Guv's jobs fudge is no holiday gift

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Gov. Terry Branstad could be bragging this week that Iowa has added more than 100,000 jobs since he retook office in January 2011. A milestone, to be sure.

Instead, he’s doubling down on dubious math, claiming he’s met a 2010 campaign promise to create 200,000 jobs in five years.

Now, all we need is a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

If you use a reality-based measuring stick for job growth, one that adds new jobs and subtracts lost jobs, Iowa’s net job gain since January 2011 is 101,700, according to an analysis from the Iowa Policy Project. I’m obliged to say IPP is a left-leaning think tank, which simply took employment numbers complied by Iowa Workforce Development, added and subtracted.

At a budget briefing this week, with a PowerPoint presentation set on maximum spin, IWD proclaimed that more than 200,000 new jobs have been added. And that’s because the administration refuses to subtract lost jobs. Officials simply add up monthly gross employment gains.

So if one month, the state adds 1,000 jobs but loses 1,200, Branstad throws 1,000 jobs on to his promise pile. It’s sort of like if a Nebraska sports page carried the headline Saturday “Huskers Score 20!” with no mention of Iowa’s 28 points.

Funny thing is, if you let the governor have his way, the economic sector that’s seen the largest gross job growth since he returned is government, adding 32,300 jobs according to IPP. That’s more than construction, manufacturing, trade and transport, etc. I’m not sure that made it into the spinning PowerPoint.

In reality, the net gain in federal, state and local government jobs is only 6,700. But why let facts get in the way of a good story? “Branstad Bloats Bureaucracy!” Now I’m getting dizzy.

Much of the reality-based employment picture is impressive. In five years, Iowa has seen a net gain in construction jobs of 20,000, while adding more than 15,000 trade and transport jobs, 14,800 education and health sector jobs and 18,000 jobs in professional and business services. This is good news most governors would love to tout.

Instead, we get distortions. The governor claims more than 20,000 new manufacturing jobs when the net gain is closer to 10,000. Truth is, manufacturing growth barely outpaced the 8,600 net jobs added to the leisure and hospitality sector.

Sure, governors have been known to inflate job claims. Chet Culver claimed his I-JOBS bonding program would create 30,000 jobs. Reality was closer to 7,000.

But when an administration and officials in charge of tracking employment data join forces to give Iowans a dishonest picture of the state’s economy, that’s upping the ante. Even amid the holidays, that much fudge is hard to swallow.

But why should anyone be surprised? The Branstad administration closes state facilities, privatizes Medicaid, reshapes vast stretches of state government and twists administrative rules to deliver tax cuts while bypassing elected lawmakers. If checks and balances and separation of powers can be sidestepped, what chance does basic math have?

About the same chance we have of seeing our governor make a point of using his power to halt the spinning.

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