IA-Gov: New Branstad ad airbrushes his record

Former four-term Governor Terry Branstad, the likely Republican nominee against Governor Chet Culver, launched his campaign's third television ad today, about a month after his first commercials started running statewide in Iowa. The latest ad depicts Branstad as "the real conservative change we needed then... and now."

Here's the ad script:

The farm crisis ... Budget deficits... Skyrocketing unemployment...

That’s what Terry Branstad faced when he was elected governor.

But this Winnebago County farm kid put his rural values right to work, recruiting thousands of jobs, cutting out half the state agencies and taxes $124 million – leaving us record employment, and a $900 million surplus.

Terry Branstad is the real conservative change we needed then... and NOW.

Time for a reality check.

Branstad was first elected governor in 1982, near the bottom of an economic cycle (at that time the most severe recession since World War II) and was fortunate to retire near the peak of the Clinton boom years. However, job gains during Branstad's tenure as governor did not fulfill promises he made during his campaigns.

Iowa reorganized state government in 1985, eliminating some agencies and merging others into larger departments. On the other hand, total state government employment increased from 53,342 in 1983 to 61,400 in 1999. Total receipts in the state's general fund increased from $1.899 billion in 1983 to $4.881 billion in 1999. That 166 percent increase was more than the rate of inflation during the same period, and Iowa's population was no larger when Branstad retired than it was when he was first elected.

The huge growth in the general fund budget would not have been possible without various tax increases Branstad signed into law. Increased revenue from two sales tax hikes dwarfed the $124 million in tax cuts highlighted in Branstad's new commercial. Those cuts came primarily from reducing income and estate taxes, delivering most of the benefits to wealthier Iowa families. Unfortunately, Branstad's sales tax increases disproportionately hit lower-income families, who spend a greater share of their money on essentials.

Branstad was far from reluctant to raise taxes. He asked the state legislature to increase the sales tax in his very first budget address, within days of being inaugurated in 1983.

I expect Branstad to win the Republican primary on June 8 despite his accountability problem. Bob Vander Plaats is a strong speaker but doesn't have the financial resources to publicize his case against the former governor. Rod Roberts isn't trying to make a case against Branstad, as far as I can tell. His function in the campaign seems to be to prevent Vander Plaats from consolidating the conservative vote in the primary.

However, during the general election campaign, Branstad will face an opponent with the resources to compare his record with his rhetoric. I wonder how many conservative Republicans will either stay home in November or check the Libertarian box in the governor's race.

Downballot succes: Minnesota's third way

One virtually unnoticed nugget in Tuesday's election was the decision by Minnesota voters to dedicate a 0.375 % sales tax to the arts and outdoors.  The measure will dedicate an estimated $275 million annually to projects such as clean water, wildlife habitat restoration, parks and trails, and arts and cultural programs.

This unlikely coupling of outdoors and arts was the result of more than a decade of attempts to get an outdoors amendment on the Minnesota ballot.  This was a change to the Minnesota Constitution and required that the legislature first pass a bill allowing this amendment onto the ballot, which the citizens then voted on.  Rural legislators had tried for years to get this amendment on the ballot, but had failed repeatedly.  The measure finally passed the legislature after adding arts funding, which brought urban legislators on board as well.

States face constant pressures to spend money on outdoors-related projects and some fund these activities through mechanisms such as lotteries or licensing fees for boaters, hunters, and (ugh) off-roaders.  But this is the most audacious plan that I can remember.  And it certainly flies in the face of what has become the center-right CW in punditry circles.  And, from my perspective, I think outdoors and arts are entirely compatible and offer us a new way to think about the outdoors.

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