A 4.5 hour public hearing on state tax credits

A handful of the governor’s state agency directors sat at a table in the Urbandale Public Library this afternoon as more than 100 people sat or stood for the four-and-a-half-hour-long public hearing on state tax credits.  I stood in the room for nearly three hours, listening to the testimony, then I drove back to the newsroom to write a story.

The subject matter was/is heavy, but there were a few light moments during the hearing.  For example, Dave Roederer of the Iowa Chamber Alliance (a former aide to Terry Branstad when Branstad was governor) joked that if you ran the state like a business, there’d be just two agencies:  the Department of Revenue and the Lottery — because those are the only revenue-generating parts of state government.

Fred Hubbell, the acting director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development, joked with Tammy Shutter of the Iowa Motion Picture Association as the lights went down in the room so everyone could see the screen on which her power-point presentation would be shown.  “I hope this was locally made,” Hubble quipped. Shutter said yes, it had been made in the IMPA’s office in the East Village of Des Moines.

Governor Culver’s roster of agency directors questioned Iowa Business & Industry Association president Mike Ralston for what seemed like the longest period of all those who testified.  Ralston, as you may know, was director of the Iowa Department of Revenue during Governor Vilsack’s tenure.  “What do I have to say to make you quit asking me questions?” Ralston joked as Hubbell started to ask another question of him.  The crowd had been sitting quietly for nearly three hours by this point and laughed heartily for a brief time before the questions and answers turned back to the serious subject at hand.

You may read the “State of Iowa Agency Reports on Tax Credits” here.  That volume of information was released earlier this week (when I was on vacation).

Tammy Shutters, program director of the Iowa Motion Picture Association, began her testimony when hour two of the hearing began. Listen to Shutters presentation.   She spoke for almost nine minutes, then Department of Cultural Affairs director Cyndi Peterson asked Shutters about the tax credits available in other states.

“If you look at Michigan, which is the other state that has seen a lot of growth in recent years, they offer a 40 percent tax break and then if productions go to core communities…then you can get an additional two percent.  Iowa’s program was the most generous,” Shutters said. “I mean, I think that we really wanted to make a mark.  We were very assertive, very competitive and it got us attention and it was bringing the programs here.  New Mexico has a 25 percent tax break.  Louisiana has a 25 percent investor tax break and then they have multiple other tax incentives…so there’s a lot of ways that you can work this.  You know, I think when we say it needs to be competitive, you know, there’s lots of ideas.  I mean, ideas that we have thought of is that you have a beginning tax incentive and kind of, like Michigan, you set a parameter for how much on-the-job training, OK? Then, add another five percent…so it can be graduated.”

In response to another question, about an upfront audit that might be done of applicants for the film tax credits, Shutters said: “We think that we can be more picky with awarding these tax credits to these productions and to look at that upfront audit and measure: these people are committing to training this many Iowans, hiring this many Iowans and spending ‘x’ amount of dollars in this state.”

House speaker on “Iowa Press”

House Speaker Pat Murphy, discussing GOP attacks on Governor Culver: “They’re trying to say the emperor has no clothes when he’s fully clothed — and he has a hat on.” 

House Speaker Pat Murphy (D-Dubuque, Iowa) is the guest on this weekend’s “Iowa Press” program on Iowa Public Television.  Murphy talked about a wide variety of issues, from the state budget situation to his endorsement of Roxanne Conlin.  After the show, Murphy talked about shutting down one of the state’s Mental Health Institutes.  (Read about that here.)

During the show, Murphy said there was no “quid pro quo” with the labor unions (AFSCME & the State Police Officers Council) that agreed to wage and benefit concessions in order to avoid layoffs in the executive branch of state government.

