Looks like Governor-For-Life Terry Branstad will soon be leaving us on that slow boat to China. Who cares how he gets there as long as he leaves. As he begins to leave we can look back briefly on what shape he is leaving the state in.
We can begin by noting that his successor, Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds seems to come from the far right of the Republican Party. She appears to support the ALEC driven legislative agenda this year that has been a disaster for working men and women in Iowa. It would be hard to rate Reynolds as a plus for Iowa as Branstad leaves. At best she gets a neutral rating going in, although there is fear that she may be even further to the right than Branstad.
Looking at how Branstad leaves the state for the future it doesn’t look good. Once more this year education in Iowa took it in the shorts with a only a slight increase in funding. During Branstad’s second round in office, it certainly looks like Iowa schools are getting set up for a big fail. Throughout the Branstad years schools have suffered cuts or only received slight increases. As the legislature and administration starve the perceived public education beast, expect Republicans to start trumpeting the call to privatize our education system.
Funny, it wasn’t that long ago that Iowa had the education system that was the envy of the nation and the world.
The legislature performed a huge coup by throwing out nearly 50 years of a public labor bargaining system that worked extremely well for Iowa. Branstad showed how proud he was by skulking behind closed doors and signing the bill in front of one onlooker. That onlooker had a huge amount invested in getting the unions busted in Iowa. That onlooker was Drew Klein from the Americans For Prosperity a Koch brothers backed lobbying group. Many Iowans felt that had a real stench about it that was once reserved to the hog lots.
On the economic front, it is beginning to look like all those tax cuts that were going to magically grow the economy are not having that effect. Now budget shortfalls seem to be the norm due it seems to ill-advised tax cuts. Couple that with decreasing spending by Iowa consumers that will be happening as the effects of such policies as union-busting and rolling back local minimum wage increases take effect. When Iowans aren’t buying, sales tax takes a dive.
Then there is of course one of Branstad’s signature achievements, Medicaid privatization. Taking from the sick, elderly, invalid and poor and giving to wealthy insurance company. He did so unilaterally while his buddies in the legislature blocked any attempts by Democrats to stop this move. Moving something like 10% of money that used to be used for patient care to go to “administrative companies” was a stroke of Republican genius. The Des Moines Register had a featured story about how necessary medical help is only a secondary concern to these administrative companies
And then there is Orascom. The development of the fertilizer plant near Wever, Iowa. When the whole program was announced it came with an astounding cost for Iowa tax payers. Maybe we could use some of that money now for our schools. From Peter Fisher at the Iowa Policy Project back in the fall of 2012:
The latest: Today the board of the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) is scheduled to consider sweetening its already generous offer to Orascom — $35 million to build a $1.3 billion fertilizer plant in Lee County — to about $110 million with a slew of new tax credits. As The Des Moines Register points out today, that’s $110 million for 165 “permanent” jobs paying on average $48,000 a year, plus construction jobs that will be gone when the project is finished.
The state tax credits are in addition to the enormous benefit the state is providing by allocating federal tax-exempt flood recovery bonds to this project. If the interest rate difference — between taxable and tax-exempt bonds — were 1 percentage point, the company would save $320 million in interest payments over the life of the $1.2 billion bond. That would bring the firm’s total benefits to $2.7 million per permanent job, a truly astounding number. Even without considering the federal interest subsidy, the state tax credits would total $687,500 per job, many times the typical level of subsidy in deals such as this.
Funny we don’t see much about Orascom anymore. Yesterday’s news, I guess.
So you have it, the Branstad legacy. Starving schools – almost forgot to mention the number the regents have done on Iowa’s state universities, especially the U of Iowa; voter suppression; unions busted and earnings suppressed; a state budget that seems set up to spell doom for safety net programs; a medicaid system set up to benefit not the consumer, but those who run it and some deals made in the past that will continue to cost Iowans into the future.
Let me add the highways continue to get rougher and rougher and cities like Des Moines face severe water problems that the state will not let be addressed.
The unemployment figures he touts as his success has more to do with the economy as a whole in the country and little to do with tax policies or giveaways to business. Iowa’s unemployment is low since the country is low thanks in great measure to policies of the Obama Administration. However, policies that cut customers for businesses coupled with current administration policies that will hurt agriculture may really hurt Iowa.