BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Elected officials in Lee County had different reactions to Gov. Terry Branstad’s Condition of the State address Tuesday morning.
The 2017 legislative session got underway Monday morning and Gov. Branstad gave his annual speech on Tuesday morning drawing some criticism from Lee County’s elected officials State Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mt. Pleasant and State Rep. Jerry Kearns, D-Keokuk. It was Branstad’s final address on Tuesday to the Iowa legislature before continuing the process of becoming the next U.S. Ambassador to China.
Taylor, who serves as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, also serves on the Agriculture Committee, Labor & Business Relations Committee, and Administrative Rules Review Committee, said the Governor seemed to be sending mixed messages in the address.
“It seemed as though the governor was speaking out of both sides of his mouth,” Taylor said. “(Branstad) said government is living within its means and then turns around and says most states are pressed with debt, but we have a surplus. Then he says we’re going to be adjusting our budget because he’s overspent by $113 million. I don’t know how that equates to living within its means. It just doesn’t add up. Something’s going wrong there.”
Kearns also places the blame for the shortfall at the feet of the governor.
“That shortfall of $113 million, in my opinion, is due to polices and legislation of the governor’s party,” Kearns said. “Now the coffers are going to be a direct target of that party. His party has given so much in tax credits that we had a surplus of $109 million in 2014 that is now at $0. And those tax credits are not directed at everyday Iowans but for the most part they were directed at corporate interests. I’m not surprised we have a shortfall.”
Taylor and Kearns are both also disappointed at the focus on the governor’s proposal to target all funding for agencies conducting or involved in abortions in the state, specifically Planned Parenthood.
“I already have a bill in the judiciary committee from Senate Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood,” Taylor said. “Branstad spoke on that as well saying no groups will get funding that perform or help women obtain abortions. So now we’re gonna look at having unsafe abortions in Iowa? Defunding people that are going to help you with your health care – that’s not really a good idea.”
Kearns said he was concerned with that discussion as well.
“I’m not in agreement with removing funding for Planned Parenthood. The governor specifically mentioned repealing all funding for anything to do with abortions and actually funds for Planned Parenthood don’t go to abortions, but go to health care for women.”
Another hot topic of the upcoming session will be health insurance for public employees.
“Basically what (Branstad) said needs to happen is the state needs to have one health insurance plan for all government employees, not just state , but government – city, county, and schools but he failed to say how that would be negotiated..he didn’t elaborate. But we think he wants to remove it from collective bargaining so a new health plan would be similar to the IPERS plan. But Republicans have said the IPERS is a bad system that doesn’t work. Now they want to model a government health plan after a plan that doesn’t work?”
Kearns said pulling health care negotiations off the bargaining table is bad for Iowans.
“That would be a statewide plan that everyone would subscribe to. He would take that off the bargaining table and it would not be subject to bargaining which I would certainly oppose,” Kearns said.
“My party’s in a perilous place this year. We don’t have a majority in either house. Some of the things that have been passed in the House previously they’ve been able to stop in the Senate, but that’s probably not going to happen this time.”
But Kearns did say there were some things that he was happy to hear about in the speech, such as efforts to keep renewable energy tax credits in the picture and a focus on reducing accidents due to texting and driving.
“In his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year I was pleased to hear comments on alternative energy production. We’re a leader there – particularly wind energy and that impacts our area,” Kearns said.” And his comments on distracted driving are reasonable. He’s looking for stricter measures on that because increased traffic deaths can be attributed to texting and driving.”
Taylor said the governor is proposing an additional $140M in education spending, taking the state’s contribution to Iowa schools to $3.2 billion annually.
“That amounts to about a 2% allowable growth,” Taylor said. Taylor is on record as saying he would introduce or support a 6% allowable growth bill.
“I hope schools don’t get their hopes up and plan their budget on 2% for the next two years because I don’t think they’re getting it. I think the governor’s purposefully misstating that.”
Taylor also questioned how the governor can offer just 2% growth, which Taylor said is break even at best, and then look at a mandate for all schools to provide a computer science class as part of the curriculum.
“I’m sure that will all come out as we go through this process,” Taylor said.