Here are key Murphy statements on other topics:

  • “I would agree at this time with the governor that we should rule out a tax increase,” Murphy said.
  • Those who get state tax credits will have to “prove” there’s a return on the state’s investment, according to Murphy.  “I think some may have a problem,” Murphy said, adding one likely outcome may be more “caps” on tax credits — essentially limiting the amount the state pays out for different tax credits.  “I think that’s the kind of stuff we’ll end up doing.”
  • Will legislators authorize video lottery games?  “I think if you polled legislators, I think you would find out that there’s probably not enough votes to do that, but once we get into the legislative process and people have to make tough decisions, you may have that discussion come up…Come March, we might look at that program.”
  • Murphy says legislators will likely pass a bill that forces school districts that have healthy cash reserves to dip into those cash reserves rather than raise property taxes. 
  • Murphy on a couple of occasions offered an argument on an issue which was a veiled hit at former Governor Terry Branstad. 
  • Murphy said if he can get the 51 votes he needs, he’ll bring up any of the labor-related bills that unions had hoped would clear the 2009 Iowa Legislature.  “I think it’s a possibility,” Murphy said.  Which one might be top of his list?  Murphy said: “Tune in in 2010 and see what we do.”
  • As for whether the bill that would have changed Iowa’s income tax system will be resurrected, Murphy said:  “I don’t know yet.”
  • Murphy said he will support the reelection of the six conservative Democrats who refused to support the labor bills and that tax bill.  If any of those six get a primary opponent, Murphy said he would support the incumbents, not the challengers in a Democratic primary — for any House seat.  “I support our incumbents and I always will. Period,” Murphy said.
  • Murphy was asked about the potential match-up of Representative McKinley Bailey, a Democrat from Webster City, who may face former Senate Republican Leader Stewawt Iverson of Clarion (a former Iowa GOP chairman), in 2010.  “I expect (Bailey) to get reelected, but I will say this about Senator Iverson — and no disrespect to Senator Mike Gronstal — I don’t think Senator Iverson had tough opponents.  He’ll find out that he has his hands full with a guy who has served his country in Iraq and Afghanistan and has done an excellent job as a legislator for Hamilton and Wright. I  think (Iverson) will find his hands more full than he has ever had them in his political life and I hope (Iverson) doesn’t mind defeat.” 
  • Murphy recently spoke by phone with Roxanne Conlin, one of three Democrats who are seeking the party’s US Senate nomination and the chance to face-off against Republican Senator Chuck Grassley in November, 2010.  During the IPTV program taping, Murphy revealed he’s told Conlin during that conversation in the primary.  “I think Roxanne Conlin brings some unique skills.  She has always fought for the underdog.  She’s always fought for middle class families.  She’s helped the state in the Microsoft case.  She is the best example of a private citizen that has done more for public causes in Iowa than anybody and quite frankly, she has delivered a lot more than Senator Grassley has in the state.”  Murphy predicted Conlin would give Grassley the “best race he’s had in 30 years.”  
  • Murphy said Governor Culver is well-positioned for reelection, despite polls which show Culver may be in trouble.  “Part of the reason his numbers are down is he’s having to make tough decisions but if you take a look at where Tom Vilsack was at this same time seven years ago, his numbers weren’t particularly good either…I think it’s pretty hard for Republicans to argue (Culver’s) mismanaging the state budget….They’re trying to say the emperor has no clothes when he’s fully clothed — and he has a hat on.” 

Vilsack is headliner for Braley fundraiser

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, President Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture, is coming back to Iowa this weekend to headline a fundraiser for a fellow lawyer. 

I caught the end of a dust-up on the House floor and wrote a bit about Braley’s role in the verbal fracas yesterday.  Today, Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City Times wrote more about Braley’s role in the close-down of the health care reform debate on Saturday night.  He heard the beginning of the dust-up

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Weekend round up

Jennifer Jacobs of The Des Moines Register conducted a poll — of state agency directors.  She discovered a couple who do not plan to take the 10 percent salary reduction their boss/the governor said they would be taking.  Read her story, with “poll results” listing who those two directors are.

The guests on this weekend’s “Iowa Press” program on Iowa Public Television were House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha and Senate Republican Leader Paul McKinley of Chariton.  Stories featuring comments the two men made after the show’s taping were published on The Quad City Times website and written by Rod Boshart of The Cedar Rapids Gazette; written by Jennifer Jacobs of The Des Moines Register and written by yours truly on Radio Iowa.   At issue, the governor’s authority to transfer money around the executive branch.  The Republicans suggested Culver had wide if not nearly unlimited authority to transfer funds from one agency to another, although both Governors Terry Brasntad and Tom Vilsack were subjected to legal challenges when they used this authority over the objections of legislators and interest groups.

