Iowa Representative Cindy Axne spoke for over an hour on Monday with Iowans about major legislation out of Washington aimed at boosting the state’s economy during the pandemic– help that is not supported by any of her fellow Iowa members of Congress.
Over 600 people were listening into the telephone town hall during its peak. Axne and Urbandale State Rep. John Forbes addressed concerns about the recently passed American Rescue Plan and dispelled misconceptions about upcoming infrastructure legislation.
The lone Democratic member of Iowa’s federal delegation, Axne highlighted the economic importance of passing President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, noting that she has a “long way to go” to convince her Republican colleagues that the bill deserves their vote.
“My colleagues have a different view of what infrastructure looks like. My view of it is what today’s families are dealing with. Back in the day, infrastructure was your farm or your home and road to town. That was infrastructure. Then it was factories, industrialization and the highway. Today it is broadband, childcare. And to think anything else is honestly incredibly shortsighted and really not very well thought out,” Axne said.
“It’s no different for a family trying to get to work to have somebody to take care of their child … it’s the same as a bridge or a road that’s down. So the fact that my colleagues still don’t see these two as the same is shocking to me.”
During the call, Axne clearly defined her belief in the Democratic, “modern” definition of infrastructure as linked to job creation—a stark contrast from her Republican counterparts’ objection to the spending in the bill.
Axne explained the legislation as a “jobs bill” after an Iowan named Carla asked why “we’re focusing on infrastructure right now when so many people need actual money to get through this because of the inflation and everything else the pandemic is causing.”
“Carla, one of the reasons that we’re putting this big jobs bill in place, or infrastructure bill, is because it will do exactly that—create jobs,” she said.
“When I talked to Secretary Buttigieg the other day … 70% of the jobs that are being created through the bill will be for high school educated folks so that that they can learn a great trade, have opportunity for future job growth, and be automatically working in a high-paying, good job. So what this is going to do is put money in people’s pockets.”
Axne noted that the improvement of Iowa infrastructure is also needed for safety reasons.
“This is how we get our economy back up and running. We make sure that we build things for this country that are in dire need. Like the 500 bridges that are in derelict shape here in Iowa. We have some of the worst bridges in the country and they’re actually really unsafe.”
A few questions from the callers were concerned about Iowa’s misuse of COVID money from these major pieces of legislation, especially after last year, when Gov. Kim Reynolds used $21 million of federal CARES Act money to pay for a computer system instead of its intended use for COVID-19 relief.
“I want to make sure that any congressionally authorized funding, that we spend this time making sure is right for our state is actually used appropriately,” said Axne. “I do want to let you know, for our local funding, that’s a straight through. So it goes through the state, but it’s directly for those local communities, so there shouldn’t be any ability for the governor’s office to be able to divvy that up in any way that they’d like.”
Money dispersed to the state government for state departments or other areas becomes more “onus,” Axne said.
“We’ve got to make sure that the legislature is holding the administration accountable to spending that money appropriately. And certainly, I know we’ve got other watchdogs looking at that as well.”
Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand went this weekend on Iowa Press and also voiced his concerns over state use of new federal aid.
Rep. Forbes said that in the Iowa Legislature, the Democratic caucuses have been working to secure oversight in directing the federal aid.
“We’ve expressed some concern about the money coming into the state, the $41.6 billion that the governor right now pretty much has total discretion over where that money is being allocated,” he said during the town hall.
“So as a legislator, we’d like to have more oversight in directing that money to programs that will really help needy Iowans. And unfortunately, with the Republican-controlled Senate and House and a Republican-controlled governor, they’re less likely to go against her and say they want more say in it. So the Democratic caucuses are trying to make sure that we have some authority over how that money is spent here in the state of Iowa.”
by Isabella Murray
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