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Legislators talk stimulus at forum

BY GEOFF WARING | MARCH 2, 2009 7:30 AM

The future of Iowa’s funding from the federal stimulus package became a little clearer for Johnson County voters on Feb. 28.

In the second of four legislative forums sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County, Iowa City and Johnson County residents packed the Iowa City City Hall to question elected officials on a number of current topics.

Rep. David Jacoby, D-Coralville, said in his opening statement that the economic burden rests on the backs of Iowa’s legislators.

“Today, the budget is very serious and we will have some serious challenges in Iowa,” he said.
Jacoby also told local citizens where he and his fellow representatives were looking to spend the stimulus money that they hope will arrive within the next month.

“When it comes to spending the stimulus money, we’re looking at unemployment, the economy, and the fifth-largest natural disaster in U.S. history,” he said.

Rep. Larry Marek, D-Riverside, said it is difficult to spread the money to all the places that need it.
“The budget is tough, we are in a spot where we need this economy to turn around,” he said. “This is a serious thing.”

Some attendees requested that more money be put into local school districts, but the officials reported the difficulties they face on that matter.

“No money for education is available in the federal stimulus package,” Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said. “We are trying to be prudent with our budgeting.”

UI political-science Associate Professor David Redlawsk asked legislators to remember the flood damage when discussing ways to spend money.

“This is a challenge that is quite different from what we’ve ever faced,” he said.

UI urban and regional planning Professor Peter Fisher said the stimulus money should be put into the economy sooner than later. But he expressed some doubt over whether the stimulus money was being spent appropriately.

“We are taking stimulus money and using it the way it was called to be,” he said. “We need to spend that money now.”

Discussion on the prevailing-wage bill was a bit more heated. The House bill, which would require a “prevailing wage” for state projects, fell one vote shy of passing Feb. 20.

Each representative at the forum except Marek was in favor of passing the bill.

Bill Gerhard, the president of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council, met with Marek after the forum was over to discuss the prevailing-wage bill.

“All I know is the contractors I have spoken with in my area are not in favor of this, and I need to represent the people who voted me here,” Marek said.


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