During a televised debate Tuesday night the three leading Democrats running for governor offered widely varying grades for the state’s premiere economic development program, the Iowa Values Fund which hands out multi-million dollar grants to businesses.
Mike Blouin administered the program as Governor Tom Vilsack’s economic development director, a job he left in July, and Blouin said it’s a good program that should continue. Blouin said 25,000 jobs are “in the pipeline” because of the Values Fund, but he calls that a “start” that’s no where near the “completion” the state needs.
State Representative Ed Fallon of Des Moines repeatedly challenged Blouin, ridiculing the Values Fund as “trickle down” economics. “The bottom line is you cannot fix the economy in a free-market system by pumping a bunch of money into a program controlled in Des Moines doled out to a handfull of lucky businesses,” Fallon said. “We’re going to waste a lot of money doing this, Mike.”
Fallon also challenged Blouin’s claim that 25,000 jobs are “in the pipeline.” According to Fallon, just under 1,300 jobs have actually been created by the companies which got Values Fund grants. “There are so many holes in this program, folks,” Fallon said.
Blouin moments later defended the program. Blouin said 366 companies have been “helped” by the Iowa Values Fund so far and those companies are located in 83 different Iowa counties. Just over a third are start-up companies. “Entrepreneurial efforts scattered all across this state…and we believe in most cases they’ll be around for a long time,” Blouin said.
Fallon immediately challenged Blouin’s data. “This is one of my problems with the Values Fund. People talk about it in ways that are inaccurate. 366 companies have not benefitted from the Values Fund,” Fallon said. “The (Department of Economic Development’s) own numbers say 92.”
Secretary of State Chet Culver was less critical of the Values Fund, but did raise some of the same questions Fallon has had. “We need to know exactly whether we’re getting our money’s worth,” Culver says. “I am concerned that some of the companies have failed…to tell us how they’re doing in their job creation efforts.”
Near the end of the debate, though, Culver was more harshly critical of Blouin, saying Blouin’s health care reform plan wasn’t bold enough. “We cannot wait on Washington to solve our problems in Iowa,” Culver said. “We cannot wait on people like President Bush and Congressman Nussle to solve our health care challenges in this state.”
Blouin responded. “I talked about taking action, I thought. I talked about finding ways to avoid waiting for the federal collapse and getting us ahead of it,” Blouin said. “If Secretary Culver was confused by that, I want to clarify that right now.”
Democratic candidate Sal Mohamad, a Sioux City engineer, also appeared at last night’s televised forum which was sponsored by KCRG television and the Cedar Rapids Gazette and broadcast not only in the Cedar Rapids market, but in the Davenport, Des Moines and Sioux City markets.