State auditor: Governor sitting on $1B that could help small businesses, towns

By: - April 23, 2021 4:09 pm

State Auditor Rob Sand appears on Iowa PBS’ “Iowa Press” on April , 2021. (Screenshot via Iowa PBS)

State Auditor Rob Sand criticized Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ pandemic response, saying the state is sitting on close to $1 billion while businesses across the state struggle to stay open. 

Sand, a Democrat, is considering a run for governor, but said he also is debating a run for U.S. Senate or a re-election campaign. 

“I don’t think that the administration here in Iowa, the Reynolds administration, has done a good job handling the funds that Iowa received in order to mitigate the pandemic nor do I think that the budget has been handled in a good way to do that either,” Sand told a panel of reporters.

Sand made the remarks on “Iowa Press,” which airs Friday on Iowa PBS.

“The bigger issue to me is that we’ve got, at this point it’s late April, close to a billion dollars sitting in the state’s accounts while Iowans are suffering,” Sand said. “The Legislature could have passed something to get that money out there to struggling small businesses, to make sure that they can get through this pandemic …”

Sand said the Iowa Restaurant Association estimated 1,000 restaurants and bars could close during the pandemic, “and state government hasn’t lifted a finger in terms of state funds to help them.”

“And you look around the state right now and you have people who have poured their lives into creating a gathering place for their community and it might be the only one there and now this pandemic comes along and through no fault of that business owner they have had to shut down and they have lost their business,” Sand said.

Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Friday afternoon.

Kollin Crompton, communications director for the Republican Party of Iowa, praised Reynolds’ approach to the pandemic and said Sand is merely “carrying water for the liberals.”

“Iowans never hear anything of substance from Rob Sand. When he’s not carrying water for the liberals he’s lobbing character attacks at Republicans,” Crompton said.

“Thanks to Gov. Reynolds’ balanced approach to the pandemic, and the leadership of Iowa Republicans, Iowa’s economy is leading the way. We were able to keep the economy moving, get people back to work and school safely, and administer vaccines statewide. While we have a long road ahead of us, Iowa is in an impeccable position to come back stronger than before,” Crompton added.

Lee Enterprises Des Moines Bureau Chief Erin Murphy asked Sand to respond to the governor’s comment that there simply isn’t enough money to make everyone whole.

“Can you imagine a ship captain, the ship is going down and the ship captain says, ‘Well folks, we’re going to just trash these lifeboats and these life vests because there’s not enough for everybody?’ It’s irresponsible,” Sand said. 

When moderator David Yepsen challenged Sand for suggesting Reynolds doesn’t care, Sand responded: “I don’t know that we have to decide whether or not she cared, we can just look at what she did or didn’t do, and she didn’t do anything.”

The state has not moved quickly or aggressively enough to help, the auditor added.

“That money is coming too late for a lot of people,” Sand said. “And it was bizarre to me to see the governor of the state of Iowa say, ‘That’s the federal government’s job.’ She is elected to look out for the state of Iowa, to serve the people of Iowa, and instead of Iowans getting what they need in this time of need, she is going to do with that money what she wants.”

Reynolds has allocated millions for small businesses, while also negotiating with her GOP colleagues running the House and Senate for additional income tax cuts. 

The auditor also criticized Reynolds for using $21.5 million on a software package and staffing expenses in her office. Reynolds later returned $21 million to a general pandemic account after Sand and federal officials complained. 

Lawmakers have moved to appropriate $21 million for the Workday human resources software system.

The spending on staff is still an issue. “We have cautioned the governor in taking half a million dollars to spend on her personal staff instead of actually mitigating the pandemic,” Sand said. “She is going to have to document how that went in order for it to qualify.”

Reynolds has said that money paid for staff work related to pandemic recovery.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.