Iowa State staff research economist says jobs fight inaccurate

Tyler Kingkade

Democratic Gov. Chet Culver and former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad cannot agree on the debt load, Iowa’s economic outlook or much else about their own records. This was evidenced in both of the campaigns’ latest television ads and characterized their first debate Tuesday in Sioux City.

Yet, as campaigns discuss who lost more jobs, ISU staff research economist Dave Swenson said they’re both being disingenuous because governors don’t create or lose jobs.

“All governors are, are great big cheerleaders for the state,” Swenson said. “We’re not creating jobs, we’re just working at trying to get the jobs to come to us. We’re more job finders rather than job creators.”

Swenson said this ends up being more of a sideshow to the real issues because governors are elected to serve executive operations of the state.

“During the 1980s when Gov. Branstad likes to claim he was incredibly instrumental in job creation,” Swenson said, “during his first six years in office, Iowa actually had half the job rate as the nation.”

Swenson said the economy in Iowa during Branstad’s stewardship could be viewed as a failure, but it’s not his fault the job growth was slow. He said that on the flip side, during Culver’s term, it is not a check on the governor that we have lost jobs or that Iowa has fared better than most states. It can be attributed to what industries are involved in Iowa’s economy.

So despite Culver’s claim that 250 companies to net 20,000 jobs in three years — including IBM, Google and Microsoft — have been a result of being under his watch, it was mostly attempts at enticing the companies to pick Iowa over another state. Likewise, it’s doubtful, Swenson said, that Branstad can fulfill a promise of 200,000 jobs to Iowa.

Flood response has not been a large issue between the campaigns, although the candidates sparred over it in the debate.

Branstad oversaw the response effort to the 1993 floods, which left Des Moines without water for weeks. Des Moines Water Works has not suffered from flooding since then due to reconstruction to block floodwaters.

State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, repeatedly criticizes Branstad for his response after the 1993 floods. Specifically, he cites Branstad not following through on the Iowa Flood Disaster Report presented to then-Gov. Branstad by Brigadier General Harold M. Thompson, the Iowa Flood Recovery Coordination Team project officer.

In contrast, Hogg claimed, Culver’s I-JOBS program was successful because it provided money for disaster mitigation. Branstad’s campaign responded that Democrats politicizing the floods is sad and pathetic.

But Branstad has hammered Culver for the expense of the I-JOBS program, although the two camps bicker over the actual cost.

Branstad’s ad “Big Bad Debt” places the cost at $1.7 billion, which is actually an outdated figure from 2009; the real number is closer to $1.265 billion. However, Branstad is correct that it will cost $55 million a year for 23 years to pay for $875 million of it.

Culver asked Branstad during the debate Tuesday to admit the funding for the I-JOBS bonds was all out-of-state gaming revenue. Branstad said indeed it was, but insisted that money should go toward infrastructure, as the account was originally set up.

“I believe in doing things on a pay-as-you-go basis,” Branstad said in the debate.

“You didn’t believe in pay-as-you-go when you bonded for $4.3 billion, Terry,” Culver said in response.

Branstad’s administration did see debt under its watch as well — $4.363 billion in debt. But much of that was short-term and typically paid within a year.

The TouchPlay fiasco was the first significant blow the Culver administration dealt with, and the state had to buy its way out, Swenson said, in addition to the film office scandal and other situations.

“There is this sense that the governor perhaps had some judgment issues,” Swenson said. “Gov. Branstad is lucky that a lot of people don’t remember his early administration, but his administration was beset by an incredible amount of fiscal incompetency.”

Swenson said the handling of those scandals in addition to the recession does not fare well for Culver, and many people don’t have a lot of affection toward Democrats at the moment, similar to the disdain for Republicans in the previous election cycles.