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Vilsack Should Heed His Own Advice

David Yepsen

Des Moines Register

October 23, 2005

The governor bemoans federal pork projects. Everyone hates pork. Unless it's in your state. Then one person's pork becomes another's bacon. Politicians are elected to Congress promising to bring the slabs home, and we shouldn't be too upset when they do what we've asked. Whether it's Tom Harkin's grants for schools, or Tom Latham's massive grants for ag research at Iowa State, we love our pork, er, bacon.

Vilsack needs to be consistent to win the presidency. So, he should:

Give back some of Iowa's pork. Offer to give back to the federal government the $50 million Iowa got to build a rainforest in Coralville. No one else seems to be putting any money into the $150 million-plus project. It's become a source of naysaying and ridicule around the country. There's now talk of trying to bring it back to Des Moines or having the state help pay for part of it. So return the money. (It would also net him tons of great publicity in the big-city media he's courting.)


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Gov. Tom Vilsack penned a recent essay for the Wall Street Journal to offer his advice for dealing with the nation's budget woes.

The Democratic chief executive, who'd like to be president, should practice what he preaches. If he doesn't like federal "pork," he could offer to give back some of Iowa's.

Vilsack chastised "runaway" federal spending due to the war in Iraq and the spending on hurricane reconstruction. To balance the national budget, he suggested four things: Declare war on pork, end corporate welfare, cut oil and gas subsidies and trim government waste.

But what about Vilsack's own budgets and management practices? The state general fund has been spending more than it collects in tax revenues for years. It does so by taking money from other funds, such as the senior living trust fund. The state's pension fund is short. While Iowa's budget and financial management practices are better than those in many other states, they aren't the best in the country. As in Washington, the blame rests with both political parties.

The governor bemoans federal pork projects. Everyone hates pork. Unless it's in your state. Then one person's pork becomes another's bacon. Politicians are elected to Congress promising to bring the slabs home, and we shouldn't be too upset when they do what we've asked. Whether it's Tom Harkin's grants for schools, or Tom Latham's massive grants for ag research at Iowa State, we love our pork, er, bacon.

Vilsack needs to be consistent to win the presidency. So, he should:

Give back some of Iowa's pork. Offer to give back to the federal government the $50 million Iowa got to build a rainforest in Coralville. No one else seems to be putting any money into the $150 million-plus project. It's become a source of naysaying and ridicule around the country. There's now talk of trying to bring it back to Des Moines or having the state help pay for part of it. So return the money. (It would also net him tons of great publicity in the big-city media he's courting.)

End corporate welfare. Vilsack could offer to junk the Iowa Values Fund he's so proud of. That's corporate welfare. And maybe he can ask the Legislature to repeal the insurance-premium tax break he gave to Iowa's largest insurance companies to keep them in the state.

Ah, but all those things create jobs, he'll say. And he's right. Just like a lot of federal corporate welfare does. It's also called economic development or priming the pump, and it's why both state and federal governments engage in it.

Cut oil and gas subsidies. That's easy for a Midwestern politician to support. He doesn't have an oil or gas well in his state. How about if he offers to end the subsidies and tax breaks for ethanol production?

Trim government waste. Vilsack, who has been governor since 1999, should finally ask the 2006 session of the Iowa Legislature to force the mergers of some of Iowa's 950 cities and 99 counties, eliminate duplication at the state universities and close any school district with fewer than 250 students. All that would be a great start toward cutting the serious waste in his own backyard.

Vilsack also proposes raising federal taxes on so-called high earners by canceling two tax cuts scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. To clean up the state's finances and balance his own books, he could propose rescinding all the tax cuts he ever signed as governor or supported as a state legislator.

And when Vilsack writes how Republicans "have turned the largest budget surpluses in our history into the largest deficits," he invites people to compare the budget surplus he inherited from Terry Branstad with the balances he'll leave, if any.

Lots of Grandma's old sayings come to mind: What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Take the log out of your own eye before you try to take the speck out of another's. The pot calls the kettle black. And something about people who live in glass houses.