environmental benefits, and avoid much of the expense and trauma of having to clean up our homes, businesses and neighborhoods again when the next flood happens.”

This thread is for any comments related to the floods.

UPDATE: Governor Chet Culver discussed the flooding on August 12:

The historic flooding that hit Ames over the last two days, as well as floods that have ravaged many eastern Iowa cities over the past few years, are the “new normal” and a sign the state must improve flood-prevention efforts, Gov. Chet Culver said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

“We are seeing unprecedented flooding – the flooding in Ames is worse than ’93,” Culver said. “Anything the state can do in terms of flood mitigation will be done. We can be smarter in terms of planning and conservation efforts. We need to be aggressive in terms of taking steps regarding flood mitigation.”  

Radio Iowa brings some bad news:

The head of the state’s emergency management division says areas of the state which are dealing with the aftermath of flooding today may see another surge of flood water within the next two days. Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Managment administrator David Miller says the National Weather Service predicts rain will fall north of Highway 30 within the next 48 hours.

“Frankly things are pretty well saturated and we have a very narrow window of opportunitiy to mitigate any future damages, so we’ve encouraged local (officials) to look at their critical infrastructure,” Miller says. “What needs to be safeguarded now?”

Miller is urging local governments to take steps “ahead of the storm” to protect drinking water systems and waste-water treatment plants.  “If we get more precipitation than anticipated, we could have severe flooding,” Miller says.  “If it comes further south than what the Weather Service is currently predicting then, again, we could have severe problems, so we’re paying attention to that.”

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Culver and Branstad will debate three times

Terry Branstad’s campaign announced today that it had accepted three invitations to debate Governor Chet Culver this fall:

1. Lee Enterprises/KCAU-TV/WQAD-TV Gubernatorial Debate. Time and date to be determined. Sioux City, IA

2. The Cedar Rapids Gazette/KCRG-TV 9 Gubernatorial Debate

Thursday, October 7, 2010, 7 p.m. Cedar Rapids, IA

3. Des Moines Register/Iowa Public Television Debate

October 21, 2010, Noon, Iowa Public Television Studios, Johnston, IA

Branstad’s running mate, Kim Reynolds, is also willing to debate Lieutenant Patty Judge once at a time and place to be determined. Maybe by then Reynolds will be able to explain how Republicans would have balanced the current-year budget without dipping into state reserves or using one-time federal funds.

I expect the lieutenant governor’s debate to be entertaining. Judge speaks with a lot of confidence. Reynolds is a polished speaker, but not when she gets knocked off her prepared talking points.

I expect Branstad to play it safe in the debates; he’s ahead in the polls and mainly needs to avoid any huge blunder. I look forward to watching him explain in Cedar Rapids why his own state bonding was justified, but not I-JOBS borrowing to rebuild after the largest floods in Iowa history.

If I were Culver, I would practice ways to get under Branstad’s skin the way Bob Vander Plaats did during the Republican primary debates. But that strategy can only work if Culver keeps his cool, which may be challenging given how freely Branstad lies about the incumbent’s record. Culver will have to find ways to refute phony Republican numbers without seeming to fly off the handle. A little humor might help.

AUGUST 24 UPDATE: The Sioux City debate will take place on September 14:

The Sioux City Journal and Lee Enterprises are hosting the debate with KCAU, the ABC affiliate here in the metro. The one-hour debate will air from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on KCAU, WOI in Des Moines and WHBF in the Quad Cities. Besides the Journal, other Lee papers participating include the Quad City Times, Waterloo Courier and Mason City Globe Gazette. To give instantaneous coverage, the papers will have a live webcast and running blog during the debate.

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Terry Branstad's reckless disregard for facts

While Terry Branstad continues his so-called “truth in budgeting” tour around Iowa, he and his campaign staff deliberately spread false information about Governor Chet Culver’s record. Last week Branstad’s campaign released perhaps its most deceptive advertisement yet, and that’s saying something.

When numerous specific claims in the ad were debunked, Branstad didn’t apologize or pull down the ad in order to correct its mistakes. His conduct during the past week proves that he doesn’t inadvertently misstate facts during his stump speeches or under the pressure of a debate. He appears to have made a political calculation: don’t worry about the truth if lying helps him win an election. Culver’s campaign did a good job identifying the latest ad’s falsehoods here, but let’s take a closer look at some of the problems with Branstad’s campaign narrative.

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Republican hypocrisy watch: Pawlenty and Culver edition (updated)

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty toured eastern Iowa over the weekend to raise money for several Iowa House Republican leaders and state Senate candidate Bill Dix. It was his fourth Iowa trip during the past year. Since Pawlenty is laying the groundwork for a future presidential bid, journalists covering his latest visit focused on what he is doing for Iowa Republicans, as well as his views on foreign policy, government spending and the economy.

I’m more interested in the way Iowa Republicans embraced Pawlenty. Naturally, they liked his message about retaking the state legislature, and GOP House leaders can really use the campaign cash. But it’s surreal to watch Republicans promise their serious consideration for Pawlenty as a presidential candidate when you compare his record with the case conservatives make against Iowa Governor Chet Culver.

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I-JOBS: A great program with a flawed sales pitch

The Iowa Department of Management released a report on the I-JOBS state bonding initiative yesterday. Click here for the pdf file (more than 100 pages). Governor Chet Culver’s office highlighted how much I-JOBS has invested in infrastructure, particularly in the areas of flood recovery and mitigation, as well as how many jobs have been created or retained. Iowa Republicans continue to claim I-JOBS failed, having funded only temporary jobs at a high cost.

The Department of Management’s report documents about 1,700 projects that could not have gone forward without I-JOBS money. Unfortunately, recent media coverage of I-JOBS hasn’t focused on its clear benefits. The dominant media frame has become a he-said, she-said take on whether I-JOBS has lived up to Culver’s job creation promises last year.

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More false numbers in new Branstad campaign video

Terry Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign launched a new YouTube video attacking the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding program. Like other leading Iowa Republicans, Branstad continues to exaggerate I-JOBS costs. The video claims the state bonding will cost Iowa taxpayers $55 million per year for 23 years (a total of $1.7 billion). However, when most of the I-JOBS bonds were sold a full year ago, strong investor demand and Iowa’s solid credit rating drove down the interest rate. The repayment costs are approximately $42 million yearly (from gaming revenue, not the general fund), and will add up to far less than $1.7 billion.

How long will Branstad get a free pass for math that doesn’t add up and false claims about Iowa’s finances? Your guess is as good as mine.

Branstad’s new video also suggests that I-JOBS has created no jobs and nothing of value. I explained why that’s wrong here and here.

UPDATE: Chet Culver’s campaign responded to this web ad from a different angle:


DES MOINES – Gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad mocks recent flood victims in his newest web ad, in which he slams Governor Culver’s I-JOBS program.

“A large part of I-JOBS money goes toward flood recovery and mitigation efforts, just ask the citizens of Cedar Rapids and Coralville who depended on aid from I-JOBS to help rebuild their cities and limit damage from future flooding. But Terry Branstad continually mocks I-JOBS; the web video is just the latest representation of that,” said Culver/Judge Campaign Manager Donn Stanley.

Branstad has called the I-JOBS program a “folly.” [1]  The video, released by the Branstad campaign today, is goofy and is, at best, inconsiderate after this weekend’s flooding around Lake Delhi given how critical I-JOBS funding has been in rebuilding from the 2008 floods.

Stanley continued, “Despite this weekend’s flooding, the Branstad campaign continues to mock I-JOBS. It shows just how arrogant and out of touch Branstad and his campaign are. I certainly do not believe that mocking I-JOBS and the flood victims shows the kind of serious leadership Iowans need in tough times.”


[1] Iowa Press Citizen, 6/2/10.

