Branstad: Infrastructure a "Major Focus"

Jan 13, 2015

Governor Terry Branstad in his formal office at the Iowa Capitol. He will be sworn in for his sixth non-consecutive term as governor on Friday.
Credit John Pemble / IPR

Clay Masters: It's Morning Edition on Iowa Public Radio. I'm Clay Masters. Governor Terry Branstad delivers his condition of the state speech this morning where he'll lay out his priorities in 2015. We sat down with the governor in his formal office at this capitol yesterday to get a bit of a preview. I start by asking the governor if this is the year a funding method will be approved to fix the state's deficent roads and bridges. 

Gov Terry Branstad: I think this is the year for us to address the issue of the Road Use Tax fund. But it’s been a politically a very different thing for both Republicans and Democrats, but I believe this is the year that we can forge a bipartisan consensus and get a majority of the Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate to vote for providing the funding needed for the Road Use Tax Fund. And this helps counties and cities, as well as the state transportation network. I also want to see us address the infrastructure needs for, we’re calling it Connect Every Acre. A broadband infrastructure for the state. So infrastructure is going to be a major focus, both roads and bridges, and high speed internet.

Clay Masters: There was some snags last year with the Connect Every Iowan, was the way it was termed last session.

Gov. Branstad: Yep

Masters: How is it going to be different? What’s going to change to get bipartisan support?

Gov. Branstad: First of all I think there has already been a decision made by an agency on the federal level that has eliminated one of the road blocks last time; which was the siting of cell towers. And also we’ve been able to get the agriculture community very engaged by expanding Connect Every Iowan to Connect Every Acre. Recognizing how this is so important to precision agriculture, as well as to small town Iowa. So I think we’ve got a broad base of support for this. I’m very optimistic that this is the year that we can pass these major infrastructure issues.

The Patel Study was recently updated, and noted that infrastructure is critically important to economic development and the growth of our economy both for manufacturing and business, and for agriculture.

Masters: It’s a good segway bringing up precision agriculture to something that happened last week. In that the state’s largest water utility has voted to sue three Iowa counties for essentially polluting the rivers—that supply Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers—supply Des Moines with drinking water.  You vetoed some funding last year the legislature approved last year for some voluntary compliance for farmers to try to clean up the water. Why did that happen last year? And would you veto it again this year if it comes up?

Gov. Branstad: Well first of all, in the time I’ve become governor, the last four years we’ve increased funding for water quality by 26 percent. And we did increase it last year. But the legislature also passed a $130 million one-time spending bill, right at the end of the session and put us in a situation when revenue was falling.  So I didn’t think that was appropriate.

I do intend to increase funding for water quality, and I’m strongly supportive of the work that we’ve been doing with the Department of Agriculture, and the DNR and Iowa State on our nutrient reduction strategy.

Unfortunately I think that Des Moines Water Works in making a mistake by filing a lawsuit, these are expensive and they can really—We need to collaborate, we need to work together. And both our cities and our farmers need to all work out a strategy that’s going to continue to improving the quality of water in our state. I’m committed to seeing we do that.

Masters: Do you think there’s a water crisis in the state

Gov. Branstad: No. In fact I know progress is being made. But through precision farming we can reduce overuse of nitrogen and fertilizers, and chemicals. And thereby make our farming methods, and also using other techniques—filter stripes, grass waterways all of these kinds of things can help us reduce water pollution. And I want to make sure we’re providing funding and cost sharing to farmers to do that. And that we’re working with the best scientific information to help improve the quality of our water.

Masters: Another big topic, really the big story out of last year’s legislation session were these mothers who successfully lobbied for the legalization of cannabis oil for their children with epilepsy. Now they’re saying that the law doesn’t go far enough, and will be back at the statehouse in an effort to make the oil more obtainable. Do you support more measures being put, so that children with epilepsy can be treated with this?

Gov. Branstad: Well both the governor’s office and the legislators listened to the pleas of these mothers and families, and tried to address them. I think we want to be very careful so we don’t run into unintended consequences.

I don’t want to have problems like they have say in California or Colorado where they went too far and when you have people who are getting marijuana that aren’t supposed to have it, for addressing a medical reason like that, so.

This is a very controversial issue. And I know the medical community and law enforcement community have real concerns. And we want to be empathic and to help these families. But we want to do it in a way that’s not going to create unintended consequences

Masters: Attorneys general in both Nebraska and Oklahoma are hoping to bring a case before the Supreme Court to reverse Colorado’s recreational legalization of marijuana. Do you support that?

Gov. Branstad: Yeah, I think it’s been a disaster in Colorado. And there’s all kinds of unintended consequences going on there. It’s creating problems for their business and economic development.

Masters: Would that not hurt the ability of these mothers to provide cannabis oil for their children?

Gov. Branstad: No, because you can’t us this recreational marijuana for this anyway. This has got to be a very limited thing that is not going to create the high that people get from this recreational marijuana.

Masters: That's Governor Terry Branstad ahead of his condition of the state speech. You can hear it live today at 10 on Iowa Public Radio. 

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