Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa officials have been regularly called out for their poor public health response, even by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ allies in the Trump administration. But at least our state finances are in order, Reynolds’ defenders insist.
Former Gov. Terry Branstad at a Trump rally in Des Moines this month said Iowa had been recognized as a top state for pandemic management. That report from the Council of State Governments, though, wasn’t about health outcomes, but instead about budget resilience.
At another recent campaign event, Branstad criticized talk of federal aid to “liberal states that have mismanaged their finances.” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst also has decried the proposed “blue-state bailout.”
However, it turns out Iowa’s fiscal situation is not so peachy keen. Reynolds is engaged in a fight with federal overseers about the potential misuse of millions of federal aid dollars, and she appears to be losing the argument.
The Reynolds administration this year directed more than $20 million in coronavirus relief funds for a technology upgrade project that was in the works long before the novel coronavirus hit the United States. State Auditor Rob Sand and a U.S. Treasury watchdog both published reports finding that spending was not allowable under the terms of the CARES Act approved by Congress.
Additionally, Reynolds’ team is spending nearly $17 million in pandemic aid on a separate tech project that was planned well before the pandemic, the Associated Press reported last week.
Reynolds is seeking a remedy from the federal government, but the case against her spending decisions seems clear. Iowa could pay a hefty price for her indiscretion, potentially having to pay back tens of millions of federal dollars.
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It’s not the first time Reynolds’ pandemic spending has come under scrutiny. The state purchased more than a million non-medical masks from a company owned by a longtime GOP campaign vendor, according to records obtained by AP. Reynolds also awarded a $28 million testing contract to an out-of-state company with little expertise, reporting by former Gazette columnist Lyz Lenz showed.
Ever since COVID-19 first emerged in Iowa, Reynolds has seemed to let financial and economic factors steer her decisions, instead of deferring to public health recommendations. The grisly gambit didn’t pay off. Iowa let the virus win, and our fiscal situation will suffer even worse because of it.
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