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Exploring Paul McKinley's fantasy world (part 2, w/poll)

Last week I highlighted the half-truths and misleading arguments that underpin Iowa Senate minority leader Paul McKinley’s case against Democratic governance in Iowa. I wasn’t planning to revisit the Republican leader’s fantasy world until I read the July 16 edition of his weekly e-mail blast. McKinley claims to offer five “big ideas” to “make Iowa again a state where jobs and prosperity can flourish.”

His premise is absurd when you consider that CNBC just ranked Iowa in the top 10 states for doing business (again), and number one in terms of the cost of doing business. Many of McKinley’s specific claims don’t stand up to scrutiny either, so follow me after the jump. There’s also a poll at the end of this post.

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Exploring Paul McKinley's fantasy world

If Iowa Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley believes the spin he serves up to journalists and the Republican Party faithful, he must have an active imagination.

I don’t know which is most detached from reality: McKinley’s take on Iowa’s finances, his views on “state sovereignty” or his election predictions.

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Branstad still pushing false claims, wrong priorities

One day after Terry Branstad won the Republican nomination for governor, his accountability problem was back on display. Speaking to the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s annual convention in Ames yesterday, Branstad told the audience, “I want to get rid of the present incumbent because he’s driven the state into the biggest budget deficit in history.”

In the psychological field, projection is “a defense mechanism that involves taking our own unacceptable qualities or feelings and ascribing them to other people.” I’m not qualified to offer any professional diagnosis, but Branstad’s the guy who really did keep two sets of books to hide illegal deficits. It’s incredible to hear him keep making that false claim about Governor Chet Culver’s administration. The governor and Iowa’s legislative leaders haven’t run up any budget deficit, let alone the largest deficit ever. If Culver were running deficits, Iowa wouldn’t have a top-level credit rating or be considered one of the states “least like California” in terms of fiscal problems.

How long will Branstad keep getting away with making stuff up about Culver’s record? Your guess is as good as mine.

In other news, Branstad promised the Association of Business and Industry crowd that if elected, he wouldn’t allow key priorities of organized labor like the prevailing wage or collective bargaining bills to become law. I doubt ABI has to worry about that, since Iowa Democrats haven’t delivered on those issues during the past four years.

Culver visited a Cedar Rapids preschool yesterday and blasted Branstad’s “20th Century thinking” on preschool funding:

“This is an investment we cannot afford to not make in the future,” Culver said about the preschool initiative. He said he budgeted $90 million this year for the program and $115 million next year. […]

“While we want to continue to fund preschool … Terry Branstad wants to take that away,” Culver said. […]

The fiscal 2011 funding will assist an additional 150 school districts and school district collaborations under the statewide voluntary preschool program, he said. It is projected that during the 2010-2011 school year about 21,354 four-year-olds will be served by the preschool program in 326 school districts across the state.

Many Iowa families could not afford early education for their children without the state program. Culver is right to pound Branstad for his screwed-up priorities. Culver also criticized the Republican for wanting to go backwards on state-funded stem cell research, women’s reproductive rights and flood recovery funding for the Cedar Rapids area. Like everyone else in the Iowa GOP, Branstad has criticized the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative but not explained how he would have paid for the flood reconstruction and prevention projects Iowa needs.

Branstad told Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids Gazette that he would not try to repeal the I-JOBS bonding, but “also compared I-JOBS to the Greek debt crisis.” Give me a break. The professional investor community drove down the interest rate of the initial I-JOBS offering because of Iowa’s solid fiscal condition and plan for repaying the bonds. In fact, I-JOBS was one of the top 10 “deals of the year” in 2009 according to Bond Buyer, the daily newspaper of public finance.

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Let's see how Republicans spin this

To hear Iowa Republicans tell it, our state has suffered terribly under the leadership of job-killing, overspending Democrats. The reality, as measured by the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is quite different:

Iowa’s focus on entrepreneurship, innovation and exports has led to an eighth-place ranking on a list of top economic-performing states compiled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Chamber Foundation.

Iowa ranked high overall as “a solid performer across most of our metrics,” according to the chamber’s newly released Enterprising States survey, largely because “Iowa’s strength is perhaps its stability. The state’s largest cluster, agribusiness, food processing and technology, grew at a 1 percent rate since 2002, significantly better performing than the same group of industries nationally.”

The business group also listed Iowa seventh under “top export performers” due to overseas trade offices that provide help to Iowa companies looking to tap international markets. According to the study, “efforts are paying off, as the state places fourth in growth of exports as a share of gross state product.”

Read more at the Des Moines Register’s site, or download the whole report here.

Governor Chet Culver’s office recapped some other favorable reports by outside analysts looking at Iowa’s economy:

[E]arlier this year, Forbes Magazine, the national economic and business journal, named Des Moines as the No. 1 city in America for businesses and careers, and ranked Cedar Rapids as the No. 1 city for projected job growth.

In 2008, Iowa had the eighth-fastest growing economy in the nation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. CNBC’s 2009 “Top States for Business” survey ranks Iowa the fourth best in the nation and No. 1 for low costs of doing business. Finally, last year MarketWatch, another national financial publication, named Des Moines No. 1 in the country for doing business.

Unemployment is too high as we come out of the worst recession since World War II, but Iowa’s unemployment rate is still low by national standards. Contrary to what Republicans would have you believe, our state’s budget is balanced, and our per capita debt burden is low, which is why every major credit rating agency has given Iowa top marks in the past year.

So far I haven’t seen any Iowa Republican reaction to the Chamber of Commerce report. I’ll update this post with any relevant comments.

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We don't need budget advice from Tim Pawlenty

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was in Iowa this weekend to headline an event organized by Iowans for Tax Relief. The crowd cheered the future presidential candidate after Pawlenty blasted the Obama administration and proposed one bad idea after another.

Pawlenty’s “economic bill of rights” includes requiring Congress to balance the budget every year. Freezing or reducing federal spending every time revenue drops is great if you like turning recessions into depressions, but basic economic facts won’t stop Pawlenty from pandering to the “Party of Hoover” set. I wonder whether Pawlenty’s proposed balanced budget amendment still includes “exceptions for war, natural disasters and other emergencies.”

Pawlenty also wants line-item veto powers for the president. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that unconstitutional at the federal level, and it’s unlikely Congress would ever approve a constitutional amendment on this matter.

In addition, Pawlenty favors extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Those tax cuts didn’t prevent the most severe economic recession since World War II, but they did manage to massively increase our national debt and deficit while delivering most of the benefits to the top few percent of the population.

But wait, there’s more to Pawlenty’s wish list: “He also called for requiring a supermajority of Congress to raise taxes or the debt ceiling.” Unfortunately, that would exacerbate our budget problems. When the Pew Center on the States examined state fiscal problems last year, a common feature of the states deemed “most like California” was a supermajority requirement for tax increases or budget decisions.

By the way, Iowa received higher overall marks than Minnesota in that Pew Center on the States report, which looked at six indicators to determine each state’s fiscal health.

Speaking to the Iowans for Tax Relief crowd, Pawlenty bragged about getting Minnesota out of the top 10 states for taxes but glossed over other aspects of his record as governor. Iowa Republicans have hammered Democrats for supposedly “overspending,” even though our state leaders have kept our budget balanced without depleting our state’s reserve accounts. What would they say if they knew about Pawlenty’s record?

During Pawlenty’s first year as governor, the state drew down its reserves and relied too heavily on one-time revenue to address its budget problem.  As a result, the state lost its Aaa bond rating from Moody’s Investors Service; the state has yet to regain its Aaa rating from Moody’s.

The 2009 report of the bi-partisan Minnesota Budget Trends Study Commission has recommended that the state build up its budget reserves and cash flow account in response to an increasingly unstable revenue outlook.  All members of the Commission, including the five appointed by Governor Pawlenty, endorsed this recommendation.