Here’s a little segment of the Code of Iowa that relates to this subject matter; decipher on your own billable hours:

8.39 Use of appropriations – transfer

1. Except as otherwise provided by law, an appropriation or any part of it shall not be used for any other purpose than that for which it was made. However, with the prior written consent and approval of the governor and the director of the department of management, the governing board or head of any state department, institution, or agency may, at any time during the fiscal year, make a whole or partial intradepartmental transfer of its unexpended appropriations for purposes within the scope of such department, institution, or agency.

2. If the appropriation of a department, institution, or agency is insufficient to properly meet the legitimate expenses of the department, institution, or agency, the director, with the approval of the governor, may make an interdepartmental transfer from any other department, institution, or agency of the state having an appropriation in excess of its needs, of sufficient funds to meet that deficiency. An interdepartmental transfer to an appropriation which is not an entitlement appropriation is not authorized when the general assembly is in regular session and, in addition, the sum of interdepartmental transfers in a fiscal year to an appropriation which is not an entitlement appropriation shall not exceed fifty percent of the amount of the appropriation as enacted by the general assembly. For the purposes of this subsection, an entitlement appropriation is a line item appropriation to the state public defender for indigent defense or to the department of human services for foster care, state supplementary assistance, or medical assistance, or for the family investment program.

3. Prior to any transfer of funds pursuant to subsection 1 or 2 of this section or a transfer of an allocation from a subunit of a department which statutorily has independent budgeting authority, the director shall notify the chairpersons of the standing committees on budget of the senate and the house of representatives and the chairpersons of subcommittees of such committees of the proposed transfer. The notice from the director shall include information concerning the amount of the proposed transfer, the departments, institutions or agencies affected by the proposed transfer and the reasons for the proposed transfer. Chairpersons notified shall be given at least two weeks to review and comment on the proposed transfer before the transfer of funds is made.

4. Any transfer made under the provisions of this section shall be reported to the legislative fiscal committee on a monthly basis. The report shall cover each calendar month and shall be due the tenth day of the following month. The report shall contain the following: The amount of each transfer; the date of each transfer; the departments and funds affected; a brief explanation of the reason for the transfer; and such other information as may be required by the committee. A summary of all transfers made under the provisions of this section shall be included in the annual report of the legislative fiscal committee.

Senator McKinley, as you may recall, said in July that he was exploring the idea of running for governor.  Then, in August, McKinley said he would “reevaluate” and likely drop out if former Governor Terry Branstad entered the race.  McKinley has not accepted the Iowa GOP’s invitation to appear at a fundraising finner on November 7, an invitation which potential/announced candidates Jerry Behn, Terry Branstad, Christian Fong, Chris Rants, Rod Roberts and Bob Vander Plaats have accepted. 

Here is a transcript of what McKinley had to say on “Iowa Press” about his candidacy.

McKinley: “Well, I think it is a forgone conclusion that Terry Branstad is running for governor. And I have indicated that when he formally announces that he will be entering the race, I will be withdrawing from the race. Quite frankly, I’ve been concentrating on bringing the republicans back to the majority in the senate, and that’s been the task I’ve been doing. I couldn’t both be the senate leader and run for governor.”

Iowa Press moderator Dean Borg: “If your candidacy depends on whether or not Branstad is in or out, is that saying that you are granting him the nomination?”

McKinley: “No, it doesn’t say that at all.”

Borg: “You assume that he’s the nominee?”

McKinley: “No, it doesn’t say that at all. It merely states that if Terry Branstad gets into the race, that I will reevaluate and withdraw.”

This weekend Electrolux executives confirmed they’ll pull the plug on plants in Webster City & Jefferson, shifting washer and dryer production to a plant in Mexico.  About 850 people work at the plant in Webster City; another 45 work at the Electrolux facility in Jefferson. 

And finally, Iowa State fans see red (after beating “Big Red”) when Governor Culver issues a statement of congratulations on Saturday to the Hawkeyes but not the Cyclones.  You may not know this, but Governor Culver is prone to issue LOTS of written statements of congratulations to sports teams (like the 8-0 Hawkeyes) and to Iowa natives (like the unrelated Zach Johnson and Shawn Johnson) when they win some sporting event.

Christie Vilsack: “I’m well-qualified.”

UPDATE:  Here’s the Radio Iowa story.

Christie Vilsack, wife of former Governor Tom Vilsack, spoke with WHO-TV’s Dave Price earlier this afternoon.  Price asked if she was the “mystery candidate” who would emerge to seek the Democratic Party’s 2010 nomination for the U.S. Senate and the change to face-off against U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-New Hartford, Iowa) in November, 2010.

