Robust or Prudent? Branstad Lays Out His Agenda

Governor Branstad outlined his priorities for this year’s legislative session in a thirty minute Condition of the State speech Tuesday.

In his 20th Condition of the State speech, delivered to a packed House chamber, the governor declared the condition of Iowa is strong. An aide calls  his agenda robust. Branstad calls it prudent. He touts lower unemployment, more affordable college tuition, and  lower taxes  among the top achievements of the past four years. Looking ahead, his agenda revisits bullying in schools, and expanding high-speed internet access.  West Des Moines Republican Peter Cownie says the governor struck the right tone for a divided legislature.  

Governor Branstad delivering his 20th Condition of the State address in a packed Iowa House chamber.
Credit Photo by John Pemble

"We have the same dynamic here in the last four years in the House and Senate, and I think of everything he put forward, there was nothing too partisan."

The warmest bipartisan response, a standing ovation, came as the governor vowed to stop bullies in their tracks, whether they’re harassing their classmates at school or online.

"They lurk, not just in the corners of the schoolhouse, but also on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Yik Yak, and through text messaging."

Last year’s anti-bullying bill foundered over a mandate to let parents know about bullying incidents.    Democrats argued some kids could be harmed if word got home. This year’s bill allows for some exceptions. Senate Democrat, Majority Leader Mike Gronstal praised that a little, saying only "That helps."

The governor changes tack on his bill to expand high-speed internet to underserved areas. Last year’s bill gave tax credits for building out broadband. This year’s bill gives out grants instead to communications companies and communities they serve. Representative Cownie says that might be a better sell for critics who said last year’s bill gave away the store to communications companies:

"I hope it would make it more competitive so that could help alleviate that issue."

Continuing the bipartisan theme, the governor called on both parties to raise new money for roads and bridges.  

"Building an infrastructure as strong as we want in Iowa must be a bipartisan priority this legislative session."

But as predicted, the governor stopped short of endorsing a higher gas tax. That’s okay with a leading proponent  of higher fuel taxes, Osage Republican Josh Byrnes:

"If I can hear the words infrastructure this time around, I'm happy.  That's more than I heard in previous  State of the State speeches."

Governor Branstad entering the Iowa House chamber to deliver his 20th Condition of the State address.
Credit Photo by John Pemble

The governor proposes a new initiative to enact tougher penalties for domestic assault. Judiciary Committee chair Republican Chip Baltimore won’t automatically endorse that.

"We'll take a look at the impact on prison populations, the number of offenders this will affect and the number of victims it will impact."

Senate President, Democrat Pam Jochum gives a guarded endorsement of the governor’s agenda.

"Certainly the anti-bullying proposal and the domestic violence proposal will get a good response from the Iowa Senate, but the proof is in the budget."

Specifically, Jochum says, the budget for schools. The governor proposes a less than 2% increase in basic state aid for K-12 education , which Jochum says won’t help Iowa reach the national average for per-pupil spending. The governor’s budget would raise state spending overall next year by up to 5%. Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen says that’s too much.

"Well, sure. We’d like to see government  spending go down in the big picture. So let us work through it.”

Some other potentially contentious budget items… The University of Iowa would not get as much money as they say is needed to help them adjust to a new university funding formula.  Democrats say though the governor proposes more money for water quality, his budget doesn’t go far enough.   

You can hear Governor Terry Branstad's entire speech, as well as analysis hosted by Charity Nebbe from IPR's Clay Masters and Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Northern Iowa, Chris Larimer below.