August 1, 2015

Johnson County officials to seek $10.10 minimum wage in county


Mike Carberry

Johnson County supervisors plan to move ahead with plans to require a higher minimum wage in the Iowa City area. The state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was set in 2007.

The supervisors plan to propose raising the minimum wage in Johnson County in increments, so by 2017 it would be $10.10 an hour. Mike Carberry, a member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, says it’s about creating a “living wage.”

“Johnson County has the highest cost of living in the state,” Carberry says.

And Carberry says 18 percent of the those who live in Johnson County live below the poverty line.

“No one can survive in $7.25,” Carberry says.

The board will vote on the proposal at meetings during the month of August. State officials have said it is unconstitutional for a county to set its own minimum wage that’s different from the state minimum wage and Carberry says it’s a “worthy” and “moral” fight to take to the courts.

June unemployment rate drops

Workforce-DevelopmentThe state’s unemployment rate dropped again in June after holding steady in May. “We are now at 3.7 percent, ranking fifth in the United States,” Iowa Workforce Development spokesman, Ed Wallace says.

The May unemployment rate was 3.8 percent and it was the first time in seven months the rate did not drop. The drop in the unemployment rate in June continues moving the state toward what’s called full employment.

“Full employment is considered 3.5 percent, currently at 3.7 we are very close there,” according to Wallace. “Most of the time you have about three percent of the workforce in transition of some kind.”

Wallace says there were 3,000 non-farm jobs added in June. “The numbers tells us that a lot of our fellow Iowans are finding jobs in trade and transportation in the private sector. Additionally, we’ve had job gains in all quadrants of the state throughout a number of different industries,” Wallace says. “Mostly people are staying in positions a little bit longer and we are seeing fewer retirements over the last two quarters.”

He says not all sectors of the job market saw gains. “We’ve seen some job loss in health services over this past cycle, but we do expect that to recover,” Wallace says. The report says education and health services lost 22-hundred jobs and leisure and hospitality lost 2,100 after both of the sectors have had strong hiring through the first part of the year.

The state unemployment rate was 4.4 percent one year ago in June. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 5.3 percent in June.


Walker to ‘plow forward’ in Iowa with weekend RV tour (AUDIO)

Scott Walker (file photo)

Scott Walker (file photo)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has just issued a ruling that puts an end to a special prosecutor’s investigation of campaign spending in Governor Scott Walker’s 2012 recall election.

“In the end, as the court said today, we’ve done the right thing and it’s just another example of where we’re used to having just about everything you can imagine thrown at us,” Walker said this morning during an interview with Radio Iowa. “We just keep our head down and plow forward.”

AUDIO of Walker’s conversation with Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson, 6:00

Walker formally kicked off his presidential campaign Monday and he’ll arrive in Iowa tomorrow to tour the state in an Iowa-made Winnebago RV. Walker has been at the top of polls here all year, partly because Iowa Republicans saw Walker win that recall election after he successfully limited some union bargaining rights.

“The recall election, unprecedented in American history — winning that and then being the number one target last year just shows what lengths the left will go to and yet in every one of those instances we prevailed,” Walker said. “I think that’s the kind of ability to both fight and win for common sense conservative values that Americans are looking for in their next president.”

The State of Wisconsin sued the federal government this week for the right to require food stamp recipients to pass a drug test. A similar move last year in Georgia was blocked by the feds and Walker told Radio Iowa that, as president, he would “absolutely” allow all 50 states to screen food stamp recipients for drug use.

“The reason for this is not punitive,” Walker said. “The reason I pushed it in Wisconsin and the reason why I would push to do this for the country is because I know in talking to job creators, employers that they’re increasing hungry to be able to put people to work, but the two things they need are people who’ve got basic employability skills…The other thing is that they say: ‘I need people who can pass a drug test.’ If we can get free of the addiction to drugs, we can get them into the workforce with the skills they need to ultimately take care of themselves and someday their families.”

Walker said “closer to the people is better” and as president he would give states more responsibility to not only run welfare programs, but make decisions about transportation and education spending at the local level.