Christie Vilsack told Price she was “honored” to have people talking with her about running.  “I’m well-qualified to serve, so time will tell, Christie Vilsack said. 

WHO-TV will post the raw audio of the interview later this evening. Earlier today, U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack declined to answer when asked about a “Christie Vilsack 2010” candidacy.

Having covered two Vilsack campaigns for governor and a  (brief)Vilsack for president campaign (as well as watching both Vilsacks campaign for pal Hillary Clinton once Tom Vilsack dropped out of the race), I can tell you that the Vilsacks are well-matched.  Tom Vilsack, as he once told me, loves to govern.  Christie Vilsack, as I’ve observed, loves to campaign.  She likes the process.  She likes meeting people.

Her husband once credited her with being the only person on the 1998 Vilsack for Governor campaign who had the, um,chutzpah to campaign in the home territory of Republican opponent Jim Lightfoot.  She went to Shenandoah, Lightfoot’s hometown, and campaigned elsewhere in Page County.  As I recall Tom Vilsack’s version of this story, he ended up winning Page County.

Vilsack declines to answer “Christie Vilsack 2010” question

Tom VilsackU.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, made two public appearances in Des Moines this morning.  The first, at the 13th annual Community Food Security Coalition” convention, marked the first time an ag secretary has visited the event.  It also was remarkable for another reason: Vilsack got booed, as you can read about here in this Radio Iowa story and on Des Moines Register columnist Kathie Obradovich’s blog post from this morning.

Vilsack’s second appearance came at 10 a.m. when he joined Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller in calling for creation of a U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

As Vilsack was leaving the attorney general’s office, Charlotte Eby of the Lee Enterprises newspapers in Iowa asked Vilsack if his wife, Christie, would be running against U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-New Hartford, Iowa).  Lynn Campbell of IowaPolitics.com followed, asking Vilsack what he thought of Terry Branstad, his predecessor as governor, running for a fifth term.  Here is Vilsack’s response to both questions:

“Honestly, when I come into a setting like this, it’s probably not appropriate for me to respond on political questions, so I hate to beg off, but I’ve been told by our ethics people that that’s not advisable.”

Reaction to Culver’s 10% cut in state budget

In case you’re just joining us this evening, Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, ordered a 10 percent across-the-board cut in the state budget this afternoon.

AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan says state worker layoffs will be “devastating.”

Republicans aren’t supportive. Read some of their reaction here.  (Full statements posted below.)

Here’s some historical perspective,  with data courtesy of Culver press secretary Troy Price.  It’s a list of across-the-board cuts ordered by Governors Ray, Branstad, Vilsack & Culver.  It goes back to the Farm Crisis.

  • August, 1980 —  Governor Robert D. Ray (R) orders 3.6 % across the board cut.
  • December, 1980 — Governor Robert D. Ray (R) orders 1 % across-the-board cut.
  • September, 1983 — Governor Terry E. Branstad (R) orders 2.8 % across-the-board cut.
  • September, 1985 — Governor Terry E. Branstad orders 3.85% across-the-board cut.
  • July, 1991 — Governor Terry E. Branstad orders 3.25% across-the-board cut.
  • November, 2001 — Governor Thomas J. Vilsack orders 4.3% across-the-board cut.
  • October, 2003 — Governor Thomas J. Vilsack orders 2.5% across-the-board cut. (10% of cut restored in June, 2004 to make it 2.25%)
  • December, 2008 – Governor Chester J. Culver orders 1.5% across-the-board cut.
  • October, 2009 — Governor Chester J. Culver orders 10 % across-the-board cut.

Now, to the prepared statements which reached my email inbox.

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National Day of Service

A couple of Iowa politicians — one a Democrat and one a Republican — who are serving in top spots in the Obama Administration are among those listed by the White House as participatants in National Day of Service events tomorrow, September 11.

Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is now U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and, according to the White House Media Affairs Office, this is how Vilsack will spend his midday: "Secretary Tom Vilsack will prepare meals that will go to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and feeding programs with participants of DC Central Kitchen’s culinary job training program." 

