Governor Chet Culver says the State of Iowa and local governments should consider borrowing money to finance infrastructure improvements. Only three other states have lower levels of public debt and Culver says with the challenges many flood-damaged areas face, bonding — or borrowing money — rather than raising taxes may be the best option.
"We need to listen to those communities that have been impacted, find ways to help them and I’ve seen dozens and dozens of different ideas, so we don’t know exactly how we’re going to move forward at this point," Culver says. "We have to be careful of any type of tax increase on anybody during this recession." Iowa’s per-person public debt rate — the amount state and local governments have borrowed — is about four-thousand dollars and that’s three-thousand dollars lower than the national average.
"If we want to rebuild our state, if we want to finish Highway 20, if we want to modernize our infrastructure — our sewer treatment facilities, our water treatment facilities — I don’t know how bonding can stay off the table," Culver says. Rebuilding levies in Oakville, replacing the courthouse in Cedar Rapids that was wiped out by flood waters and other "significant" flood recovery projects should get a good chunk of federal money, but Culver says the state needs to "step up to the plate" to help, and borrowing might be necessary.
"We’re going to need to work in a bipartisan way," Culver says. "We’re going to have to be extremely creative and thoughtful about how we balance the budget in ’10 and I look forward to having a good discussion of any and all options for how to balance the (state) budget in a fiscally-prudent way."
The governor says the extent of federal money headed Iowa’s way for infrastructure projects will determine how much the state and local governments will have to raise to complete key projects, like making Highway 20 a four-lane, divided highway all across the state.
"We’ve made some real strides on (Highway) 20 and the Department of Transportation Commission recently announced that Highway 20 was going to get a significant chunk of state funds to move forward on finishing that project, but we’ve got a ways to go," Culver says. "Maybe we can use some of this federal money to help us finish it. I’m focused on getting things done and Highway 20 is something that I’d like to have happen on my watch in terms of completing that stretch of road."
Culver made his comments this weekend during and after an appearance on Iowa Public Television.