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March 24th, 2009

Bonding: Wants vs. Needs

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Written by: Craig Robinson

wantsvsneedsThe potential list of projects that may be included in Governor Culver’s bonding bill is so large, it is difficult to manage and communicate everything that it includes. Yesterday, highlighted some of the most egregious projects. Today we take a different look, but it leads us to the same conclusion. Culver’s bonding bill is a bad deal for Iowans.

I want to look at the projects that I feel I know the most about. These projects range from an auditorium for the high school I attended in Goose Lake, to the street in front of my home in Brooklyn. All of the projects are legitimate and worthwhile; however… they raise some serious concerns.

I grew up just outside of Goose Lake, Iowa, and attended the Northeast Community School District. Goose Lake is a little town of 240 people located in Clinton County. The school district is very rural; it covers over 178 square miles and has an enrolment of around 700 students.

Northeast is a model school district. Its facilities are among the best in Eastern Iowa for small schools. The Northeast Elementary School was built in 1997, and the Northeast High School, which was built in 1967, has been upgraded and refurbished over the past few years with local option sales tax revenues.

The district is now looking to expand once again, as they would like to build a new auditorium and fine arts facility. The district has been interviewing architects, and the school board is considering issuing bonds for the construction of the facility. The bonds would be paid for with the one-cent local option sales tax.

The Northeast Auditorium is on the list of possible projects that could be covered by Culver’s bonding proposal. It also meets the governor’s main criteria of being “shovel-ready.” As an alumnus, I think this is an exciting proposal, but I also think it’s a decision that is better left to the people of the school district, not an eleven-member board in Des Moines.

After high school, I attended St. Ambrose University in Davenport. I have fond memories from my college years there. Not only did I get a quality education, it’s also where I met my wife. St. Ambrose, a private university, has five projects on the list. These proposals basically deal with renovating existing buildings for additional office space and new class rooms. To do this, they need to build a new maintenance building, which is also on the list.

These five projects are all reasonable projects for St. Ambrose, but I don’t think my tax dollars should be used to fund them. I gave them enough of my money, around $18,000 a year for tuition, room and board, and colleges like St. Ambrose are exempt from paying property taxes. Simply put, St. Ambrose should pay for its own infrastructure projects, not Iowa’s taxpayers.

Finally, the city of Brooklyn, which is where I live, has seven projects on the list. Once again, these are all legitimate projects for our city leaders to be contemplating. The projects include a new public safety building, which would house the fire department and ambulance service, resurfacing the street in front of my house, and a couple other street and sewer projects.

Now, for the eight years I’ve lived in Brooklyn, a new public safety building has been the common recurring dream for many people in our community. In an ideal world, I’d love to see it built. But during tough economic times, you have to balance wants vs. needs. Currently, every fire truck and ambulance fits in the fire station or ambulance garage. It’s an old building, and the annual pancake breakfast overflows the place, but is a replacement a want or a need? I think, right now, it belongs in the “want” category.

When I first started searching for the projects from my home town, college, and the town in which I live, I did so because I was curious to see what they were getting out of the deal. What I soon realized was that, while all of these projects will improve the communities that they are located in, they will not create one single permanent job.

How many new teachers, custodians, or aides will the new auditorium create in Goose Lake?

None. In fact Culver’s reckless spending will probably cause the Northeast School District to cut staff.

How many new employees will the additional office space and class rooms at St. Ambrose create?

None. St. Ambrose has had a need to find additional office and class space for years. They are simply moving the maintenance department from the heart of the campus to a new location.

How many jobs will be created by the street projects and the new public safety building in Brooklyn?

None. The public safety building is simply a large garage to house fire trucks and ambulances, and both of these services are staffed by loyal volunteers. As for the road and sewer projects, I’m sure the people at Manatt’s will appreciate the business, but they are not going to hire any additional permanent employees to get these projects completed.

Where are the jobs that Governor Culver and the Democrats are promising? The only jobs that will be created out of this proposal are construction jobs. And with Culver’s main criteria to get these projects done in three or less years, we will once again see an influx of out-of-state construction workers coming to Iowa to fill these temporary jobs.

The decisions on whether or not these projects move forward should remain in each of their local communities, not in some meeting room in Des Moines. It is also reckless for Governor Culver to put every local project he can get his hands on and insinuate that these projects could be funded by his bonding proposal.

One would hope that when going in to debt to the tune of $750 million, or Governor and legislators would want to make sure that the money is used wisely. However, under the current proposals, an eleven member board will determine the rules and select the projects that will be funded, not our elected legislators.

Iowa needs to avoid the same mistakes that were made with the various bailouts that Congress rushed to pass. Their laziness and negligence has cost the American taxpayer dearly, and shook the confidence of our entire financial system. The sky is not falling, we have time to make decisions that will make Iowa a great state to own and operate a business once again.

Iowans should demand more from their elected officials. It’s unfortunate that our state is being lead by people with a chicken-little mentality. We need leaders who will do what it takes to fix our economy and the business climate in this state, not just do enough to get re-elected.

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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