State Auditor Dave Vaudt and his staff will investigate the job-creation claims made by backers of the Iowa Values Fund which has handed out millions in state grants to businesses.
“What we’re going to be doing is trying to take a look, first, at the documentation that the Department of Economic Development is putting together and I understand they’re still in the process of gathering some of that data and then we’ll be going in and doing some selective test work on some of those projects and seeing what documentation is available to support (claims of) the jobs that have been created or retained,” Vaudt says.
Last week Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed Fallon asked Vaudt to audit the Iowa Values Fund, which Fallon has long criticized as corporate welfare. Vaudt says he’s fulfilling Fallon’s request, partly because of the timing. “The program has been in place for a good…three years, there’s been $130 million spent and it’s probably a good time for a progress review,” Vaudt says.
Chet Culver, another Democrat running for governor, last week joined Fallon in questioning the impact of the Values Fund which was administered by their rival in the race — Mike Blouin. Governor Tom Vilsack helped dream up the program and asked Blouin to be his economic development director to administer it.
Vilsack refuses to comment on Blouin’s stewardship of the Iowa Values Fund. “You know, I’m not going to get in the middle of the primary,” Vilsack says. “The Democratic voters will make that decision about who is best to represent our party.” Yet Vilsack says he’s ready to defend the economic record he contends his administration has helped create. “I’m proud of the fact that we have a record number of employed Iowans today. I’m proud of the fact that Iowa’s economic growth ranked 12th in the nation in the last five years according to USA Today. I’m proud of the fact that we’ve had the longest sustained increase in population in our state since they began keeping census information,” Vilsack says.
“So I’m proud of our record and I’ll be happy to talk about our record but I’m not going to get myself in the middle of a primary.” Vilsack has repeatedly claimed that over 25-thousand jobs have been “created or retained” because of the Values Fund grants.
Earlier today, Vilsack was asked about that claim and this was his response. “Here’s the deal: I come into the state and I say I want to build a new financial services enterprise and I’m going to spend $80 million and I’m going to build a building and once that building’s built I’m going to put people in that building. I’m going to hire people. Now, it’s going to take a couple of years for that building to be built,” Vilsack said. “Meanwhile, construction workers are working, building the building. Meanwhile, suppliers are providing supplies. Meanwhile, the economy is growing.”
Vilsack cited statistics indicating a record number of Iowans are working and the state’s unemployment rate is much lower than the national average. Part of the reason, not all of the reason obviously, but part of the reason is (because of) what the state has done,” Vilsack says. “New jobs have been created. There’s no question about that.”
Vilsack suggests the auditor will have a hard time judging the success of the program because many of the businesses are in the construction phase of their expansion plans and haven’t yet hired the staff they’ve promised to hire in order to get the state grant. “It’s probably a good thing that people are asking these questions so that people will know that the Values Fund has actually created opportunities in over 80 counties, that most of the opportunities are not large businesses but many of them are small businesses that employ less than 50 people, that the wage levels are higher and that jobs are — in fact — being created and will continue to be created over a long period of time,” Vilsack said.
“As Wells Fargo gets started, as Allied gets started, all of these things are in the pipeline so it’s going to take a while — obviously — to get all of the jobs to be people actually in a job but there’s no question there’s economic activity. Just look around town.”
Vilsack made his comments this morning in Des Moines after he signed a series of education initiatives into law.