Four goals that remain unfinished as Iowa Governor Terry Branstad heads to China

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — As Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad prepares to step down from office to become a U.S. diplomat, he’s highlighted what he sees as his administration’s successes in recent years.

They include a low unemployment rate, multi-billion dollar private-sector investments and a slate of workforce initiatives. The results are more mixed when considering four goals he promised when he returned to office in 2011.

Branstad, the longest serving governor in U.S. history in his 23rd year on the job, is expected to resign soon to become ambassador to China. A Senate vote to confirm his nomination could happen as early as this week.

Branstad wanted to achieve these objectives by 2016: 200,000 new jobs; a 15 percent reduction in the cost of government; a 25 percent increase in family incomes; and having the nation’s best schools.Last year, Branstad aides said the governor met the job goal and the others needed more work. His administration still notes those goals but now emphasizes other successes, such as $13.5 billion in private capital investment, renewable energy advancements and job programs aimed at veterans and post-high school education.

Ben Hammes, Branstad’s spokesman, said the goals haven’t all been achieved but that Branstad, “would tell you that we have made substantial progress in all the areas.”

In assessing Branstad’s success since returning to government in 2011, Senate Democratic leader Rob Hogg, of Cedar Rapids, emphasized the most recent session, when the Republican governor worked with GOP majorities in both legislative chambers on a host of conservative bills.

Hogg notes Branstad signed measures reducing collective bargaining rights for public employees and prohibiting local governments from raising the minimum hourly wage. With those measures in mind, Hogg called Branstad’s efforts on family incomes “a miserable failure.”

“They have not pursued policies that have provided for broad economic growth,” Hogg said.
Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, applauded the governor’s accomplishments and said he expects Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds to keep up the good work. Reynolds is widely expected to launch a gubernatorial run next year.

“I see no indication that there is not going to be continued progression to meet those goals and surpass those goals,” he said.

Here’s a look at the four goals:

200,000 NEW JOBS
Asked recently about the objectives, the 70-year-old Branstad said, “We exceeded our goal of 200,000 new jobs.” Then he noted the 3.1 percent unemployment rate, far less than the 5.7 percent rate when he returned to office in January 2011.
The U.S. Labor Department’s data on current employment statistics show Iowa added nearly 85,000 private sector jobs between January 2011 and January 2016, though the Iowa Policy Project has noted other data showcasing that it’s closer to 105,000. Branstad’s office points to statistics from Iowa Workforce Development, which highlighted more than 206,000 new jobs had been reached by December 2015. The figure doesn’t take into account net growth, or jobs lost in that time.
Hammes said the administration has always been up front about not including net jobs.

Branstad’s administration cited data from the Iowa Department of Management to note about 2,300 fewer state employees today than in January 2011. But the figure doesn’t include employees at Iowa’s three public universities, staff overseeing that system under the Board of Regents, the courts system, the Iowa Legislature or community-based corrections. Hammes said those areas of state government are not part of the executive branch.
Hammes wouldn’t specify what statistics would measure a 15 percent reduction. The cost of running state government has increased, from about $6 billion in the budget year that ended in 2012 to roughly $7.2 billion for the upcoming spending year.

Branstad’s office measures family income as per capita personal income tracked by the U.S. Department of Commerce and its Bureau of Economic Analysis. Hammes said Iowa’s personal income had a nearly 20 percent growth in the five-year span. The latest data indicates that percentage is now about 24 percent.
Those numbers include wages and salaries, income off investments and income from payments like unemployment benefits and Social Security.
Hammes added when compared to the rest of the country, “we are doing quite well.”
The same bureau in March released annual personal income data by state that showed Iowa ranked 42nd, with 2.3 percent growth in 2016 over 2015.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income in 2015 was about $53,000. It was a little over $50,000 in 2011.

The goal to make Iowa’s schools the best in the nation is difficult to track since additional parameters weren’t set. The state spends roughly $3 billion on K-12 education, and Branstad’s office pointed to gradual funding increases over the years. They also noted an investment in teacher leadership training.
That hasn’t been enough to quell complaints that spending hasn’t kept up with inflation, leading educators to say it’s led to layoffs and larger classroom sizes. In 2017, Iowa’s three public universities collectively cut about $30 million mid-year amid budget constraints. Officials for the universities have indicated it will lead to increases in student tuition.

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