Pawlenty and state legislators couldn’t agree on an approach to balance the Minnesota budget. As a result, last year “Minnesota’s [projected] budget gap was the largest in the nation on a per capita basis.” Pawlenty can bash President Obama, but his state desperately needed the roughly $2.6 billion it received through the federal stimulus bill to help cover the shortfall. Even with the stimulus money, Minnesota was still billions of dollars short. So, in addition to some spending cuts, Pawlenty proposed “a bond issue that would be paid for by existing and forecast revenues from the tobacco settlement-a one-time fix disliked by some because it aimed to use long-term borrowing to pay for current state operations.”

To be clear: Pawlenty wanted the state of Minnesota to borrow money to pay its bills. In contrast, Iowa’s state borrowing program (I-JOBS) is funding capital investments in infrastructure. Last summer, Iowans for Tax Relief in effect ran the Republican campaign for a special election in Iowa House district 90. During that campaign, the Republican candidate made false and misleading claims about Iowa’s state budget and borrowing. How ironic that the Iowans for Tax Relief crowd gave a standing ovation to a panderer with a much worse record of fiscal management.

Not only did Pawlenty want Minnesota to borrow money to pay its bills, he also decided that underfunding local governments and forcing them to draw down their own reserves was a good way to control spending for the 2010-2011 budget period. Yes, Pawlenty decided in 2009 that cutting aid to local governments by hundreds of millions of dollars was a good way to balance the state budget:

“Many [cities], if not all, have reserve funds, or rainy day funds, and they should use them,” Pawlenty said.

He also talked of the option cities have of raising property taxes to make up for any LGA [local government aid] cuts.

One of the Republican talking points against Iowa Governor Chet Culver is that his midyear budget cuts supposedly forced local governments to raise property taxes. Yet Pawlenty gets a free pass from his Iowa Republican friends. Culver’s across-the-board budget cut last October wasn’t popular, but it did keep state government from overspending. In contrast, late last year Minnesota’s cash flow was so poor that state officials considered short-term borrowing to meet budget obligations.

“It’s a bad sign,” said former state Finance Commissioner Peggy Ingison, now chief financial officer with Minneapolis public schools. “It signals you didn’t have good fiscal discipline.”

Minnesota has muddled through without borrowing money to pay bills so far, but prospects for later this year are dicey:

State budget officials updated lawmakers [April 12] on Minnesota’s precarious cash-flow situation. They all but ruled out short-term borrowing for the 2010 budget year that ends June 30.

Budget director Jim Schowalter says “deep cash problems” loom for the 2011 fiscal year. Barring law changes, spending cuts and upticks in revenue, he says the state might have to take out short-term loans to meet its obligations.

The Minnesota Budget Bites blog takes a more detailed look at the state’s “troublesome” picture for fiscal year 2011. BulliedPulpit posted a good rebuttal of “TPawnomics” at MN Progressive Project.

The last thing our country needs is budget advice from Tim Pawlenty.  

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End of 2010 legislative session thread

The Iowa House and Senate adjourned for 2010 today, wrapping up the legislative session in just 79 days. In the coming weeks I will post about various bills that passed or failed to pass during the session. For now, you can read wrap-up posts at Iowa Independent, IowaPolitics.com, the Des Moines Register and Radio Iowa.

Democratic legislative leaders said the House and Senate “succeeded in responsibly balancing the budget without raising taxes while laying the groundwork for Iowa’s economic recovery.” Governor Chet Culver described the session as “a real victory for Iowans, particularly hardworking Iowa families.” He also hailed passage of an infrastructure bill including the final installment of the I-JOBS state bonding program. AFSCME Iowa Council 61 praised several bills that passed this year, such as the government reorganization bill, the early retirement program and a budget that saved many public employees’ jobs.

Republicans and their traditional interest-group allies saw things differently, of course. House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, Senate Minority Leader Paul McKinley and Iowans for Tax Relief all emphasized the use of one-time federal dollars to help cover state spending. Their talking points have made headway with Kathie Obradovich, but the reality is that much of the federal stimulus money was intended to backfill state budgets, and rightly so, because severe state spending cuts can deepen and prolong an economic recession.

Overall, I am not satisfied with the legislature’s work in 2010. Despite the massive costs of reconstruction after the 2008 floods, legislators lacked the political will to take any steps forward on floodplain management. Despite the film tax credit fiasco, not enough was done to rein in tax credits. Many other good ideas fell by the wayside for lack of time during the rushed session. (It strikes me as penny-wise and pound-foolish to save $800,000 by shortening the legislative calendar from 100 to 80 days.) Some other good proposals got bogged down in disagreements between the House and the Senate. Labor and environmental advocates once again saw no progress on their key legislative priorities, yet this Democratic-controlled legislature found the time to pass the top priority of the National Rifle Association. Pathetic.

On the plus side, the 2011 budget protected the right priorities, and most of the projects funded by the infrastructure spending bill, Senate File 2389, are worthwhile. Some good bills affecting public safety and veterans made it through. In addition, Democrats blocked a lot of bad Republican proposals. Credit must also go to the leaders who held their caucuses together against efforts to write discrimination into the Iowa Constitution.

Any relevant thoughts are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Read Todd Dorman on the Iowa House’s “parting gift to local government officials who like to play secret agent on your dime.”

New Register poll finds record low approval for Culver

The latest Iowa poll by Selzer and Co. for the Des Moines Register finds Governor Chet Culver’s approval rating at a new low of 36 percent. Only 34 percent of respondents said Iowa is headed in the right direction, while 57 percent said the state is on the wrong track. The poll was in the field from January 31 to February 3 and surveyed 805 Iowa adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Culver’s approval rating fell to 36 percent, with 53 percent disapproving. The Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll from September had Culver in positive territory, with 50 percent approval and 39 percent disapproval. The Des Moines Register’s November poll had Culver with 40 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval.

The Des Moines Register noted that since September, Culver’s approval among Democrats has fallen from 72 percent to 57 percent, while Senator Tom Harkin’s approval among Democrats was measured at 77 percent in both polls.

The economic recession is probably a major factor in Culver’s slide. Although the state’s eight leading economic indicators were measured in positive territory in December 2009 (for the first time since April 2007), employment remains weak. Iowa’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in December 2009, and Iowa Workforce Development found,

Compared to last December, the Iowa economy has lost 40,100 jobs. Manufacturing still leads all sectors in terms of losses, down 19,900 over the year. Trade and transportation and construction followed with losses of 7,900 and 7,700, respectively. Education and health services remained the most resilient sector, adding 2,600 jobs since December 2008.

The slow economy has caused state revenues to fall below projections, which prompted Culver to make a 10 percent across-the-board cut in current-year spending in October. Spending cuts are rarely popular with anyone.

Side note: I wondered last fall whether the scandal surrounding Iowa’s film tax credit, which broke in September, would hurt Culver. I was surprised to see that 61 percent of respondents in the Des Moines Register’s poll think the film tax credit is “good for the state.” The poll question didn’t mention how much the film tax credit has cost compared to the economic impact. I agree with economist Dave Swenson, who thinks the program was flawed from the start.

The latest Register survey also polled Culver against the four Republican challengers. (This portion of the poll, like the approval numbers, is in the print version of the Sunday Des Moines Register but hasn’t appeared on the website yet. I will update this post with a link when that becomes available. UPDATE: Here is the link.) The hypothetical matchups come from a subset of 531 “likely voters,” producing a slightly higher margin of error: plus or minus 4.3 percent.

Former Governor Terry Branstad remains the strongest challenger, beating Culver 53 percent to 33 percent. Bob Vander Plaats leads Culver 43 percent to 40 percent. Strangely, Culver trailed Branstad and Vander Plaats by slightly larger margins in the Register’s November poll, even though his approval rating was a little higher then. Culver barely beats the other Republicans, who are less well known. He leads State Representative Chris Rants 41 percent to 37 percent and State Representative Rod Roberts 41 percent to 36 percent.

