Governor Branstad delivered what will likely be his final Condition of the State Speech at the statehouse Tuesday, outlining plans to improve education, public safety, health care and water quality. But he also unveiled a proposal to cut more than $100 million from this year’s state budget, which hits higher education the hardest. Majority Republicans haven’t ruled out cutting some of the areas the governor would protect.
The governor has never been known for his prowess as a public speaker, and he got off to a rocky start.
“Madame lieutenant governor, Mr. Speaker, Madame Speaker,” Branstad began, getting some of the titles wrong. “Let me start over here.”
But the governor recovered and was rewarded with bipartisan applause and standing ovations for most of his initiatives.
He urged the legislature to go beyond the status quo.
"This new General Assembly brings new dynamics, new expectations and new opportunities to deliver positive results for Iowans,” Branstad said to applause.
Branstad painted a glowing picture of Iowa employment trends and he touted Iowa’s achievements in alternative energy. For the future, he called for a crackdown on drunk and distracted driving, unveiled a new plan to beef up computer instruction in Iowa schools, and promised a long-term sustainable water quality program.
Republican House majority leader Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights) gave the speech good marks.
“I like hearing from Governor Branstad and his passion for the state of Iowa,” Hagenow said.
“That's always encouraging to see, especially since it’s his last Condition of the State address.”
House Republicans say they appreciate the governor’s vision to grow good jobs. But Democrats remained seated when the governor called for eliminating state funding for Planned Parenthood and revamping collective bargaining for state workers.
The governor’s plans to cut this year’s state budget put nerves on edge.
“The budget reductions I am recommending for this fiscal year are difficult,” Branstad said.
To address a revenue shortfall, the governor spares K-12 schools, health care, and property tax credits. But beyond that, the bigger an agency the bigger the cuts. That leaves the Regents schools vulnerable.
“We've got real concerns about the budget cuts Governor Branstad is proposing,” said Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids).
The governor recommends cutting $25 million from what’s left of the university budgets this year
“That's over $300 per student for our universities,” Hogg said. “We are not in a fiscal crisis and so let's find a better solution.”
For next year, the Regents schools would get less than they initially received this year. In a statement, Board of Regents president Bruce Rastetter said he understands the state’s revenue constraints.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake) says majority Republicans are reviewing the governor’s plan.
“We will try and be very respectful of the things he would like us to not touch,” Upmeyer said.
One of the governor’s aides calls this year a rough period but predicts better economic conditions in the next two years. And, State Sen. Hogg says the economy is not performing the way the governor thinks it is. But he wasn’t altogether negative.
“Look, there are some things that we will be able to work with Governor Branstad on,” Hogg said.
That includes traffic safety and water quality. The governor wants to start with a water quality bill the House passed last year to spend nearly half-a-billion dollars over time. Democrats say that plan raided money from other priorities and lacked accountability. On distracted driving, the governor wants stronger penalties if a driver hits a pedestrian or cyclist while texting. Senate Democrats would be tougher, letting cops pull you over for texting while driving.