Branstad calls for quick action on education, criminal justice reform


Richard Martinez/Iowa State Dail

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad during an event Sept. 9, 2014 in the Gallery Room of the Memorial Union at Iowa State University.

Alex Hanson

Gov. Terry Branstad told the Iowa Legislature on Tuesday he hopes for quick action on education funding in the state this session even though budget projections are low, and hopes to pass criminal justice reform after meetings with NAACP leaders.

Branstad delivered his annual Condition of the State address to a joint session of the Iowa Legislature on Tuesday morning — his first since officially becoming the nation’s longest serving governor in history.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, over the past five years the State of Iowa has made significant progress,” Branstad said. “Progress which has put Iowa in a position of strength and opportunity for a bright future”

Education funding

Echoing what state legislators have been saying recently, Branstad said Iowa’s revenue projections are low because of events such as the avian influenza outbreak, which Branstad called “devastating.” Lower commodity price and what he called “an increasingly competitive world” also are contributing to lower projections, the governor said.

“Ensuring our children’s future is bright also means addressing other challenges our state faces,” Branstad said.

Branstad did say he is ready to increase K-12 funding in the state by more than $145 million, bringing the total cost statewide to more than $3.2 billion this year.

“To make this level of funding possible, we have made tough decisions in other budget areas,” Branstad said. “It is my sincere hope the General Assembly will move quickly to approve supplemental state aid early this session.”

He did not, however, talk about funding of higher education, including the state’s three regent institutions that will all see tuition freeze either this current semester or this coming fall. He did call for a “collective” effort between state schools and community colleges to close the “skills gap” students face.

Even without much talk on university funding, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said in a statement after the address that he appreciates the governor’s support of public universities.

“We will continue to be good stewards with the money that is appropriated to us. We will also continue to strive to find ways to be more efficient and effective with our funds,” Rastetter said. “The board is committed to working with the governor and General Assembly in the 2016 legislative session to secure the level of funding that will ensure the highest quality education for our students.”

Criminal justice reform

Branstad also called on the legislature to pass criminal justice reform items, saying a meeting with NAACP leaders in the state proved how important the issue was.

“Ensuring the fundamental fairness of our system is a worthy goal,” Branstad said. “But a fairer and more equitable criminal justice system also aligns with the long-term interests of taxpayers who fund our criminal justice system.”

Branstad called on the legislature to pass legislation protecting children and family members from human trafficking; to combat domestic violence; to examine the funding model for Drug and Mental Health Court; and to address the confidentiality of juvenile delinquency records.

Other items

Branstad touched on his water quality proposal, which would extend the one-cent school tax until 2049. The plan would still send funds to schools for infrastructure projects but would also divert some funds away toward water quality initiatives.

“Education officials have expressed to me a strong desire for extending a critical source of funding for school infrastructure,” Branstad said. “Iowans have also expressed a strong desire to improve our state’s water quality.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the former Democratic governor of Iowa, has endorsed the plan.

“The Lt. Gov. and I are continuing to meet with education, agriculture and business leaders to build support for a solution that helps schools, improves water quality and protects Iowa taxpayers,” Branstad said.

He also discussed Iowa’s plan to shift Medicaid to private-managed care, saying the plan is necessary because of the growing cost of the program that provides health care to the poor.

“In order to improve patient health and increase the coordination of services — as well as control Medicaid costs — the state of Iowa is implementing a modern approach toward Medicaid through managed care, as most other states have already done,” Branstad said. “If the state fails to implement managed care, the growth of Medicaid spending will consume virtually all of our revenue growth.”

Branstad also called for continuing toward renewable, reliable and low-cost clean energy, saying they “meet our needs” in the state.

“Iowa could be the first state in the nation to meet 40 percent of our energy needs from wind power by 2020; far ahead of any other state,” Branstad said. “The extension of the Federal Wind Energy Tax Credit will also help us grow wind investments and jobs in Iowa.”

Branstad’s overall budget, which can be viewed here, is again balanced and stable, the governor’s office said, and fits within five-year budget projections.

“Working families and job creating businesses across this state want a government that is stable, predictable and delivers what it promises,” Branstad said. “The budget I propose today was crafted the same way hardworking Iowans do, with a cautious eye and optimism for the future.”

Democratic response

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, told Iowa Public Television after the event that while he did not want to talk about it much, he was surprised Branstad would take credit for the wind energy program, which Gronstal said was only possible because of legislative action.

He said the legislature got word of the push for criminal justice reform Monday, but he was somewhat surprised at the governor’s willingness to endorse those types of reforms.

Gronstal also said he was disappointed that the governor did not talk about higher education funding more in his speech, saying Democrats are focused on growing the middle class, which includes controlling the cost of tuition.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said in a statement that he agrees with the push for closing the “skills gap” with job training programs, he expressed concern about Branstad’s continued push to privative Medicare.

“I’m troubled that the governor still isn’t listening to Iowans about the Medicaid mess he created last year,” Smith said. “There are real lives at stake, and 560,000 Iowans are being forced into a new private system without many answers. The governor didn’t address any of their concerns today.”