DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad’s push for property tax and education reform was met with bipartisan applause at Tuesday’s Condition of the State speech.
But lawmakers — particularly Democrats — aren’t sold on how the governor wants to reach those goals.
A packed House chamber gave Branstad five standing ovations during, and at the conclusion, of his roughly 32-minute speech. At the same time, a group of about 200 people chanted in the Capitol rotunda decrying Branstad’s agenda as one skewed toward corporate interests over middle-class Iowans.
Branstad spoke in broad themes during live televised address, hitting on the themes of job creation, education reform and health initiatives.
Six times, the governor used the phrase, “This is our opportunity. This is our Iowa.” He spoke in terms of being able to “write a new chapter” in Iowa’s history because of the state’s relatively strong financial position, including a close to $1 billion surplus.
“While some states across this country are choking the opportunities right out of their states through over-taxation and over-regulation,” Branstad said, “Iowa is like a lighthouse, beaming a bright light of opportunity to those seeking a better life within our borders.”
Republican lawmakers gave generally favorable reactions to the governor’s address, particularly Branstad’s push on education reform which he outlined on Monday.
“I believe there’s broad support for reform,” Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said. “I think we all recognize that Iowa needs to be a leader in the world in making sure our students and teachers need to be prepared.”
Branstad has not called for an income tax cut, which is something several Republicans have said they would like to see.
“I’d be happy to engage in, and I believe the Senate Republicans would be as well, any effort to reduce our state’s income tax,” Dix said. “It really is a penalty on productivity and investment.”
Iowa City Democrat Sen. Joe Bolkcom called the speech “fairly uninspired.”
“There’s not much new there,” said Bolkcom, who chairs the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee. “I don’t see how we can improve Iowans’ health care without embracing the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion. The biggest issue going forward is the implementation of an insurance exchange and Medicaid expansion.”
Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, said Branstad’s push for property tax reform in conjunction with changes to the school aid funding formula could be beneficial to his district.
“We’re a property poor district, so we see the short end of the stick on the school aid funding formula,” he said. “We have to leverage more property tax dollars to make up the final 12.5 percent that is not supplied by the state.”
He said a change to the formula could help close the gap.
Rep. Steve Olson, R-DeWitt, said the governor’s plan sits well, broadly speaking, with the House Republican caucus and his home district. Olson serves as speaker pro tem, the third-ranking member in the House, behind Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha and Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake.
“I think there are two things that will sit very well with our district. He talks about property tax reform, and that’s first and foremost in many of the folks’ eyes,” Olson said. “The other thing is education reform. We’ll have to see how that shakes out. It’s a big change, pretty quick.”
Highlights of Gov. Terry Branstad’s 2013 legislative agenda
PROPERTY TAX RELIEF
- Permanently reduce commercial and industrial property tax values by 20 percent over a four-year period
- Provide direct funding for local governments to replace 100 percent of the property tax revenue
- Fully fund Homestead Tax Credit and the Elderly and Disabled Tax Credit
- Permanently change school finance “allowable growth” formula to make funding 100 percent state aid
- Cut current 4 percent cap on valuation growth for residential property and agricultural land in half and apply to all property classes
- Elevate teaching profession with new teacher leadership and compensation structure
- Provides five career pathways to offer new professional opportunities
- Recruit top students to become teachers by boosting beginning pay to $35,000 per year
- Place teacher recruitment priority on hard-to-hire subjects, like math and science
- Offer new college or career-ready seal that high school students may earn in addition to their diplomas
QUALITY OF LIFE
- Enhance workforce skills to help unemployed, under-employed, or Iowans seeking better long-term careers
- Provide $2 million to support medical residency programs
- Provide $2 million for rural physician loan repayment program
- Pass a Certificate of Merit law and a cap on non-economic damages