Needless to say, it’s never a good sign when an incumbent governor is below 40 percent approval and barely breaks 40 percent against any challenger. Culver needs to make up ground this year in order to be re-elected. The right direction/wrong track numbers show that voters under 35 were more likely than the overall population to think things are going in the right direction, but most of the electorate in November will be over 35.

Culver has chances to improve his standing this year. If the state’s leading economic indicators continue a positive trend, the job market may improve. Also, spending on infrastructure projects supported by the I-JOBS state bonding initiative will pick up in the spring and summer. So far nearly $600 million in I-JOBS money has been awarded, but only $20.7 million has been spent. As the projects take shape, more Iowans will be employed and more people will see the benefits to their communities.

On the political side, Branstad hasn’t received much scrutiny from the media yet, but when the gubernatorial campaign heats up, his accountability problem may become more apparent. A hard-fought Republican primary will exacerbate the rift between moderates and conservatives. Some conservatives have already vowed not to support Branstad if he is the GOP nominee. More focus on the inconsistencies between candidate Branstad and Governor Branstad may help Culver’s standing with Democrats and independents.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: The Des Moines Register’s Kathie Obradovich says Culver may as well start shopping his resume around, but John Deeth argues that Culver is not dead yet.

SECOND UPDATE: The latest poll commissioned by The Iowa Republican blog and the Republican Concordia group found Branstad leading Culver 57 percent to 29 percent and Vander Plaats leading Culver 43 percent to 39 percent. I don’t know much about the firm that conducted that poll, and I would put more stock in Selzer’s numbers for the Des Moines Register.

THIRD UPDATE: The Iowa Democratic Party’s statement on this poll is a bit odd. More on that after the jump.

To depressed Democrats out there, I offer six silver linings of a Branstad candidacy.

FINAL UPDATE: This poll prompted Swing State Project to change its rating of this race from tossup to lean Republican.

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Don't believe everything Republicans tell you about I-JOBS

Iowa Republicans have been throwing around misleading talking points about the I-JOBS program since the Iowa legislature approved the infrastructure bonding initiative last spring. I’m still waiting for Republicans to address some basic questions, like where would they have found $45 million for flood recovery efforts in Linn County without I-JOBS? What was their plan for repairing ten flood-damaged structures at the University of Iowa, if they didn’t want to issue $100 million in state bonds to leverage $500 million in federal funds to rebuild the campus?

Some Republicans have called for delaying infrastructure projects until we have enough cash to pay for them up front, but Iowa’s worst-ever flooding hit the state during the most severe national recession since World War II. There was no realistic way to pay for flood recovery efforts without state borrowing. Even David Yepsen, a notorious skeptic about state spending, could see that. During the summer of 2008, Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson pointed out, “When you borrow money, that allows you to fix things as quickly as possible,” he said. “You can’t move as quickly on a ‘pay-as-you go’ basis.” Yet every Republican in the legislature voted against borrowing money to repair the damage from the devastating 2008 floods.

In addition to the flood recovery funds allocated to Linn County and the University of Iowa, the I-JOBS program included $118.5 million for “reconstruction of local public buildings and flood control prevention,” to be awarded by competitive grants. It wasn’t enough to fully meet local infrastructure needs across the state; requests for that portion of the I-JOBS money totaled $333.6 million. But it was a good start.

Republicans recently seized on a new talking point: some I-JOBS money is supposedly being spent on projects unrelated to disaster recovery. By way of example, State Representative Pat Grassley mentioned the community center in the Des Moines suburb of Windsor Heights. I contacted Windsor Heights City Manager Marketa George Oliver about this allegation, and she forwarded a copy of a letter from Mayor Jerry Sullivan to Grassley. You can view the whole letter here, but the small print is hard to read, so here’s the relevant excerpt (emphasis in original):

The City is currently constructing a new Community Center. The structure that used to be in [Colby Park] at this location was originally built in a flood plain and was repeatedly flooded. It sustained flood damage year after year and flood after flood. The new structure is being built out of the flood plain and protected from any future flooding, mitigating the effects of a natural disaster. The Center, once finished, will be a heating/cooling facility in the event of prolonged power outages, which is much-needed in our region. In the event of natural disasters, it will also be available as temporary housing. […]

The I-Jobs program gave us the ability to make a substantial investment in mitigating and responding to natural disasters. The program was also able to support our efforts in a timely manner, unlike many other grants programs.

Oliver explained to me that a heating/cooling center is a place residents without power can go during a cold spell or dangerous heat wave.

Republicans will continue to attack the I-JOBS program during this year’s campaigns for governor and state legislature. Democrats need to be ready to defend these infrastructure investments, because journalists will sometimes pass along ill-informed claims like Grassley’s without providing context or an opposing view. In addition, some Republican candidates may falsely suggest that I-JOBS pays for ongoing spending programs instead of capital projects, like bridge and sewer repairs. Maybe they are thinking of Republican Terry Branstad, who borrowed money to solve the state’s cash flow problems in 1992.

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Recent Chet Culver news roundup (updated)

The Des Moines Register dinged Governor Chet Culver recently for not scheduling as many press conferences and public appearances as Terry Branstad and Tom Vilsack did as governor, but Culver’s been active around the state since he submitted his draft budget to the legislature last week.

Lots of links are after the jump, along with an update on Jonathan Narcisse, who supported Culver in 2006 but recently launched his own gubernatorial campaign.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 2)

Following up on my review of news from the first half of last year, I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from July through December 2009 after the jump.

Hot topics on this blog during the second half of the year included the governor’s race, the special election in Iowa House district 90, candidates announcing plans to run for the state legislature next year, the growing number of Republicans ready to challenge Representative Leonard Boswell, state budget constraints, and a scandal involving the tax credit for film-making.

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Year in review: Iowa politics in 2009 (part 1)

I expected 2009 to be a relatively quiet year in Iowa politics, but was I ever wrong.

The governor’s race heated up, state revenues melted down, key bills lived and died during the legislative session, and the Iowa Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in Varnum v Brien became one of this state’s major events of the decade.

After the jump I’ve posted links to Bleeding Heartland’s coverage of Iowa politics from January through June 2009. Any comments about the year that passed are welcome in this thread.

Although I wrote a lot of posts last year, there were many important stories I didn’t manage to cover. I recommend reading Iowa Independent’s compilation of “Iowa’s most overlooked and under reported stories of 2009,” as well as that blog’s review of “stories that will continue to impact Iowa in 2010.”

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We have a candidate in House district 37

2008 was a good election for Iowa Democrats, but we still lost several very close statehouse races. In House district 37 (map here), Republican Renee Schulte defeated first-term incumbent Art Staed by 13 votes (0.07 percent).

This week Cedar Rapids attorney Mark Seidl announced his plans to run in this district and laid out his priorities:

“Although no one would have wished for any of them, the natural, fiscal, and economic disasters that have struck us in recent years present unique opportunities for rethinking each level of our government,” Seidl said.  “In going forward, we must concentrate on reconstituting and enhancing our advantages-recreating two cities which are an essential part of Iowa’s character, conserving our tremendous natural resources in agriculture and renewable energy production, and preparing the next generation of Iowans to be leaders and innovators in the future.”

This district is winnable in light of Schulte’s tiny margin of victory and a slight Democratic voter registration advantage. Nevertheless, Seidl will need to pound the pavement to win back this seat. Schulte is a hard worker who was out door-knocking last Friday, 11 months before the election when the temperature was in the 20s. Also, Schulte may benefit from an “enthusiasm gap” if Democratic voters are demoralized and Republicans energized next November.

