The 2006 governor’s race in Iowa may be shaping up as a referendum on the premiere piece of out-going Democrat Governor Tom Vilsack’s economic development plan. Both of the G-O-P candidates running for governor oppose the “Iowa Values Fund” which is set to annually award 50-million dollars in grants to businesses.
Bob Vander Plaats says the Values Fund has “inserted” state government into the venture capital business. Vander Plaats says government should create a “level playing field” for all businesses rather than picking out a few businesses for special government financial help. The other Republican candidate, Jim Nussle, suggests the Iowa Values Fund has merely been a publicity stunt for Governor Vilsack and his economic development director, Michael Blouin, who has launched a bid to succeed Vilsack as governor. “I believe that our current economic plan is defined by whether or not a person, a political leader, gets credit,” Nussle says. “If they can get credit by showing up at the groundbreaking or the ribbon-cutting or they can get their picture in the paper saying ‘Look at all the jobs that I just created for you as a politician’ that’s called economic development.” Nussle says Democrats are even “running away from the governor” and Blouin when it comes to continuing the Iowa Values Fund.
Nussle’s right. Democrat candidate Ed Fallon is the most vocal in opposing the program. He calls the high-dollar government grants for businesses “corporate welfare” that’s “throwing money down a rat hole.”
Fallon says the Values Fund, which was Governor Vilsack’s brainchild, wasn’t a new approach, but a “continuation and expansion” of a failed, old approach. Fallon says it hasn’t produced “tangible results.”
State Ag Secretary Patty Judge, another Democratic candidate for governor, says the Values Fund isn’t popular in rural Iowa. Judge says the Values Fund awards aren’t getting spread around the state and the program “is not really doing the entire state as much good as it might.” She says “trickle down” economics doesn’t work and Iowans are telling her they’d like policymakers to take another look at the Values Fund. Judge says it’s “questionable” in her mind whether the Values Fund has created any jobs outside the state’s cities.
Secretary of State Chet Culver, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, does not mention the Values Fund during his campaign appearances. Blouin, Vilsack’s ex-economic development director, defends the Values Fund, but it’s greatest cheerleader is Vilsack himself. Vilsack claims the Values Fund has helped create or retain 20-thousand jobs in Iowa. “There’s never been a more successful program in economic development in the state’s history,” Vilsack says. Vilsack says the legislature “made a 10 year commitment” and he suspects lawmakers might over-ride any governor who sought to end the Values Fund. Vilsack also suggests it’s bad strategy for a candidate to bad mouth the program rather than tout their own ideas. “Elections shouldn’t be about yesterday, they should be about tomorrow,” Vilsack says.
Vilsack also takes a direct shot at Republican Congressman Jim Nussle, saying he “hasn’t been in the state enough” to see the benefits of the Values Fund. He also criticizes fellow Democrat Patty Judge’s idea of using the 50-million dollars for tax credits for Iowa businesses. Vilsack says that’d amount to about a thousand dollars per business, and wouldn’t even cover one person’s health insurance premium.