Branstad delivers 2015 Condition of the State address to legislature


Gov. Terry Branstad speaks at at an early voting rally at Alpha Gamma Rho on Oct. 11. The Branstad-Reynolds team and other Iowa Republican candidates spoke at the event.

Alex Hanson

Gov. Terry Branstad believes “the condition of Iowa is strong.”

Branstad delivered his annual Condition of the State address to a joint session of the Iowa Legislature Tuesday morning.

The annual address allows Branstad to lay out his legislative priorities. Included in this years address were proposals for another balanced budget, ending bullying in Iowa, affordable education through $10,000 degrees and another tuition freeze, a plan to connect Iowans’ homes to broadband internet and plans to keep government more accountable.

“Our work has put us on a bright, sustainable path,’ Branstad said. “Our budget is balanced. Our state maintains a budget surplus. Our economic emergency accounts are fully funded, and our unemployment rate is the 10th lowest in the nation.”

Branstad’s plan for a balanced budget fully funds the states property tax cut, education reform, allocates $320 million for Iowa schools, allows a tuition freeze at Regent universities for a third-straight year and recommends $63.2 million to improve water quality.

Branstad said he has asked the Board of Regents to develop a plan to offer students a set of degrees for just $10,000. He also proposed legislation to create the “Student Debt Reorganization Tax Credit,” which would allow students with debt to volunteer “for worthy causes” in exchange for a tax credit to relieve their student debt.

In addition to a balanced budget, the Connect Every Acre Plan plan would expand access to broadband internet across the state.

“Together we can strengthen our rural infrastructure by connecting every acre in Iowa to high-speed Internet,” Branstad said. “Better access to broadband means ensuring modern farming methods can flourish in all Iowa fields as part of a modern infrastructure.”

President Obama will travel to Iowa on Wednesday to lay out a plan to expand access to broadband across Iowa, a preview of part of his State of the Union speech next Tuesday.

Branstad once again proposed legislation to end bullying in Iowa, something the legislature could not agree with in last year’s session.

“Iowa common sense tells us that every child in Iowa deserves to go to school each and every day in a safe and respectful learning environment. They deserve a classroom and community that allows them to grow and flourish, not live in fear of when and where the bully will strike again,” Branstad said. “This is the year that we stand up to the bully. We can’t wait any longer.”

The plan would require parental notification related to bullying, but would also allow “an extra layer of protection for students” by allowing an exception of those notifications if school officials believe it could lead to abuse at home.

“The legislation also launches a bullying prevention program, by empowering student mentors to take ownership of anti-bullying efforts in their schools,” Branstad said.

Branstad also proposed a plan to make state Government more transparent and accountable. The plan would create the “Government Accountability Portal,” which would allow citizens seeking info to get a response from the state within one business day.

“As state employees, we are here to serve the taxpayers,” Branstad said. “This tool is yet another step toward a more customer-service focus for taxpayers.”

Branstad said a plan on infrastructure is needed as “roads and bridges face an uncertain future.” He said they also need to “a hard look at adequate road funding.”

“Our farmers will find it more difficult in delivering commodities to market. Business and industry will look elsewhere when considering where to invest and grow,” Branstad said. “As the study found, sound infrastructure remains a prerequisite for economic development.”

Other highlights of the speech included the “IowaNEXT Plan” to attract more business to the state, the “Center for Human Capital Enrichment Plan” to help train Iowa workers and a plan to strengthening domestic abuse laws by possibly tripling the mandatory minimum sentence.

Reaction was mixed from Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs.

“What Senate Democrats are talking about are the folks that have been left out in the economy,” Gronstal said in an interview following the address with Iowa Public Television. “That’s what our focus is going to be about in this legislative session, growing the middle class.”

Gronstal said many of Branstad’s ideas, such as the broadband and anti-bullying proposals, would help achieve that goal.

“What I see lacking is a middle class initiative and that’s the prism that Senate Democrats are going to look through on every proposal,” Gronstal said. “Does this help grow the middle class?”

Branstad had support from the state Republican Party following the speech.

“Governor Branstad just presented a bold and innovative agenda for continuing to move Iowa forward,” said Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. “For four years Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds have worked with the Legislature to spur job creation, balance our budget, cut taxes, and implement transformational education reform.”

The Iowa Legislature convened for the 86th session on Monday and will have several months to work with Branstad on legislation.