Schulte bucked the majority of her party by voting for a bill that allowed authorities to impose a local option sales tax in disaster areas. Linn County voters approved the 1-cent tax in March, and the proposal received a majority of votes in Cedar Rapids as a whole. I don’t know whether it carried the Cedar Rapids precincts that are in House district 37.

Like other House Republicans, Schulte voted against the I-JOBS state bonding initiative, which allocated $45 million to Linn County for disaster relief (here is how that money was allocated).

I suspect that in this district, much will depend on how voters perceive the effectiveness of the state’s response to the 2008 floods.

UPDATE: Schulte is already organizing volunteers to help with voter contacts. We will need all hands on deck in this district.

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Revisionist history watch: Branstad budget edition

The editors of the conservative Fort Dodge Messenger are ecstatic about Terry Branstad’s gubernatorial campaign, and they got a little carried away in this Sunday editorial:

Iowa must return to a pay-as-you-go approach to budgeting. Government spending should be carefully aligned with anticipated revenues. As governor, Branstad rigorously adhered to that philosophy. He pledged it will once again become central to state budgeting if he is elected.

Who are they kidding?

Branstad’s sleight of hand on the budget was so notorious that as a three-term incumbent, he almost lost the 1994 GOP primary to Fred Grandy. That campaign centered on “the Mastercard governor” and his record of fiscal mismanagement, including keeping two sets of books to hide deficits.

As State Representative Chris Rants has noted, Branstad likes to take credit for budget reforms that were not his idea and were intended to prevent future governors from repeating his mistakes.

That’s to be expected from a politician, but I expect more reality-based commentary from newspaper editors.

By the way, did you notice how the Messenger editors suggested that Iowa is no longer doing “pay as you go” budgeting? That Republican talking point is supposed to make people believe that Democrats have borrowed money to fund budget line items. In fact, the I-JOBS state bonding program was for capital investment projects. Investors understood that distinction. That’s why the bonds were sold at lower interest rates, and the Bond Buyer daily rated I-JOBS one of the country’s top 10 best financing deals for 2009.

Even after factoring in the I-JOBS program, Iowa’s state debt per capita is low by national standards.

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Republicans trying to have it both ways on I-JOBS

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.

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Iowa turning stimulus road funds around quickly

The U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has been keeping track of how states are spending the stimulus funds allocated for roads. On September 2 the committee released a report ranking the states according to how much of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for highways and bridges had been put to work as of July 31. This pdf file contains the state rankings.

Iowa ranked second overall, having put 75 percent of its stimulus road funds to work by the end of July. Join me after the jump for more details from the report and analysis.  

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16 public shelters receive I-JOBS funding

I saw on Radio Iowa’s site that 16 shelters serving the homeless and victims of family violence will receive a total of $10 million through the I-JOBS state bonding initiative.

Grants will provide approximately half the funding to build new shelters in Des Moines, Iowa City, and Sioux Center. The other grants will pay for almost all of the renovation costs at 13 shelters in Muscatine, Dubuque, Mason City, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Waverly, Boone, Davenport, and Burlington. Click here for more details about the 16 shelter projects.

According to the governor’s office,

Last year, more than 17,000 people sought help at Iowa’s shelters. Nearly 8,000 of these clients were members of families, and close to 40% of them were children.

The need is greater this year, probably because of the recession and growing number of foreclosures. From the Radio Iowa report:  

Tim Wilson, executive director of the shelter in Cedar Rapids, says there is an increased demand for services. “We have been very full from the spring through the summer on the men’s beds and particularly the family units. Lately, we’ve been turning away many more people than we can actually accommodate,” Wilson said.

Iowa Republicans keep bashing the I-JOBS program, but their false advertising and misleading talking points aren’t doing a thing to help the thousands of Iowans who need shelters during these tough times.

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Fake objectivity in action

Disappointing stuff from Lynn Campbell of IowaPolitics.com:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong has refused to take down his statewide radio ad, despite complaints and threats of legal action by the Iowa Democratic Party.

“We have no intention to take down the ad,” Marlys Popma, Fong’s campaign manager, told IowaPolitics.com today. “We’re very confident that everything in the ad is completely accurate.”

Fong on Monday launched the 60-second ad called “Iowa Dream” that focuses on introducing himself and outlining his story for Iowa Republicans, but also says: “We have a state government that borrowed almost a billion dollars to pay its bills.” Popma said the $830 million I-JOBS program will actually cost the state about $1.4 billion by the time it’s paid off.

Campbell goes on to quote Iowa Democratic Party chair Michael Kiernan’s statement calling the ad “materially false and misleading.” Finally, Campbell quotes Popma as saying the Fong campaign hasn’t heard directly from the Iowa Democratic Party.

This is a perfect example of bogus “objective” journalism that offers readers nothing but “he said/she said.” If Campbell has spent even 10 seconds wondering whether the state of Iowa is borrowing a billion dollars to pay its bills, you’d never know it from her story.

Yet Fong’s claim can be disproved by minute or two of online research. The I-JOBS program is funding special infrastructure projects, not line items from the budget. If Iowa were borrowing money to meet ongoing spending commitments, the state would not have a AAA bond rating, and the I-JOBS bonds would not have a AA rating.  

For whatever reason, Campbell makes this story about Republican confidence and Democratic “complaints” instead of about the accuracy of Fong’s ad.

I recommend that the folks at IowaPolitics.com read this piece by Philip Meyer on “The Next Journalism’s Objective Reporting.” Excerpt:

True objectivity is based on method, not result. Instead of implying that there is an equal amount of weight to be accorded every side, the objective investigator makes an effort to evaluate the competing viewpoints. The methods of investigation keep the reporter from being misled by his or her own desires and prejudices.

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Nice work if you can get it

Have you gotten four raises in the past six years? Jefferson County supervisor Stephen Burgmeier has, I learned after writing about the Republican’s first television ad for the September 1 special election in Iowa House district 90. Burgmeier is highlighting alleged overspending by Democrats, but if he’s so stingy with the people’s money, why did he keep voting to raise his own pay?

The “check the facts” page on Democratic candidate Curt Hanson’s website contains other useful information too. In addition to raising his own pay repeatedly, Burgmeier voted five times to raise taxes on Jefferson County residents. Did Iowans for Tax Relief know about this record when the group took responsibility for running Burgmeier’s campaign?

The Iowa Democratic Party is running this ad backing Hanson:

Share any relevant thoughts about phony Republican posturing in this thread. You can sign up here to volunteer for the Hanson campaign.

Republican ad for special election targets Culver, borrowing

UPDATE: Curt Hanson has already posted a rapid response at his campaign website.

Two and a half weeks before the September 1 special election in Iowa House district 90, Republican Stephen Burgmeier’s campaign launched its first television commercial:

The producers fit quite a few misleading statements into one 30-second ad. The visual suggests Iowa has taken on “a billion dollar debt,” and the voice-over emphasizes the word “billion,” even though the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative was for $830 million.

The commercial accuses “Governor Culver and his allies” of borrowing “almost a BILLION dollars to pay their bills.” However, the I-JOBS program was created to fund infrastructure projects and has nothing to do with meeting state government’s ongoing spending obligations. (Click here for a breakdown of how the money will be spent.)

During this recession, several other states have been forced to borrow money to pay their bills, but Iowa is borrowing for capital investments. Credit analysts and national institutional investors understand the difference, even if Iowa Republicans don’t. That’s why “investor enthusiasm and high market demand” drove down the interest rate on the I-JOBS bonds.

Next, Burgmeier’s ad shows a man saying, “That’s money taxpayers are on the hook for,” implying that taxes will go up to repay the debt. In fact, existing gaming revenues will provide the approximately $43.2 million in annual payments on the bonds.

