- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

Des Moines Register. February 23, 2017

Branstad’s legacy is dissing, dismissing public workers

Gov. Terry Branstad has repeatedly identified job creation as his top priority. Yet helping Iowans secure employment is apparently not among his goals. Since he was re-elected in 2011, Iowa Workforce Development has lost 27 percent of its workforce. Having hundreds fewer workers makes it difficult for the state agency to fulfill its mission of “providing employment services for individual job seekers.”

This governor values only private-sector jobs. While the economy and state revenues improved, he was happy to spend the public’s money on tax breaks and incentives for businesses that may or may not create decent-paying jobs. But funding for state workers and the important services they provide was another matter. He has long talked about public workers as a liability.

Though the governor never says how many state workers there should be, he just knows he wants fewer of them.

So when The Des Moines Register recently asked him about state data showing the loss of nearly 2,100 full-time executive branch workers over the last six years, Branstad seemed pleased with himself. He appears to take pride in the closing of 36 unemployment offices, two mental health facilities, the Iowa juvenile home in Toledo, seven DOT maintenance garages and two driver’s license stations.

Those reductions have made government “more efficient and more responsive,” he said.

What many Iowans see: Child abuse allegations that are not investigated amid the loss of more than 800 workers at the Iowa Department of Human Services; injured prison guards; as few as five state troopers on duty overnight to patrol the entire state; workforce development employees replaced with broken and now-abandoned kiosks.

And the irony and hypocrisy of Branstad’s disdain for public workers should be recognized. He has spent decades of his life on the state’s payroll. He enjoys a hefty salary, generous pension and fringe benefits. In 2015, he paid his spokesman more than $84,000 annually. Glued to his side is a lieutenant governor who has zero statutory responsibilities while earning more than $100,000 annually, plus travel expenses.

It’s those other public workers the governor apparently considers unnecessary. These include the ones who maintain parks, inspect nursing homes, patrol highways, collect child support, track drug overdoses, protect vulnerable people and try to clean up this state’s filthy waterways.

Those workers he does not value are the same ones he entrusts to redesign the state’s mental health system, make his disastrous Medicaid privatization a reality, keep Iowa in compliance with federal laws, ensure public dollars are properly spent and implement every executive order and bill he signs into law while performing numerous other tasks.

What these and other public workers have heard from the governor during his long tenure at Terrace Hill: You earn too much. Your benefits are too generous. There are too many of you pesky people anyway, and I can’t move fast enough to bust the unions representing you.

Although it’s difficult to imagine the CEO of a company so intent on publicly disparaging his employees, the CEO of Iowa does exactly that.

Now Branstad is departing Iowa to embark on another taxpayer-financed employment opportunity as the next U.S. ambassador to China for President Donald Trump. Instead of more musings about the supposed value of starving state agencies and services that Iowans rely on, perhaps the governor should simply say thank you to his remaining staff.

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Quad-City Times. February 23, 2017

The cowardice of Grassley and Ernst

Not a peep from U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. To quote the president: “SAD!”

President Donald Trump turned his toxic gaze on hundreds of Iowans Wednesday night. These are people who drove hundreds of miles to force Grassley and Ernst to recognize their displeasure and alarm. Many trekked from cities to seek out Ernst and Grassley in their hand-picked friendly rural confines. They’re citizens simply looking to engage with their elected officials.

And, true to form, Trump wasn’t having it. As if on cue, Trump - a man who expects unquestioning devotion from all Americans - looked to delegitimize the very real concerns of these teachers, farmers and pensioners as some liberal conspiracy.

“The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists,” Trump tweeted. “Sad!”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer doubled-down Wednesday on the “paid protester” myth.

Trump can attack veterans: Grassley and Ernst say nothing. He can attack religious minorities: They say nothing. He can attack the First Amendment: They say nothing. And, now, he can attack Iowans: They say nothing.

The utter cowardice should enrage every Iowans, regardless of political stripe.

Grassley’s event was widely covered by national media outlets. The attention, in part, stems from the power of his Full Grassley. In 2009, tea party activists at Grassley’s events played significant roles in killing bipartisan support for Obamacare. Grassley had been working with the Obama administration until right-wing Iowans turned the screw at home. Now it’s Democrats and liberals rallying support on Facebook resulting in big turn-outs. That’s hardly the same as Trump’s “paid protesters.”

To Grassley’s credit, he’s one of only a handful of senior members of Congress willing to attend a town hall event these days. Of course, he has little choice. The Full Grassley is an integral part of his public persona. Coverage by The New York Times and Politico of Grassley’s Iowa Falls town hall spread across the web like wildfire. Make no mistake, it was Iowans Trump was labeling conspirators. And, when asked, he at least said there’s no “evidence” that those attending his forums are paid protesters.

Ernst wants it both ways. Her event in Maquoketa was billed as a “veterans roundtable,” a failed attempt to direct the discussion away from the hatred and disdain for dissent pouring from a White House that she wholeheartedly championed during the election cycle.

Both senators took the heat, if grudgingly so, which is notable when so many are ducking town halls altogether. Grassley remarked about the importance of such gatherings within a representative government. It’s a statement that works well in the local media but won’t resonate at the national stage. His utter silence was deafening when his president denounced it all as a sham.

