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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Stimulus bill anniversary thread

It’s been a year since President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (better known as the stimulus bill) into law. I didn’t like the early concessions Obama made to Republicans in a fruitless effort to win their support for the stimulus. I was even more upset with later compromises made to appease Senate conservadems and Republican moderates. They reduced spending in several areas that had real stimulative value (school construction funds, extra money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, aid to state governments) in order to include tax cuts that have much less stimulus “bang for the buck.” Senator Tom Harkin was right to question why 9 percent of the stimulus bill’s cost went toward fixing the alternative minimum tax, for instance.

Still, I supported passage of the stimulus bill. In late 2008 and early 2009 the U.S. economy was losing 600,000 to 700,000 jobs per month. Something had to be done. On balance, the stimulus did much more good than bad. Economists agree it has saved or created a lot of jobs:

Just look at the outside evaluations of the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody’s Economy.com. They all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these estimates to be conservative.

Two and a half million jobs isn’t enough to compensate for the 8 million jobs lost since this recession began, but it’s a start.

Not only did the stimulus create jobs, it greatly increased spending on programs that will have collateral benefits. Incentives to make homes more energy efficient will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save consumers money that they can spend elsewhere. Money for sewer improvements will provide lasting gains in water quality (inadequate sewers and septic systems are a huge problem in Iowa). The stimulus included $8 billion for high-speed rail. It wasn’t nearly enough, of course; we could have spent ten or twenty times that amount on improving our rail networks. But that $8 billion pot drew $102 billion in grant applications from 40 states and Washington, DC. The massive demand for high-speed rail stimulus funding increases the chance that Congress will allocate more funds for rail transportation in the future.

Unfortunately, most Americans don’t believe the stimulus bill created jobs. That’s largely because unemployment remains at a historically high level of 10 percent nationwide. Also, inflation-adjusted average weekly earnings have gone down during the past year. In addition, Republicans have stayed on message about the worthlessness of the stimulus bill, even though scores of them have hailed stimulus spending in their own states and districts.

Democrats on the House Labor and Education Committee released an ad that lists various popular stimulus bill provisions, such as increasing Pell Grants and teacher pay. The ad uses the tag line, “There’s an act for that,” naming the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at the end. I don’t think it’s effective, because the ad doesn’t include the word “stimulus.” Few people will realize that the ARRA refers to the stimulus bill.

Bleeding Heartland readers, how do you view the stimulus one year later?

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POTUS Speak Up

Five Things to Say about Clean Energy in Your Address

It is that time of year again.  This Wednesday, January 27, 2010, the President will glide down the aisle in the House of Representatives, greeted by thunderous applause, and encounter the usually more dignified elected officials in a slightly teen-bopper, Beatles-esque-frenzy, practically climbing over each other to shake his hand.  

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Numbers Game

Tell POTUS That This Is Our Moment

In case you are tired of making your own New Year’s resolutions, President Obama would like you to help him set his. He is inviting Americans to tell him what we think the administration’s priorities should be for 2010.  

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Tramontina resigns over problems with film tax credits

Talk about a bolt from the blue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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