The ad begins with a voice-over asserting that “red ink is rising in Des Moines” and later shows a woman saying, “Stop the red ink.” Those statements, along with the cartoon of red ink drowning Culver and the capitol, wrongly suggest that the infrastructure borrowing is deficit spending.

The second part of the ad promises that Burgmeier will vote for a new budget law “to make it harder to waste tax dollars.” I’d like more details about how such a law would work, and I’d also like Burgmeier to specify which of these investments he considers wasteful.

The ad promises Burgmeier will “serve as a check and balance to Governor Culver’s runaway spending” and closes by saying Burgmeier will bring “balance and spending restraint back to our government.” Iowa Republicans may believe Culver is very unpopular in district 90, or they may have decided to run against him in order to rile up their base. It’s notable that the ad never uses the word “Republican” and doesn’t identify the candidate’s political party. I guess the outside interest groups running the Burgmeier campaign don’t have much confidence in the Republican brand to carry the day.

The Iowa GOP didn’t announce the size of the ad buy, which networks would run the ad or which programs have been targeted. If you live in the viewing area for this district, let us know whether you’ve seen the ad, and if so during which television shows. If you prefer not to post a comment here, you can send me a confidential e-mail at desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com. Please also report on any radio ads you’ve heard.

I’m curious to see whether this will be Burgmeier’s only television commercial or if his campaign will mention other issues, including same-sex marriage, in later ads.

Having spent no time in this district lately, I have no idea whether Burgmeier or Democrat Curt Hanson has an edge. Political scientists will tell you that as a general rule, the party out of power does well in low-turnout by-elections and special elections. Both Democrats and Republicans are working hard to get out the vote in district 90. State GOP Chairman Matt Strawn and some other Republicans view this race as a must-win.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

Iowa Republicans still wrong on the economy and I-JOBS

The business network CNBC threw a wrench in the Republican sound bite machine yesterday by ranking Iowa the fourth best state in the country for doing business. Click the link to read Iowa’s scores for 2008 and 2009 in the ten different categories CNBC considered in compiling these rankings. (Iowa ranked ninth overall in 2008.) You can also watch the CNBC segment here.

Iowa improved in almost all of CNBC’s categories from 2008 to 2009. The biggest improvement was in the “economy” category, where Iowa went from 29th in 2008 to 4th in 2009, even as the national recession deepened. While the recession is hurting Iowa along with every other state, we are doing reasonably well under the circumstances. CNBC also moved Iowa up quite a few notches under “technology and innovation” and “transportation and infrastructure.” We have a ways to go to reach the top-ranked states in those areas, which is why the Culver administration is smart to be investing heavily in our infrastructure with the I-JOBS bonding program.

Speaking of I-JOBS, now that most of the bonds have been sold, money is starting to be awarded:

Every city and county in Iowa will receive a portion of $45 million in additional funding under I-JOBS for local street and road projects. These funds will begin being distributed to cities and counties starting next Tuesday.

In addition, $50 million in I-JOBS funds will improve 55 state highway system bridges in 29 counties across the state. Projects in the metro Des Moines area include two I-35 bridges over the Iowa Interstate Railroad, the Iowa 17 bridge over the Des Moines River, and U.S. 69 bridge over Scott Avenue.

Scroll to the bottom of this page to find links to pdf files containing a “list of I-JOBS road funding amounts for all Iowa cities and counties, as well as bridge projects.”

Meanwhile, Iowa Republicans continue to proudly oppose the I-JOBS program. Today Senate minority leader Paul McKinley and others are triumphantly Twittering about an article in the Des Moines Register: Economists question impact of I-JOBS plan. My response is after the jump.

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Comparing Branstad and Culver: budgets and floods

I stand by my prediction that former Governor Terry Branstad will not seek his old job again, but I can’t resist responding to these comments by Republican blogger Constitution Daily:

Now back to Branstad, his credentials as a governor are amazingly good. He governed during the farm crisis and floods of 1993, all while balancing a budget and even having a surplus. […]

Branstad against Culver will be a great campaign. Culver has shown no leadership skills even within his own Party. The flood will be a defining issue. Branstad led us through that with ease where Culver still has us wading through the muck. Culver has no excuses and no one to shift blame to. This is a big advantage for Branstad.

Also with Culver, the budget is massively in the red. Whether or not you agree, the perception is that Branstad always had a balanced budget and didn’t grow government. That is what people want and dream of returning to. Can you imagine the debates between the two? How would Branstad not come out smelling like a rose not just on rhetoric but actual experience?

If Constitution Daily is old enough to have been politically aware during Branstad’s tenure, he is suffering from serious memory loss. I’ll explain why after the jump.

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I-JOBS bonds sold well, will cost less to repay

Most of the bonds that will fund the I-JOBS program were sold this week, and Iowa’s solid credit rating fueled strong investor interest. According to State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald,

investor enthusiasm and high market demand for the Iowa bonds helped drive down the interest rate to 4.31 percent, which resulted in a $42 million yearly payback for the state and a roughly $12 million annual savings over what originally was budgeted to repay the borrowing. […]

“Investors were impressed with the state of Iowa and put their money on the table to show it. There was strong support for the bonds from Iowans and from national institutional investors,” he added.

“This is where our balanced budget, our surpluses that we have and our history of running the state – we’re not California or even Minnesota or Wisconsin or New York right now. All those states are having trouble and we’re doing well,” the state treasurer said. “In fact, one of the investment bankers said Iowa is a refreshing contrast to the other states that have been coming to the market.”

Over $600 million of the I-JOBS bonds have now been sold. Another $115 million of bonds will be issued in 2010.

Speaking to me by phone today, Fitzgerald explained that the I-JOBS bonds are rated AA (a notch lower than the state of Iowa) because they will be repaid out of gaming revenues. We would have had to issue A-grade bonds if Iowa were like other states, which have exhausted their reserve funds and are borrowing simply to meet budget obligations. Investors liked the fact that the I-JOBS bonds will fund capital improvements and not ongoing government spending, Fitzgerald said.

Republicans like Iowa House minority leader Kraig Paulsen and Iowa Senate minority leader Paul McKinley have discounted the importance of Iowa’s AAA bond rating. It’s clear today how wrong they were. If Iowa’s overall financial condition were not strong enough to warrant the AAA bond rating, repaying the I-JOBS bonds would cost $55 million annually instead of $43 million.

A press release from the governor’s office noted that Iowa is among just 11 states that have a AAA bond rating. I’ve posted the full text of that release after the jump.

Once the proceeds from the I-JOBS bonds come through next week, funds will be available for various infrastructure projects, from renovating the Iowa Veteran’s Home in Marshalltown to rebuilding flood-damaged facilities to upgrading sewer systems around the state. Those projects will create jobs while improving the quality of life in many communities.

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Iowa taking full advantage of stimulus unemployment funds

When Congress was debating the stimulus bill earlier this year, Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody’s, compared various forms of government spending and tax cuts in terms of economic stimulus “bang for the buck.” He concluded (pdf file) that various forms of government spending did more to stimulate the economy than various kinds of tax cuts.

The best kinds of spending in terms of stimulative effect were food stamps and extending unemployment benefits. Every extra dollar the federal government spends on food stamps generates approximately $1.73 in economic activity, and every dollar the federal government spends to extend unemployment benefits generates approximately $1.63 in economic activity. People who need these services are likely to spend additional money quickly, helping preserve jobs in the retail sector.

With this in mind, you might imagine that the states would take full advantage of money allocated to unemployment benefits in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. But you would be wrong, according to this article by Olga Pierce from ProPublica:

So far, only about half of the $7 billion included in the stimulus package [for expanding unemployment insurance] has been claimed by states. […]

Four states have explicitly rejected the funding, but many others have so far failed to pass legislation qualifying them for incentive payments. […]

Under the stimulus bill [2], states can qualify for the extra funding by extending unemployment insurance to new categories of workers. To receive a third of the funding, they must begin using something called an alternative base period, which would allow more low-wage workers to receive unemployment benefits. […]

To get the other two-thirds of the cash, they must adopt at least two other changes from a list that includes covering part-time workers and offering $15 extra per week for each dependent.

