DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad gloated at Illinois’ expense Monday as he defended the millions in tax incentives the state used to bring a fertilizer plant to Iowa.
Branstad criticized President Barack Obama for “picking winners and losers in the marketplace” in an opinion piece distributed last week. It was the same week he announced the richest incentive package in state history that would be used to land the biggest single capital investment in state history.
Orascom Construction Industries is in line to reap as much as $240 million in state and local tax incentives to build a $1.4 billion fertilizer plant in Lee County near the Mississippi River after bypassing possible sites in Scott County and near Peoria, Ill. About $50 million of the state’s incentives are contingent upon no change to current tax structure in the next two years.
Asked during his weekly news conference about how his column jibes with what he approved for the fertilizer plant, Branstad said the incentive package will be a catalyst for reforming the state’s tax system. He added that the problem with Washington, D.C., stems in part from overregulation of industry.
As far as picking winners and losers, the governor cracked, “Illinois is the loser, Iowa is the winner.”
Branstad then took some more shots at the Land of Lincoln, describing it as “dysfunctional” and “willing to promise you the moon, then pulling the rug out from under your feet.” The state, he said, has “a reputation for corruption.”
That’s a contrast, he said, to Iowa’s reputation as good, honest government.
“It’s not something entirely new,” said Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Institute for Government and Public Affairs. “The Wisconsin governor, the Ohio governor, the Indiana governor, basically, they all try to do that to attract development.”
Like those states, Iowa has a Republican governor. Democrats control the executive branch and both chambers of the Illinois Legislature. Also, Obama got his political start in Illinois and the president’s critics have tried to tie him to the corruption in that state.
“It’s a two-fer for (Branstad),” Mooney said. “He gets to help out the (Republican) party and he gets to say something about Iowa getting the plant.”
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Chris Larimer, a politics professor at the University of Northern Iowa, said Branstad’s Illinois-bashing was surprising.
“It sounds like he laid it on,” Larimer said. “You would think that he’d want to keep good relationships, especially with the Midwest governors who are all dealing with the drought.”
Mooney, however, said Illinoisans tend to take it in stride.
“Sometimes people can get a little smug about it, like ‘OK, fine, you want to live in Des Moines? Feel free,’” he said.