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Civic Skinny

‘Check our progress,’ Branstad said. So Cityview did.

1/13/2016

Five years ago, when Gov. Terry Branstad resumed office after a 12-year pause, he said the budget practices of the past — presumably he meant under Govs. Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver — amounted to “a mountain of broken promises.” He said that, in contrast, the Branstad administration would not over-promise and under-deliver.

And as he took office he laid out four goals of his own for the next five years: the creation of 200,000 new jobs for Iowans, a 15 percent reduction in the cost of government, a 25 increase increase in family incomes and “the best schools in the nation.”

“Please check back often to check our progress,” the Governor’s website suggests.

The five years are up this week. How did he do? He over-promised and under-delivered.

Nonfarm employment in the state was 1,605,000 in November, according to the Legislative Services Agency. Five years ago, the figure was 1,488,100. So during the governor’s past five years in office, employment rose by 116,900 — 83,100 short of the goal.

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(What’s more, Iowa has consistently lagged the nation in employment growth since Branstad became governor in January of 2011. “Iowa’s percent of U.S. employment has declined as the percentage growth in U.S. employment has exceeded the percentage growth in Iowa employment since June 2010,” the nonpartisan state agency notes.)

The budget for fiscal 2011 — the last one under the administration of Chet Culver — called for appropriations of $6.466 billion. A 15 percent drop would have spending for this year at about $5.5 billion. However, the actual fiscal 2016 budget puts appropriations at $7.458 billion — an increase of about 15 percent.  He was right on the 15 percent, just not on the direction.

According to the American Community Survey of the United States Census Bureau, the median household income in Iowa in 2011 — the year the Governor took office — was $52,030. In 2014, the latest year for which comparable figures are available, the number was $53,712. That’s an increase of about 3 percent. Median family income — as contrasted to household income (which can include persons who are not related to one another) — rose to $67,771 from $66,129, an increase of 2.5 percent. Per capita income rose about 5 percent, to $28,361. None of those numbers is close to 25 percent.

Schools? According to a report issued in November by the American Legislative Exchange Council, Iowa ranked 31st in the nation in the quality of schools in 2013. The organization gave Iowa a grade of C-minus based on “policies that provide high-quality educational options to all students.” It got a D in teacher quality and a D in digital learning. Iowa also ranked 31st the year Branstad took office. Education Week gives Iowa a C and ranks it 19th in the nation in overall quality of education. In per-pupil spending, Iowa gets an F. …

Now that Vernon Delpesce has been fired as the $250,000-a-year head of the YMCA of Greater Des Moines, some business leaders are trying to figure out the extent of financial problems at the organization. At first glance, they figure the Y has a $9.5 million problem — money needed to finish the pool at the new downtown Y, to close out pledges made but not yet paid, and to underwrite continuing losses at some of the suburban Ys — particularly the Healthy Living Center in Clive. The guy who will have to sort everything out is Rick Tollakson, the hard-nosed Hubbell Realty executive who will become chairman of the Y this summer.

Most, but not all, of the corporations and individuals that pledged around $10 million for the downtown project over five years have agreed to a sixth-year payment — in effect raising their pledge by 20 percent, and new givers are stepping up. “What a great town we live in,” says Jim Cownie, who is making the fundraising calls. But the Y is also seeking city, county and state money, which might be harder to get. …

Kent Sorenson’s woes are mounting. The former state senator is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty a year-and-a-half ago to federal charges of concealing $73,000 in payments from the political campaign of Ron Paul while an elected official in return for his allegiance. He also pleaded guilty of obstructing an investigation into payments from the Michele Bachmann campaign. Some of the federal issues are still in court, and prosecutors have asked for a delay in sentencing — presumably because investigators are hoping to get information from him that might help their case and that, in turn, might prompt them to go easy on him in their sentencing recommendations.

Then last July, the onetime family-values poster boy allegedly got drunk and beat up his wife and then got in a fight with the police officers who showed up. (“I started it, and he looked worse,” his wife said later in coming to the defense of her 6-foot-1-inch, 250-pound husband.) He was charged with domestic abuse causing injury and interference with official acts that injured a police officer, and the Warren County district court barred him from any contact with his wife.

The case is still working its way through the courts, though on Sept. 30 District Associate Judge Kevin Parker canceled the no-contact order. A trial was set for Nov. 18, but the county asked for a delay, and it now is set for Jan. 28. If he’s found guilty, Sorenson could be sentenced to up to two years in jail and fined up to $8,000.

If that happens, he might have a hard time scraping up the money. In September, Wells Fargo Bank filed a notice of foreclosure on a house Sorenson owns, and just before Christmas a Warren County district judge granted the foreclosure. The Sorensons took out a $151,000 mortgage in 2008, and the bank was awarded a judgment of about $155,000, which includes the unpaid principal of about $139,000 plus related costs.

In October, the Zortman Chiropractic Clinic went to court and said that eight months earlier Sorenson had defaulted on a note with an unpaid balance of $3,425. The court ruled for the clinic and sent the sheriff of Linn County a notice telling him to collect. A garnishment notice was sent to Wells Fargo Bank in Linn County on an account of Sorenson’s wife, but it came back in December marked “no funds available.”

According to other court documents, Sorenson in 2011 got a Visa card from Community Choice Credit Union. He fell behind on payments early last year, and in September the credit union went to court seeking the unpaid balance of $10,772.24 — plus interest at the rate of 12.75 percent. At the time, he listed his job as “state representative” and his annual income as $60,000. (He also said he had never filed for bankruptcy, though federal bankruptcy court records indicate he filed in 1996.)

Sorenson never responded to the credit-card suit, and in November the court issued a default judgment order against him, though it cut the interest rate to 8.75 percent.

Sorenson, 43, had a checkered past before he was elected to the Iowa House in 2008, barely beating Democratic incumbent Mark Davitt. In 2010, he moved to the Iowa Senate, beating incumbent Staci Appel. He resigned in October of 2013 after a special investigator told the Iowa Supreme Court that Sorenson likely violated ethics rules.

Federal Judge Robert Pratt eventually will sentence Sorenson on the federal counts. Guidelines call for “a sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary” to punish the offender, protect the public and reflect the seriousness of the crime. The court, too, must consider “the history and characteristics of the defendant.” That history now presumably will include the wife-beating and cop-fighting charges, the latest money problems, and the fact that during the federal pre-trial proceedings he tested positive for marijuana.

End note: In the Legislature, Sorenson became the darling of the evangelicals and Christian conservatives. Even after the devastating special report to the Iowa Supreme Court and after Sorenson’s resignation from the Iowa Senate, radio host Steve Deace said that “nobody — and I mean nobody — did more to fight for liberty and morality in my state legislature than Sorenson did. If our state legislatures were filled with Sorenson-types, this country would be a lot better off.” CV

Huh?

“Assistant City Manager Matt Anderson estimated that city officials have probably held 200 meetings during the past three years about” the proposed garage and building that will replace the city garage at Seventh and Grand that is being torn down, The Des Moines Register reported last week. CV

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