If states meet the requirements, they qualify for a federal lump sum payment that will cover the cost of expansion for at least three years, or longer in many cases. It was on those grounds – that after the federal funding runs out states will have to find another way to cover the cost – that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal [3], Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour [4] and others [5] that said they would reject the funding.

Bleeding-heart liberal that I am, I believe basic fairness justifies extending unemployment benefits to more part-time and low-wage workers. But even if you don’t care about fairness, Zandi’s analysis shows that extending unemployment benefits will get money circulating in the economy.

Click here for a map and a chart showing how much federal unemployment money each state has claimed.  

As of mid-June, 17 states had claimed none of the stimulus funding for unemployment benefits, and another 12 states and the District of Columbia had claimed only part of that money. In some of those states, Democrats are in charge. Progressives who have ridiculed Republican governors for rejecting stimulus money for unemployment benefits should also hold Democrats accountable on this score.

Fortunately, Iowa is among 21 states that have fully used these stimulus funds as Congress intended. Thousands of Iowans struggling to get by will benefit from the $70.8 million the stimulus bill appropriated to our state for unemployment benefits. Democrats in the state legislature and Governor Chet Culver deserve credit for enacting the necessary legislative changes to collect this funding.

Many of the states that have left stimulus money on the table have significantly higher unemployment rates than Iowa, by the way.

Speaking of boosting the economy, Zandi’s report showed that infrastructure projects were the third-most stimulative form of government spending. Every extra dollar spent on infrastructure generates an estimated $1.59 in economic activity. Remember that next time Iowa Republicans bring out their misleading talking points about the the I-JOBS program. Also remember that Iowa has used the stimulus bill’s transportation funding wisely compared to many other states, according to a recent review by Smart Growth America.

In contrast, most kinds of tax cuts Republicans advocate generate less than one dollar of economic activity for every dollar they cost the government. As a gesture to Republicans, Democrats replaced some spending in the stimulus bill with $70 billion allocated to fixing the alternative minimum tax, even though Zandi’s analysis found that a dollar spent on fixing the alternative minimum tax generates only about 49 cents in economic activity.

It’s too bad the Obama administration made a number of concessions to Republicans on the stimulus bill. Like Bob Herbert wrote a few months ago, when the GOP talks about the economy, nobody should listen.

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Christian Fong dusts off Obama's playbook

Given Barack Obama’s Iowa caucus breakthrough and convincing general-election victory here, it was only a matter of time before someone else built an Iowa campaign around his strategy. I didn’t count on a Republican being the first person to try, though.

Enter Christian Fong, who made the Republican race for governor a lot more interesting last week.

Some early impressions of Fong’s personal narrative, political rhetoric and electoral prospects are after the jump.  

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How would Iowa Republicans fund these projects?

The I-JOBS Board met in Cedar Rapids today and awarded money for the first time, approving eight flood recovery projects worth $45.5 million. All of the projects are in Linn County except for $500,000 awarded to help the city of Elkader build a new fire station. More details are in this press release from the governor’s office, which I have posted after the jump.

Attacking the I-JOBS bonding program has become a staple of Iowa Republicans’ speeches and newsletters (see also here and here). I would like Republicans to explain how they would pay for flood recovery projects like the ones approved today. Or would they prefer “small government” that doesn’t repair public libraries or build new county offices and fire stations?

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Iowa Republicans more like "Party of Hoover" than party of future

The Republican Party of Iowa is celebrating its “rising stars” tonight at an event featuring Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. Judging by what we’ve heard lately from Iowa GOP leaders, they’re gonna party like it’s 1929.

Case in point: Iowa Senate Minority leader Paul McKinley. The possible gubernatorial candidate’s weekly memos continue to whine about spending and borrowing by Democrats (see also here). Republicans would rather slash government programs and provide “targeted” one-year tax credits.

The lessons of Herbert Hoover’s presidency are still lost on these people. I apologize for repeating myself, but excessive government spending cuts can turn an economic recession into a depression. Since state governments cannot run budget deficits, it makes sense for the federal government to help the states “backfill” their budgets. That was the express purpose of the state transfer funds in the stimulus package.

In addition, it is prudent to spend federal funds on projects with long-term benefits. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was in Des Moines on June 23 to highlight the first installment of what will be $41 million in stimulus funds for renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects in Iowa. Energy efficiency programs in particular will have huge collateral benefits, saving consumers money while helping the environment.

No matter how many times Republicans repeat their misleading talking points about the I-JOBS state bonding initiative Democrats passed this year, it is prudent to borrow money for worthwhile projects when interest rates are low. I don’t hear McKinley or other Republican leaders telling businesses not to borrow money to make capital improvements.

Share any thoughts about Republican ideas, rhetoric, or career lobbyist Haley Barbour in this thread.

How you can track I-JOBS spending

The official website for the I-JOBS infrastructure bonding initiative launched yesterday. It’s easy to navigate and includes, among other things:

*the rules for applying for I-JOBS money;

*details on how the bonding money will be directed to various types of infrastructure (transportation, disaster recovery and prevention, environment and water quality, telecommunications and renewable energy, and housing);

*a page where citizens can submit any question about the I-JOBS program;

*an interactive map on the main page which, as I-JOBS money starts to be awarded later this year, will allow users to click on any Iowa county to find out which projects affect that county’s residents.

You can receive updates on the I-JOBS program on Twitter as well.

The only thing I couldn’t find on the site is a link for reporting waste and abuse of I-JOBS money. If that’s not on the site, it should be added, and if it’s already there in an obscure location, it should be moved somewhere easier to find. The official page on the use of federal stimulus funds in Iowa has a link for reporting stimulus fraud right on the main page. Perhaps the I-JOBS webmaster could follow that example, or at least put a link for whistleblowers in the “helpful links” section.

Republicans will be looking for any slip-up in the use of I-JOBS money to bolster their misleading talking points about the infrastructure bonding initiative. It should be easy for Iowans to report any problems they see in their communities.

Infrastructure spending needs strong oversight

All government spending on infrastructure is not created equal. With good planning and accountability measures, the federal stimulus and state bonding packages approved this year by Congress and the Iowa legislature could turn out to be wise investments with long-term benefits. Without proper monitoring, we could squander lots of borrowed federal and state money.

Laura Dean of the Huffington Post drew my attention to the Project on Government Oversight‘s review of state websites on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the official name for the stimulus bill). They were specifically looking for resources for those who want to report fraud, waste and abuse in how federal stimulus funds are being used.

The findings are summarized here. Iowa did well as one of only seven states that “listed clear procedures for whistleblowers, such as what information to report, who to report to, and what will be done with that information.” (“Report stimulus fraud” is right on the front page of Iowa’s site, in the “featured links” section.)

However, there’s always room for improvement. The Project on Government Oversight applauded a few especially “whistleblower-friendly websites”:

Tied for first prize were Florida and Georgia, whose sites did an excellent job of providing clear procedures and protections for whistleblowers. Next up were Maine, Connecticut, and Texas, whose websites all did a good job of making the whistleblower’s job just a little bit easier.

Perhaps the webmaster for Iowa’s site on federal stimulus spending can make a few changes based on the Project on Government Oversight’s recommendations (pdf file).

As for state spending on infrastructure, the I-JOBS board will choose projects to receive funds soon. The criteria for selection are clear, and state officials understand the need for transparency in the process. Once the money has been allocated, the I-JOBS website should make it easy for citizens not only to track how the money is being spent, but to report any suspected fraud, waste or abuse.

