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Branstad tells Cedar Rapids, Corbett to ditch project labor agreement

HIAWATHA — No.

That was Gov. Terry Branstad’s answer on Wednesday to Mayor Ron Corbett’s recent attempts to resolve a dispute between the two over the city’s use of a project labor agreement on its $75.6-million Convention Complex project.

Branstad, who stopped in Hiawatha for a town-hall meeting to promote his “Jobs for Iowa” effort, said Corbett and the Cedar Rapids City Council needed to abandon the project labor agreement or face the possible consequences — the loss of a $15-million I-JOBS grant for the Convention Complex project.

The governor was well aware that Corbett and a majority on the City Council have focused on the fact that they approved the project labor agreement on Dec. 14, 2010, a month before Branstad took office.

Branstad, though, dismissed such a timeline, noting that he emphasized at a gubernatorial debate at Coe College on Oct. 7 that he opposed then-Gov. Chet Culver’s support for project labor agreements and, further, if elected, that he would put a stop to using state funds on public projects with such agreements in place.

“They knew after my election (in November), they knew it was coming because right in the debate in Cedar Rapids — and everybody who was there knows how emphatically I stated it — that I think project labor agreements are wrong and that I intended to reverse that,” the governor said. “They were on notice of that.”

Branstad said he vetoed so-called “prevailing-wage” legislation way back in the 1980s as governor, and he said project labor agreements similarly do nothing but drive up the cost of public projects and benefit out-of-state contractors and unions at the expense of Iowa businesses and Iowa taxpayers.

Just Tuesday, Mayor Corbett said the city found itself caught between a desire to abide by Branstad’s executive order on project labor agreements and a need to honor the agreement that the City Council has put in place with the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Building Trades Council on the Convention Complex project. Corbett and the council think the agreement will ensure local workers work on the project.

Corbett has suggested that the city use I-JOBS funds on the project to cover costs like land and furniture purchases unrelated to the project labor agreements. He also has suggested that the city send the I-JOBS grant back to the state, the state divide it up on other Cedar Rapids city building projects without project labor agreements, and the city spend city money intended for the other projects on the Convention Complex.

Last night, Corbett said he still was being told by the Governor’s Office that his second idea was being considered when asked for a response to the governor’s comments.

Branstad, though, said he didn’t like either idea.

Asked if he understood how important the state I-JOBS money was to the Convention Complex project, the governor said, “Well, I guess my feeling is they should have thought about these project labor agreements, and they need to get out it.”

Branstad acknowledged that he and Corbett worked together back in the 1990s when he was governor and Corbett was the Republican speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives.

“Yes, we worked closely together and he helped me control spending at the state level,” Branstad said of Corbett. “I’m still about doing that, and it’s nothing personal. I’m just looking out for the taxpayers of Iowa.”

Just then, Corbett walked into the hallway at Hiawatha City Hall where Branstad was being interviewed before Wednesday’s town-hall meeting.

Branstad called Corbett, “Ron,” and Corbett called Branstad, “Governor,” as they shook hands. They exchanged pleasantries, then Branstad melted into the crowd as he made his way to the podium.

In his introductory remarks here in the city of Hiawatha, the governor made mention that Bill Northey, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, was in the crowd. But he made no mention that the mayor of the city next door to Hiawatha, Cedar Rapids, was there, too.

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