Branstad – in Condition of State Address – says “Iowa is Working”

Source: by William Petroski, Des Moines Register • Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gov. Terry Branstad

Gov. Terry Branstad

10:00 AM, Jan 14, 2014 | | Comments Categories: Iowa Politics Insider

An optimistic Gov. Terry Branstad, declaring his support for the “Iowa Dream,” proposed a 2014 policy agenda today aimed at enhancing education and bolstering employment while helping rural communities bridge the digital divide that can hinder economic development.

His plan outlined in his annual Condition of the State Address would recruit military veterans from other states to Iowa, reduce bullying among students, and expand high-speed Internet service to statewide. He would also try to reduce student debt by again freezing tuition at the state’s three universities, and he proposes an apprenticeship and job training act to help students earn while they learn.

The Republican governor – who is starting an unprecedented 20th year as the state’s chief executive – spoke in a crowded House chamber to a joint session of the Iowa Legislature. He took a victory lap over last year’s legislative achievements, which included education reform and a $4.4 billion tax cut, plus a plan to expand health care coverage to low-income Iowans.

“Iowans have proved time and time again, when working with one another rather than against one another, we can overcome any challenge,” declared Branstad, who is widely expected to seek reelection this fall to a sixth term of four years

He took special aim at plans by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the level of biofuels outlined in the Renewable Fuels Standard, saying the rule would represent a “devastating setback” for Iowa agriculture. He noted that a public hearing will be held later this month to give Iowans an opportunity to voice their concerns, and he called upon state lawmakers – as their first order of business – to pass a resolution in support of maintaining a robust Renewable Fuels Standard

Branstad also asked lawmakers to attack their problems with the same common sense and seriousness as Iowans across the state by working hard, working together and working to make things better than they found them.

“To me, this is the Iowa Dream. That dream of opportunity and prosperity which can become a reality for every Iowan willing to work for it,” he said. “The seeds of that dream have been planted with our work over the past three years. But now we must cultivate that dream of opportunity – of a great job and a great place to raise a family – to that it can grow and flourish.”

Branstad proudly pointed to a state unemployment rate of 4.4 percent, growing personal incomes, and schools and students that he said are improving their performances. He also noted a hefty state budget surplus that is approaching $900 million.

While federal government has been paralyzed by partisanship, Iowa’s elected leaders have done the opposite to work on behalf of Iowans, he said. In the last three years, Iowa has seen $7.5 billion in new capital investment, he said, and claimed credit for creating more than 130,000 new jobs since he returned to office three years ago.

While Lee County in southeast Iowa still has the state’s highest unemployment rate at 6 percent, Branstad said the jobless rate there has dropped by 40 percent since he took office. He cited plans by MidAmerican Energy for a large order of wind turbines that is expected to create 500 jobs at Siemen’s Energy in Fort Madison and plans by Egypt-based Orascom Construction Industries to build a fertilizer plant costing more than $1 billion in Lee County, although some Democrats have blasted the fertilizer plant, saying it is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in tax giveaways.

In proposing his 2014 agenda, Branstad said he is again submitting a budget to freeze tuition for Iowa students at Board of Regents’ institutions, which include the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. That approach is working, he added, saying last year student debt at UNI declined by 8 percent.

He said the demands of both college and the workforce have changed, and he welcomed students in the House gallery from Des Moines East High School and Greenwood Elementary School. His budget triples state support for apprenticeship programs, he said, which he suggested will strengthen the middle class, businesses and the economy.

He also proposed “The Connect Every Iowan Act,” which is legislation with incentives to encourage access, adoption and use of broadband technology by businesses and individuals. He said his plan includes programs to train workers for 21st Century careers in information and communications technology, and he proposed ICN 2.0, which is repurposing the Iowa Communications Network – a state fiber optics network – so it can partner with the private sector to provide connectivity in underserved areas of Iowa.

In addition, Branstad said he will submit legislation to provide tax incentives to repurpose abandoned schools and public buildings, which he contends will former centers of education into centers of commerce.

On bullying, Branstad proposed the “Bully Free Iowa Act of 2014,” which he said will empower students and their parents, untie the hands of schools to address cyberbullying and provide educators with training to respond to bullying.

He said a plan to recruit military veterans to the state – described as “Home Base Iowa” – as the centerpiece of his agenda.He saluted members of the Iowa National Guard and veterans’ groups sitting in the gallery.

His plan includes an elimination of state tax on military pensions, increasing support for the Military Homeownership Assistance Program, which provides up to $5,000 in down payment or closing cost assistance; giving veterans credit for military training and experience as they pursue occupational licenses in Iowa; and asking the State Board of Education to join Regents’ universities by passing rules to give veterans, their spouses and their dependents automatic in-state tuition at community collects.

He also asked for the development of policies to provide veterans academic credit for their military training and experience.