It’s become par for the course. Republican members of Congress remained mute when hundreds of thousands took the streets in protest and Trump pulled the same card. They’ve said little when he pulled out dog whistles that speak directly to the white nationalists within his base. It took a full-blown browbeating from the Anne Frank Center before Trump would dare speak ill of anti-Semites.

Trump knows his base. If you’re with him, you’re exempt from his wrath. But you’re a paid agitator, should you corner your senator in some small Iowa town and express displeasure with the direction he’s taking the GOP.

And Republicans in Congress are too weak to defend their constituents.

It’s bad enough that Iowa’s senators are avoiding large segments of constituent anger by cherry-picking rural conservative towns for their events. It’s unfortunate that, because of this, people looking to engage in the system must hit the road at the crack of dawn to attend such an event. It’s frustrating that too many opportunities to engage with Iowa’s senators are scheduled for mid-day during the work week.

But it’s downright unacceptable that Iowa’s senators lack the spine to defend Iowans who dare question the Trump administration.

“SAD,” indeed.

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Sioux City Journal. February 22, 2017

Study of government remains best course

As more evidence to support our contention government itself is too often too close to the issue of consolidation to form an objective opinion, we point to reaction within two county departments to a proposal made by Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor.

Last month, Taylor suggested the county merge the offices of rural economic development and planning and zoning. The result, according to the county’s Human Resources Department director, would be more than $50,000 in annual savings.

Not surprisingly, directors of the two impacted departments essentially told the supervisors at the county board’s Feb. 14 meeting the merger proposal was a bad idea. (The board, however, voted 3-2 on Tuesday in support of the merger.)

Reaction from within those affected departments reminded us of 2014 when an analysis of merging Sioux City and Woodbury County assessor offices - conducted by the city and county assessors - concluded consolidation wouldn’t work and shouldn’t happen. To this day, each government entity operates an assessor’s office.

Our point?

We do not believe government itself is the best place to go for critical objectivity on consolidation of government services. Without a full study of the issue, savings of taxpayer money through consolidation of some services will be - to the extent such savings happen at all - small. It will amount to tinkering at the edges. We believe this is true even in spite of the board majority’s support for Taylor’s proposal.

As we have said before, local governments should form a committee of citizens to review how the city, county and school district could save taxpayer dollars by merging and sharing some services. In order to remain focused on protection of taxpayers, not protection of turf, the committee shouldn’t include public workers or elected leaders.

We don’t know how much in savings might result from formation of a committee, but we welcome an independent, comprehensive study of this subject because we believe only within such a study does the potential exist for broad, deep savings.

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Burlington Hawk Eye. February 22, 2017

Penalty flag on workman’s compensation

Republicans are big proponents of not only small government but government decided as close to the local level as possible.

Except when it’s not in their interests.

Case in point: When a handful of Iowa counties passed local minimum wage ordinances, the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature swooped in and said, no you can’t.

It’s mindful of a dispute a few years ago when counties passed directives about how hog confinement operations should be sited. The Legislature, not wanting a patchwork set of regulations, overruled the people affected most.

Schools are a curious examples. Most, including this newspaper, prefer decisions be made at the local level, the local school board. The wrinkle is how should far-away employers view high school diplomas? Shouldn’t a graduate’s skill set be roughly the same regardless of whether a student attended school in Burlington, Iowa; Dothan, Ala.; or Colchester, Conn.? Especially to an employer in Seattle?

Efforts in Washington to establish a set of standards gained traction in the 1990s. Ultimately, a backlash started in about 2009 and states initially signing on, including Iowa, backtracked.

The latest example involves worker’s compensation. Should this be a state issue or a federal issue?

The system now operates on a state-by-state basis but Illinois lawmakers are being pressured by of all things, the Chicago Bears, to change its laws, which the National Football League club believes are too generous. The Bears want Illinois to limit the length of time a player can file a claim. They want claims filed within five years a player ends his career or when they turn 35 - even though the effects of a punishing work environment may not show up until years later.

Now, an athlete can file, like any other worker, until they are 67 years old.

According to the Bears, Illinois’ workers’ comp laws are overly generous. The club argues the existing rules attract players from other states to file claims in Illinois, which affects its insurance premiums. Owners of the Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls and Chicago Cubs and White Sox support the Bears.

This is no small beef. Gov. Bruce Rauner has insisted on workers’ compensation reform as part of his budget deal. No compromise to this or many other issues has meant Illinois has been without a state budget for going on two years.

Rauner has framed workman’s comp as a business issue. He believes Illinois, a blue state, is at a competitive disadvantage because its benefits are too generous, especially as it is surrounded by red states with stingier packages. Essentially, he wants a national standard.

Interestingly, while professional athletes command big salaries during their relatively short playing careers, the amount of money involved in the workman’s compensation dispute is relatively small. Illinois residents are limited to two-thirds of the amount of what they were making when they were injured and what they can claim afterward. Even then, it’s capped at about $56,000 per year.

Few professional sports franchises enjoy as much support as Chicago’s. Is it time for a level playing field from coast to coast regarding workers’ compensation? Or is it a local decision?

Illinois is about to find out.

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