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Dems to Branstad: We’ll push for field offices next session
In the wake of rural economic development and small business growth initiatives put forth by President Barack Obama, Iowa Democratic lawmakers said they’re ready to continue the fight to keep Iowa Workforce Development field offices in rural Iowa open.
“It’s certainly in our power next session to override this veto,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) said Wednesday. “We’ve obviously partnered with Republicans already to keep [the field offices] open, and we need to partner with those on the first floor,” of the state capitol, a reference to the Governor’s Office.
The field offices are regional branches that assist the unemployed with job skills, seeking employment and updating tools like resumes. Gov. Terry Branstad issued a line-item veto in early August to Senate File 517, eradicating the Legislature’s funding — $3.5 million in one-time money — and desire to keep the offices open. The closures are expected to save $7 million in the first fiscal year, Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht has said.
Branstad instead supports an idea to replace the field offices with hundreds “virtual points of access,” or computers, the public can access for employment assistance. IWD spokeswoman Kerry Koonce said there are thus far 104 total access points in operations, excluding 43 systems in armories that may be used by veterans only.
The veto rallied Democrats, who called for a special session to override the action. While several Republicans with field offices slated for closure in their districts expressed disdain over the veto — they wanted at least one more year to explore the best options for streamlining employment assistance — none of them opted to sign the special session resolution. After the gavel fell on the third-longest legislative session in state history, many were reluctant to reconvene under the golden dome, and were further unconvinced the expense of holding such a session would justify the end.
Sen. Jack Hatch (D-Des Moines) said Republicans, albeit frustrated, wouldn’t sign for the special session “because they didn’t want to embarrass the Governor. It’s pure politics.”
Gronstal said for a veto override to happen during the Legislative session, the procedure must be initiated by the House, currently under Republican control.
“Whether they will take that up is yet to seen,” he said.
Branstad and IWD officials have touted the newly-implemented Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress — IPEP – as the cornerstone to helping job growth and create 200,000 new jobs over the next five years by bringing the public and private sectors together.
“Our politics have gotten in the way of solutions” to tackling positive economic development in Iowa, Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls), said. “We need to bring together aspects of both the public and private sectors.”
“Public-private partnership is a nice phrase, but without infrastructure, you’re going to fail,” Hatch said. “I think the Governor is going to see a failing effect trying to create those 200,000 because he doesn’t have the infrastructure.”
Democrats are cynical of what kind of jobs will be created in that 200,000 total.
“We’re skeptical but supportive,” Gronstal said of Branstad’s ambition. “In the 1980′s, when Gov. Branstad was first Governor, it was about creating any job; it wasn’t about creating wealth in this state, and it did little for Iowa.”
“I think he’s looking to create any kind of job,” he said. “There’s no expectation-building to get high-paying jobs here, and we don’t need low-paying jobs in Iowa — we already have the highest percent of two-income households in the country.”
In the meantime, Hatch said, lawmakers will try to appeal to their colleagues to bring up the field office issue in the next session.
Albrecht said Branstad’s streamlining with virtual access points has already received accolades from the National Governors Association.
“Gov. Branstad is seeking a broad range of jobs that will also increase family incomes by 25 percent, another goal he wants to achieve in the next five years,” Albrecht said. “The Governor continues to focus on growth industries in Iowa, including bio-sciences and others.”