“Even including things like environmental protection,” Walker said. “All 50 states have an equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency. I’d much rather have those responsibilities go back to the states where the people who actually live there and are involved have to live with those regulations, unlike the people in Washington.”

Walker said the federal EPA would still be involved to mediate interstate disputes involving a river, for instance, that travels through more than one state.

Walker’s RV tour starts in the Mississippi River city of Davenport. On Friday, over the noon-hour, he’ll speak in the “Champions Club” at the ballpark where the River City Bandits minor league baseball team plays.

“We’re going to enjoy this and it’ll be nice finishing up on Sunday to be in Plainfield, Iowa, where I lived for about seven years as a kid,” Walker said. “Look to see a lot of folks that were from town, from school and from our church.”

Walker’s father was a Baptist minister. Walker’s first experience as a public speaker was in Plainfield. At the age of two, Walker delivered a brief Christmas message from the church pulpit.

Transportation Commission approves grants for Davenport casino access, Waterloo businesses


The transportation commission approved a grant to help improve access to the new Rhythm City land-based casino in Davenport.

The Iowa Transportation Commission approved funding for road projects for eastern and northeast Iowa Tuesday that will help a sunflower seed company and a casino. Craig Markley with the Department of Transportation says the city of Davenport will receive up to $3 million for roadway improvements and a round-about.

“To assist with the re-location of the Rhythm City Casino, as well as their development of an indoor/outdoor entertainment center that includes a sports tournament complex, a water park, things like that,” Markley says. The casino is moving from the Mississippi River to the intersection Interstates 80 and 74 at the edge of Davenport. The award is what’s called a Revitalize Iowa’s Sound Economy or RISE grant. In this case the award is based on increasing visitors to the area.

“They’re projected to roughly double their employment as well as double their revenue due to that move,” Markley says. “All of that development that the commission provided funding for is estimated to be around 800,000 visitors per year — and that’s an increase of 800-thousand visitors per year.” Construction is underway on the new casino, and it is expected to open by Memorial Day of next year.

The Transportation Commission also approved an award of $684,000 to Waterloo for the construction roadways to help with a business expansion. “ConAgra is bringing their David brand sunflower and pumpkin-seed line to Iowa — consolidating facilities from St. Louis and Fresno, California — bringing them to the Waterloo facility that’s located up next to the airport,” Markley explains. He says the project is expected to bring in new jobs and other benefits to Waterloo.

“Fifty-seven new jobs, almost $64 million in capital investment, very good wages — $22.26 an-hour — which is 140 percent of the average labor shed wage rate for Waterloo, according to Markley. Waterloo also received a second award Tuesday for almost $190,000 to improve access for and expansion of BGM and Associates.

He says they are a home medical equipment provider that is expanding at the U.S. Highway 20 interchange and Ansbourough Road on the northwest side of Waterloo. Markley says the roadway improvements will also make other land available for development in the area. The grants for each of the projects are for half of their cost and the cities are each providing the other half of the money.


Audit: up to $2 million misspent in Corrections’ 6th Judicial District

State-auditor-signThe State Auditor has released a follow-up report indicating up to $2 million was misspent in Iowa’s 6th Judicial District over a six-year period.

Employees in the 6th Judicial District handle parole, probation and work release cases in six eastern Iowa counties. The district, which is part of the Iowa Department of Corrections, has offices and facilities in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and six other communities.

A report released in January of last year concluded about three-quarters-of-a-million dollars was misspent because some district employees were being paid for work at the non-profit Community Corrections Improvement Association and they took more vacation time each year than other state employees. The non-profit ran programs for children who had parents in prison and adults on parole who needed rent assistance or substance abuse counseling.

The auditor’s updated report expanded the review period by two more years. The new report has identified nearly $1.2 million more in improper payments in the district .

After the release of last year’s report, district managers reduced vacation time and severed ties with the non-profit group. The non-profit is closing at the end of the year.

A state audit released earlier this month concluded employees in three of the state’s eight judicial districts were claiming up to a week more vacation time each year than they should. The auditor is asking legislators to clarify state law, as the workers argue they are not technically state employees.

