Called the “Federal-Aid Swap,” the program was put in place roughly two years ago under a Republican-led effort by Iowa lawmakers to bypass administrative and engineering costs required for projects that receive federal money. All cities and towns in the state were automatically adopted into the program.
Proponents of the program say it saves taxpayer dollars, while opponents have argued that the federal requirements that the state is bypassing protect prevailing wages for workers and ensure materials are bought from American manufacturers.
Davenport has three seats on the Bi-State Regional Commission’s transportation policy committee, the metropolitan planning organization that oversees federal projects in the Quad-Cities. That committee is scheduled to vote on opting out next week. If the matter goes to a vote with only Iowa members participating — an expected outcome — then the regional commission will likely become the second in the state to leave Iowa’s program.
Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken, another committee member supporting the opt-out, said leaving the program is a major influence on the “future economic vitality of our region.”
For months, labor leaders — along with a growing coalition of contractors and business groups — have called for the opt-out. Members say participation in Iowa’s program threatens to take jobs from local workers and harm the regional economy.
Meanwhile, others in the Iowa Quad-Cities are steadfastly opposed. Bettendorf Mayor Bob Gallagher, another voting member of the transportation policy committee, said Wednesday that his city stands to lose between $800,000 and $1.6 million on its big federal project for Forest Grove Road because of the “federal hoops” that have to be jumped through.
Gallagher also challenged the conclusion that swapping federal dollars would lead to fewer jobs for local contractors, saying “that’s just not true.” “The frustration is we are having to deal with misinformation in an attempt to sway a decision,” Gallagher said, adding: “ It does save taxpayer money in the end, and that’s why I support staying in the Iowa program like every single other (metropolitan planning organization) in Iowa except in Johnson County, which is the only one that has opted out.”
Back in Davenport, Mayor Frank Klipsch, who is chairman of the deciding committee, made his announcement on the opt-out during a meeting in City Hall. He prefaced the message by saying the decision had been made after consulting aldermen and others in the community.
“We’ll be voting to opt out next week,” the mayor said, earning applause from several attendees who’d come donning T-shirts with union logos.
Ryan Drew, an organizer with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 in Rock Island, thanked the mayor and council members for their decision, saying the local workforce “is something that the community should be proud of.”
“Not everywhere in the country, not everywhere in this state, can you go and build a $1 billion bridge and use local workers,” he said. “That pays great dividends to this community.”