SIOUX CENTER—Iowa state auditor Rob Sand made the Sioux Center Area Veterans Memorial his first stop June 2 on a three-day tour to talk about his office’s work.
Sand said that trips like this are an important part of his duties as a state official. During these trips, he’s had people come forward requesting his office to look into different matters.
“People aren’t sure who to talk to about it or they don’t want to e-mail our office because they’re worried someone will see their e-mail, but if I’m in town, it’s easy to hand me something,” he said. “A few investigations get started that way.”
Sand touted the results of a recent Iowa Supreme Court case that found his office did have the authority to subpoena documents from the University of Iowa in a billion-dollar utilities payment arrangement with investors.
“We were asking questions about it, including wanting to know who the investors were that they were saying were from Iowa,” Sand said. “What we did was essentially ask for the documentation, and they refused to give it to us, which isn’t something they can do. If you’re a state agency, you’re part of state government, and we ask you we want to look at this, you got a legal responsibility to hand it over. We gave them a subpoena and they said we’re going to ignore your subpoena.”
The auditor’s office won in district court, but the university appealed the decision, taking the case to the state’s Supreme Court.
“What’s frustrating about that is in the interim from when we started asking questions to when we finally got the decision, the deal was finalized and closed,” Sand said. “We’ll see what’s in the documents. I don’t know if it is something nefarious, though being told they don’t want to give them over, any self-respecting auditor when they hear that wants to get them that much more.”
He also expressed frustration with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ and the Legislature’s use of funds to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that the state’s budget surplus should have been put to better use.
“The problem with where we are is we had $1.2 billion while going through the biggest public emergency that most of us can remember,” Sand said. “A lot of businesses around the state, through no fault of their own, went out of business. I firmly believe that the most morally and fiscally responsible thing to do would have been to take some of that surplus and keep those businesses afloat during the pandemic.”
That aside, he added that small businesses are a key part of the state’s tax base, making further support a worthwhile expense.
“It’s concerning to me that we had that large of a surplus and just sat on it,” he said. “These are people who’ve put their lives into these businesses. They’ve created jobs in their communities. To say we can’t help everybody so we’re not going to help anybody is ridiculous.”
An ongoing concern for his office will be the appropriate use of federal and state dollars in response to the pandemic. Here, he also had issues with how the Legislature was proceeding on several fronts, namely, going through with retroactive appropriations and relying too much on these dollars for ongoing expenses.