Bush: don’t ‘fall prey to the louder voices’ in GOP, Democratic Party (AUDIO)

Ames, IA

Jeb Bush in Ames.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush is warning his party against making the 2016 campaign about “trivial things.”

“It shouldn’t be about the things that really are great for television, kind of inflammatory stuff,” Bush said tonight in Ames. “It should be about these big, basic questions: What is the role of our country going forward? Are we going to lead by example of high, sustained growth and security?”

Bush gave a speech at Morningside College in Sioux City this afternoon and he was the headliner at a Story County GOP fundraiser tonight in Ames. In both stops Bush confronted Hillary Clinton’s criticism of his recent suggestion that one way to spur U.S. economic growth is to have Americans work longer hours.

“Hillary Clinton has attacked me…Just for the record: Bring it on,” Bush said in Ames. “This warms my heart that she’s upset that I say 6.5 million people in this country are working part-time when they want to work full-time.”

In Sioux City, Bush countered that Clinton is apparently willing to accept the current workforce participation rates, which haven’t been this low since the late ’70s.

“I believe that we ought to create high, sustained economic growth where those 6.5 million people instead of being stuck in 30 hour (a week) jobs, can be able to rise up, can get a full-time job,” Bush said, “…can be able to provide for their family, can have the benefit of achieving earned success and the joy and happiness that comes from that.”

Nearly 250 people gathered to see Bush in Sioux City and he repeated his promise to campaign in a “hopeful, optimistic” way. Bush told the crowd tonight in Ames that Americans “mope around…way too much.”

“I hope you haven’t given up,” Bush said in Ames. “I hope you won’t fall prey to the louder voices in our own party and certainly of the other party that are always trying to divide us, to separate us, rather than trying to unite us.”

AUDIO of Bush appearance in Ames, 21:00

Bush has a public campaign event scheduled over the noon-hour tomorrow in Council Bluffs.

(Additional reporting in Sioux City by Woody Gottburg of KSCJ Radio, Photo by Asya Akca)

Iowa Job Honor Awards recognize ‘second chances’

A new non-profit group is putting the spotlight on Iowans who’ve made the most of “second chances” and recognizing the companies that have hired them.

Kyle Horn is the founder of the “Iowa Job Honor Awards” program.

“The case that we attempt to make is not for the indiscriminant hiring of candidates with ‘red flags’ but rather fair consideration of individuals, so that people whose lives are demonstrably on a new trajectory, so they’re given a fair shot,” Horn says. “Certainly not all individuals with ‘red flags’ in their background change, but some do.”

A criminal history can be a big “red flag” that sidelines job opportunities in the future, but Horn says physical or intellectual disabilities as well as a lack of marketable skills also put a job-seeker at a disadvantage.

“Many of those individuals, their lives are completely on a new track, they have great skills, they’re looking for a job and, once hired, they become an incredibly and committed employee,” Horn says. “…Unfortunately, a lot of employers have pre-screen requirements that automatically exclude such candidates and the case we make is that there are some individuals…who have overcome those barriers. They not only make acceptable employees, they make outstanding employees and a lot of the employers who have taken a chance on them report they tend not to have the sense of entitlement that we see so frequently with other candidates. but rather a sense of appreciaton and committment to the job.”

The first “Iowa Job Honor Awards” were handed out in 2014. This year’s recipients include Haley Equipment in Carroll, a family-owned business that sells and repairs heavy eqiupment. Workforce Solutions in Burlington was also recognized for helping people find a job after they’ve been released from prison. Horn’s vision is to spread this kind of a spotlight beyond Iowa’s borders.

“We’re rolling out the Wisconsin Job Honor Awards later in 2015 and plan to continue to move on, state-by-state, until we’ve covered the nation,” Horn says.

One of the individual Iowans honored this year is Edward Roberson of Ankeny, a veteran who got job after his release from prison and just got married. The other individual is Angela Avila of Afton who suffered from a social anxiety disorder. She was praised for conquering her fears and being willing to work as an intern before she was hired full-time.

(Reporting by Quinn Palmer, KCIM, Carroll)