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Iowa GOP lawmakers condemn Branstad veto allowing Workforce Development office closures

More Republican lawmakers are expressing disdain toward Gov. Terry Branstad for issuing a line-item veto to allow the closure of 36 Iowa Workforce Development field offices throughout Iowa.

Republicans started speaking out last week, with at least two rural representatives stating the details of Branstad’s plan — closing 36 field offices and replacing them with computers for the public to access — were not made clear, and the savings and expenditures of either closing or operating the field offices were not apparent.

Now others are saying the veto is likened to jumping the gun.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/brian_moore_125.jpgBrian Moore

Since Branstad’s series of line-item vetoes in late July, including the field office closures in Senate File 517, Democrats have pushed to reconvene the two chambers under the golden dome for a special session to override the actions. Resolutions were sent to all legislators to be signed and returned to Democratic leadership by Aug. 15.

Senate File 517 contained specific language prohibiting state government from shutting the field offices down. Branstad said one reason he opted to veto the language was because the Legislature failed to adequately fund the offices’ operations by appropriating $3.5 million in one-time funds toward the cost.

Some Republicans are now saying that offering temporary funding was something they did for a purpose.

While the caucus hasn’t joined their Democratic counterparts in sounding the alarm for a special session or opposing the idea of looking at efficient ways to streamline employment assistance, Republican legislators — particularly those with field offices slated for shut down — are saying they wanted at least time to examine the issue. Several Republicans interviewed by The Iowa Independent did not denounce the idea of “virtual points of access,” but without more time to re-evaluate options, there is no way of knowing if another solution could have been more efficient.

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/stewart_iverson_125.jpgStewart Iverson

“I know there was enough one-time money that should have been able to keep offices open another year or so,” Rep. Stewart Iverson, Jr. (R-Clarion) said, giving both chambers more time to consider if closing the field offices was the best option.

Added Jack Drake (R-Griswold), a 10-term lawmaker: “I know the plan, and I think the Governor’s Office was fairly transparent (in their presentation), but yes, there was a lot of concern, so we wanted one more year. It is a difficult issue to know exactly what to do.”

While some legislators said online technology is a natural progression, including for job hunting, Drake’s primary concern was “how many of these unemployed people are computer illiterate? And if they need to go to an office, they’ll be driving a long way.”

Image has not been found. URL: http://media.iowaindependent.com/jack_drake_125.jpgJack Drake

“Not to say we shouldn’t re-evaluate how we do things. We should,” Drake, who has two field offices closing in his district, clarified. “I’m undecided right now if the Governor made the right decision with that veto.”

Rep. Brian Moore (R-Zwingle) is not among the undecided, however. His district will see the closure of the field office in Maquoketa, a town of just over 6,100 people nestled in northeast Iowa.

“I wrote a letter to the Governor asking him to keep it open,” Moore told The Iowa Independent. He anticipated that letter reached the Governor’s desk Tuesday, and as of that afternoon, had not heard a reply. Unemployment has crept up in Moore’s district, and “we tend to have seasonal layoffs as well.”

Branstad said the administration has opted to keep some offices open after hearing concerns about them closing, specifically one in Lee County, which carries the highest unemployment rate in Iowa. Other offices were saved with federal dollars.

Teresa_wahlert_125_2480.jpg
Teresa_wahlert_125_2480.jpg

Teresa Wahlert

“We’re trying to do this in a thoughtful way,” he said Monday. “I have great confidence in the [Iowa Workforce Development] department and in [IWD director] Teresa Wahlert. She put together a really thoughtful plan to actually improve the delivery. We’re actually now offering longer hours and more opportunity and we think we can provide better services. But we — the old way things were being done and just having these part-time offices really wasn’t that effective, and it was also very expensive.”

Several lawmakers from both parties told The Iowa Independent this week and previously they have yet to see figures indicating operations costs or savings from closing the offices.

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