Former Iowa Congressman Jim Leach is now chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and, according to the White House Media Affairs Office, this is how Leach will spend part of his afternoon:  "Chairman Jim Leach will attend the Illinois Humanities Council’s “Meaning of Service” program sponsored by City Year Chicago that engages volunteers in discussing short stories, poems, and essays that reflect on the nature of justice, service, and related themes."

From the White House: The September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance is the culmination of a seven-year effort started by 9/11 family members and support groups to establish the service day as a way to honor the victims and heroes of 9/11 and to rekindle the spirit of unity and compassion that followed the attacks. September 11 was officially recognized as a National Day of Service and Remembrance by the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed with strong bipartisan support and signed into law by President Obama in April.

And from the desk of O. Kay Henderson:  Leach and Vilsack both have ties to Kennedy through their stints at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Leach served as the interim director of the Institute for Politics for the 2007/2008 academic year and Vilsack was a "resident fellow" at the school.

A bunch of stuff, from Fong to Fiegen

Over the past two weeks I've accumulated a few items for the blog, but failed to post.  Here they are, in chronological order:

As James Q. Lynch of the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported at the following link, Republican gubernatorial candidate Christian Fong of Cedar Rapids challenged Democratic Governor Chet Culver's record on flood recovery on August 28, 2009.  Read Fong's news release below:

(Cedar Rapids, IA)  Today, in the New York Times, appeared a story about flood recovery and how the tragedy and devastation of the floods from 2008 are being forgotten.   In the story, Governor Culver was quoted as saying, “We’re not making a lot of noise about it” in reference to the feeling of neglect and delays.

Christian Fong, Republican Gubernatorial candidate and C.E.O. of Corridor Recovery in Cedar Rapids, said “I simply do not understand why Governor Culver would admit to “not making noise” about raising awareness and using his position as Governor to constantly be emphasizing to the Nation that Iowa was hit with the second largest natural disaster in U.S. history, and we’ve yet to fully receive the help we need.”

Fong continued, “Governor Culver’s words send the wrong message to flood families still living in FEMA trailers and small business owners trying to rebuild their livelihoods.  In my role with Corridor Recovery, I worked with the New York Times to provide them background information for the story.  We need to raise awareness because people are still hurting.  Iowans deserve a Governor who will be proactive and make things happen.”

The New York Times story, can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/28/us/28cedar.html?_r=2&ref=todayspaper

Culver has hired more campaign staff.  An announcement went out yesterday (Read it below). FYI: Andrew Roos says he is not related to former Des Moines Register reporter Jonathan Roos, but Andrew Roos says he read stories under Jon Roos' byline over the years.

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Hi-yo, Silver, away! Vilsack’s wearing boots!

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor, held a forum at the Iowa State Fair today and he was sporting a pair of cowboy boots that were a gift from his wife, Christie.  Vilsack was quizzed about his attire.

Joyce Russell of Iowa Public Radio: "Did you buy the boots?"

Vilsack: "No."

Russell: "Tell me about how long you've had those boots."

Vilsack: "These were a Christmas present from my wife."

Russell: "What year?"

Vilsack: "Well, last year they were a Christmas present."

Russell: "Were you anticipating being named ag secretary when you got cowboy boots for Christmas?"

Vilsack: "I don't know when Christie (his wife) ordered them, but these are the most comfortable — I'll tell you, do you know why I'm wearing.these?  I was on a trip to Africa with Bill Clinton and I noticed Bill Clinton was wearing cowboy boots and he said, 'You know, these are the most comfortable things you'll put on your feet.' I said, 'Really?' — skeptically — and he said, 'No, seriously. These are really comfortable.'"

Lynn Campbell of IowaPolitics.com: "What are they?"

O.Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa: "Cowboy boots."

Vilsack: "They're from Texas and they're made for my particular foot so they are, indeed, the most comfortable things I have had on my feet."

Russell: "Are these your first cowboy boots?"

(A USDA staffer, at this point, tries to guide Vilsack away for another engagement on the fairgrounds, but Vilsack answers Russell's question.)

Vilsack: "No. No.  I've had cowboy boots when I was, going back, when I was five years old.  I was the Lone Ranger."

The Lone Ranger started as a radio series in 1933 and ended in 1954. The Lone Ranger TV series ran from 1949 to 1957.  Tom Vilsack was born in 1950, so he would have been inspired by Clayton Moore, the actor who portrayed the Lone Ranger on TV.