A growing coalition of interest groups and federal lawmakers from the Quad-Cities is calling on local officials to opt out of a contentious Iowa program that they say circumvents federal regulations on major infrastructure projects in the region.
“This is a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach that fails to consider the long-term economic impact on our community,” said coalition spokesperson Andy Waeyaert, who works with the Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, a labor management organization that focuses on fair contracting practices.
Carrying signs with the “NO SWAPS” slogan, representatives from organized labor, local contractors, business owners and trade associations attended Monday's event. The under-construction I-74 bridge served as the backdrop for the announcement from Bettendorf’s Jetty Park near the Isle Casino and Hotel.
The program, administered by the Iowa Department of Transportation, switches federal dollars for various projects with state dollars. As the proposal made its way through the Iowa legislature, critics likened the program to a form of money laundering.
Now, area advocates warn the program could lead to fewer environmental protections, decrease employment rates for skilled workers, skirt buy-American requirements and add greater hurdles for minority and women-owned businesses. They also cite a report from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute from January that found the program threatens to shrink local economic activity by $3.5 million.
Federal projects are overseen by the Bi-State Regional Commission, a metropolitan planning organization. Under the federal swap program, Iowa municipalities were automatically drafted in, and would have to take official action to opt out of it.
Also speaking out against the program on Monday was Michelle DeCap, representing the Associated Contractors of the Quad-Cities. She said the program entices contractors from outside the region to come in and scoop up contracts by paying lower wages to a less-skilled workforce.
“When this happens, these outside contractors bring their own employees,” she said. “My employees, your employees, your neighbors, your relatives, these people behind me will sit at home and be unemployed.”
Democratic U.S. House Reps. Dave Loebsack of Iowa and Cheri Bustos of Illinois have also taken a stance opposing Iowa’s program. In a prepared letter from Loebsack’s office that was read during the Monday event, Loebsack called for the opt-out, saying federal dollars should be spent in the way Congress provided them.
The Bi-State Regional Commission is expected to vote on the issue of opting out at the end of May.
Other area groups opposed to IDOT's swap program include the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, Tri-City Building Trades Council, Quad Cities Interfaith, Scott County Democratic Party and Great River Labor Federation.