The chair of the “Vision Iowa” board says lawmakers struggling with a lean budget don’t have to forgo funding the economic-development program. Michael Gartner says Vision Iowa has awarded 225-million dollars to tourist-enhancement projects in a dozen cities, which in turn has leveraged more than two-Billion in local investment and related development. Gartner says in Dubuque, for example, the 40-million Vision Iowa grant given to local planners is being leveraged into 680-million. The program’s out of money, though there are several communities with plans they’ve drawn up, hoping for funding. Gartner suggested that lawmakers concerned about this year’s budget approve another round of funding for Vision Iowa but hold onto the money for another two or three years. He says that way, towns could make their plans and come to the Vision Iowa board with a guarantee the money will be there, even though it wouldn’t “hit” the state budget right away. Gartner says then everybody, in Muscatine, Mason City, Iowa City, Coralville, Des Moines or Dubuque, would be starting from the same place, and eliminate the criticism that winners of Vision Iowa grants are “first come, first served.” But if lawmakers approve more money for the Vision Iowa program, they may also look to retool it. Des Moines senator Jack Hatch says many towns, including his own, have complained that the board forced them to make drastic changes to their plans to win approval. Hatch says the board’s power have to be clarified before another round of funding is granted.
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