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I-JOBS board agrees on draft rules and timeline

The I-JOBS board met for the first time on June 3. According to this news release,

The I-Jobs Board is specifically tasked with awarding approximately $165 million of funds from the I-Jobs program. Of  that amount, $46.5 million is earmarked for projects in Linn County, Cedar Rapids, Palo, Elkader and Charles City. The  remaining $118.5 million will be available on a competitive basis to support the construction of projects relating to  disaster relief, mitigation and local infrastructure.

The board approved this tentative timetable for allocating the money. The key date is August 3, when applications are due. As Governor Chet Culver’s deputy chief of staff Phil Roeder told Iowa Independent,

“Everyone in the administration understands that with I-JOBS, time is of the essence,” Roeder said. “In order to have impact on the economy, we have to move quickly.”

I was pleased to see Roeder highlight the importance of transparency for the I-JOBS program. The administration is creating a website that supposedly will allow the public to track how money is being spent. I strongly agree with Kathleen Richardson, director of Iowa Freedom of Information Council, who emphasized the need for the I-JOBS board to follow open meetings rules as well.

Citizens can find draft rules for the I-JOBS program here. You can send comments about these rules to ijobs@iowa.gov.

Meanwhile, Iowa Republicans continue to bring out their misleading talking points, such as this Twitter comment from IowaGOP,

Culver keeps pumping I-JOBS (1st mtg. today.) But how will it help create and keep long-term jobs in IA? Still haven’t heard.

How the program will create jobs should be obvious when you read which kinds of construction projects are eligible for the money (such as roads, bridges, sewers, repairing flood-damaged structures). As for how these public works will keep jobs in Iowa, what part of “quality of life” do Republicans not understand? Also, expanding broadband access in rural areas will allow more Iowans to operate internet-based businesses.

Even Iowa State Economics Professor David Swenson, whom Republicans like to quote on this subject, estimates that the I-JOBS program will create around 4,050 jobs.

Funny, Iowa Republicans don’t acknowledge Swenson’s insight when it comes to ending federal deductibility, which he considers an “archaic holdover” in our state’s tax system. But that’s a point for another post.

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The case for Kate Gronstal on the I-JOBS Board

Iowa Republicans are bashing Governor Chet Culver for appointing Kate Gronstal to the I-JOBS board, which will decide how to spend $118.5 million of the $830 million in I-JOBS money. Kate Gronstal is the daughter of Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal.

Iowa GOP chairman Matt Strawn slammed what he called “political nepotism”:

“I’m sure there are thousands of qualified engineers in this state that don’t raise the red flag that someone who is an immediate family member of a legislator in charge of ramming this through the Senate,” Strawn said.

Since Culver “declined to respond” to Strawn’s allegation, I want to lay out the case for putting Kate Gronstal on this board.

1. She is qualified for the position as a professionally trained structural engineer. It’s not as if the governor put a well-connected person with no relevant experience on the board.

2. By all accounts she is smart and highly capable. People born into political families have certain doors opened for them. I’m sure Marcus Branstad had a leg up on the competition when he was starting his career in Iowa Republican circles. Who cares as long as he is good at what he does?

3. Kate Gronstal’s presence on the board will subject its award process to a higher level of scrutiny. That’s good.

I supported the large infrastructure bonding package because Iowa’s debt load is not that high, interest rates are relatively low, and public works projects can improve the quality of life in the long term while creating jobs in the short term.

However, it is critically important that the I-JOBS money be spent wisely to benefit whole communities, not just a few wealthy developers.

Iowa Republicans never liked Culver’s bonding plan, and they’ll be watching for any mistakes that bolster their misleading talking points. With Kate Gronstal on the I-JOBS board, Republicans will use any unworthy project approved to highlight alleged Democratic nepotism and mismanagement.

I-JOBS has the potential to make Iowa a better place to live. Governor Culver has appointed a qualified board to administer the program. All the board members, and especially Kate Gronstal, have strong incentives to demonstrate that they can handle this responsibility.

After the jump I’ve posted the governor’s press release containing bios for all members of the I-JOBS Board and the Accountability And Transparency Board, which will “make sure Iowa meets or exceeds the accountability and transparency requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” (also known as the federal economic stimulus bill).

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Good news for water quality in Culver's final bill signings

Governor Chet Culver signed more than two dozen bills on May 26, the last day he was able to take action on legislation approved during the 2009 session. Two of the bills made up the last piece of the I-JOBS program, four more are aimed at helping veterans and Iowans on active duty, and the rest cover a wide range of issues.

Some good news for water quality was buried in the long list of bills and veto messages signed on Tuesday. For the details, follow me after the jump.

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Cleaner water: tangible benefit of stimulus and bonding bills

Water quality has long been one of Iowa’s biggest environmental problems. Fortunately, the state plans to spend some $455 million cleaning up Iowa rivers and lakes, according to an excellent piece by Perry Beeman in the May 10 edition of the Des Moines Register:

After decades of struggling to address serious pollution problems, the state now has an unprecedented pool of state and federal money to solve some of its worst water-quality problems, said Charles Corell, the water chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

One of the biggest impacts: improved sewage treatment and septic systems in the 500 towns and rural subdivisions that don’t have any. […]

Much of the new money for water quality was approved last month by the Iowa Legislature as part of a huge bond package pushed by Gov. Chet Culver. Other money was awarded as part of flood recovery efforts.

Money for lake restorations – including popular spots like Clear Lake in Cerro Gordo County and Carter Lake in Pottawattamie County – will more than quadruple. Many predict the much larger pool will fuel recreation opportunities and improve local economies. […]

“You essentially have untreated or under-treated sewage getting into waterways,” said Corell, who visited Truesdale and Greenville on Thursday to discuss proposed sewer projects. “And it’s all the time, not just when it rains.”

After the jump I have posted details Beeman compiled about the new money that will be used to improve water quality in Iowa. A large sum came from the federal economic stimulus bill, which didn’t get a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives. Another major source is the I-JOBS bonding initiative, which passed the Iowa House and Senate last month with no Republican votes.

Republicans keep bashing the federal stimulus spending and the state-level borrowing, as if no Iowans will benefit from these policies (aside from the few thousand people who will work on the projects). One typical example was the e-mail blast Iowa Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley sent out last week. You won’t find it on the comically awful Iowa Senate Republicans website, which appears not to have been updated since April 16. However, I receive “McKinley’s Memos” via e-mail, and I’ve posted the May 15 edition after the jump to give you a flavor of current Republican ideology.

I addressed most of the points McKinley raises in this post. The Party of No’s indiscriminate stance against borrowing fails to recognize that when interest rates are relatively low, bonding to pay for worthwhile projects is a wise investment. It may be hard to assign a dollar value to reducing water pollution in Iowa, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important for human health, biodiversity and local economies.

Hundreds of thousands of Iowans will benefit from the clean water projects discussed in Beeman’s article. If Republicans had their way, the sewer improvements and lake cleanups wouldn’t happen for years, if ever.

Please share your own thoughts about penny-wise and pound-foolish conservative dogma in this thread.

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Attack of the misleading talking points (updated)

UPDATE: The governor signed the bonding plan into law on May 14.

It’s only been a few weeks since the Iowa legislature’s 2009 session ended, and I’m already tired of hearing Republican attacks on the $830 million infrastructure borrowing program (I-JOBS).

The bonding proposal was among the most important bills passed this year. However, to the Party of No it was a terrible idea because paying back $830 million in bonds will cost a total of $1.7 billion.

Iowa Republicans “support funding infrastructure projects on a pay-as-you-go basis.” In other words, while the economic recession is bringing down state revenues, we should sit tight and only improve our infrastructure when the state has the cash to pay the full cost up front.

I cover a few problems with this argument after the jump.

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