Branstad

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A plan to cut more than $100 million out of this year’s state budget is taking up much of the oxygen at the statehouse in the opening days of the legislative session.   

As a result, lawmakers are off to a slower start than usual dealing with other bills.

Twenty-two bills on various subjects were introduced into the House today after a full week with no House Files read in.

“It is unusual,” said Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake).  “Other years we've read them in sooner.”  

Joyce Russell/IPR

Amid pomp and circumstance and Republican celebration, the 87th  General Assembly of the Iowa Legislature convened in Des Moines today for the 2017 legislative session.   The new Republican majority promises significant conservative change on a number of fronts.      Minority Democrats say get ready for a fight. 

The house and Senate gaveled in nearly simultaneously at 10 a.m for a day dominated by traditional opening speeches expressing hopes of working together to get things done.     

Joyce Russell/IPR

State agencies will not be furloughing state workers in order to balance their budgets between now and the end of the fiscal year in June.    

That’s what Governor Branstad told reporters at a legislative seminar Wednesday as he previewed his plans to cut this year’s budget by $100 million.      

The cuts are needed because of a December revenue estimate that fell short of earlier projections.  

Governor Branstad is putting the finishing touches on his tax cut plan.   He promises not to make across-the-board cuts to balance the budget, or to mandate furloughs.  

John Pemble/IPR

With Republicans now in control of the Iowa House and Senate and the governor’s office, the so-called trifecta, enthusiasm for cutting taxes is running high.   GOP leaders in both chambers have been telling groups around the state of their hopes and dreams for tax cuts.   But so far Governor Branstad is not on board.     

JIMMY CENTERS / OFFICE OF GOVERNOR TERRY BRANSTAD

Some spending reductions are to be expected in the upcoming budget, according to Gov. Terry Branstad. Due to lower revenue estimates, Iowa will likely have to cut about $100 million.

Despite this challenge, Branstad says he won’t consider an across-the-board cut.

"Instead I’m going to work with the legislature and make recommendations," says Branstad at his weekly news conference today. "I want to protect K-12 school aid from reductions, and property tax credits, I don’t want to see those reduced."

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad is expressing confidence that the new Donald Trump administration will be pro-ethanol, in spite of his recent pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Nominee Scott Pruitt is Attorney General for the state of Oklahoma.  

Pruitt has argued against the Renewable Fuel Standard in proceedings before the U.S. Supreme Court.   The RFS mandates ethanol blends in the nation’s fuel supply.

Branstad says Pruitt is a brilliant conservative lawyer.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds Monday described what they expect to be a smooth transition of power, once the governor is confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to China. 

Branstad says he will resign his current job as soon as the U.S. Senate confirms his ambassadorship. 

Once Reynolds becomes governor, she won’t have to start over filling out boards and commissions. 

Photo by Joyce Russell/IPR

Just a day after Governor Branstad met with President-Elect Donald Trump the news is now official.   Branstad has accepted an invitation to become U.S. Ambassador to China.  

Officials from both parties are weighing in.     Now the speculation begins on the political ramifications of Branstad leaving office.  

A spokesman for the Trump transition team  said it’s Branstad’s experience in public policy, trade, and agriculture that won him  the job.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Gov. Terry Branstad to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, pending Senate confirmation.  The word from the Trump transition team comes a day after the two men met at Trump Tower in New York City.

If Branstad becomes ambassador, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds would become the first woman to serve as Iowa governor.

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Update Dec. 7 at 8:09 am:  Several news reports quote unnamed sources saying President-elect Trump has offered the ambassadorship to Branstad and that he has accepted.  Gov. Branstad's spokesman, Ben Hammes, tells IPR the report is "premature and not confirmed."  We will update this story as we learn more.

Tuesday's story:

Governor Branstad had what he calls a cordial conversation today with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York City.    

But the governor remains mum about a possible appointment in the new administration.   

Jimmy Centers / Office of Governor Terry Branstad

Governor Branstad will meet later this week in New York City with president-elect Donald Trump amid speculation the governor will be asked to become U.S. Ambassador to China. 

Branstad is rumored to be among Trump’s top choices for the job.   This past weekend, a Bloomberg Politics report said Branstad is the frontrunner for the post.

Branstad leaves for a previously-scheduled economic development trip to New York City Tuesday and is scheduled to meet at some point with Trump before he leaves New York.    

Joyce Russell/IPR

Iowa’s Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is putting to rest persistent rumors that Governor Branstad will retire before his four-year term ends, putting Reynolds into office and setting her up as the incumbent in 2018.    

The governor has long denied any such intention.    

The rumor got new life with news reports that Branstad could become ambassador to China under a new Donald Trump administration.   

Reynolds was asked at the administration’s weekly news conference if she had discussed the possibility with the governor.

WonderWhy/flickr

Governor Branstad says a higher minimum wage in some parts of the state but not others is causing problems for businesses and local governments.   

He says he’ll work with the legislature to try to agree on a higher statewide minimum wage.

Linn, Polk, Wapello, and Johnson Counties have approved a higher countywide minimum wage.    But not all towns in those counties have gone along.  

Also, the governor says, some cities straddle county lines.  

Sarah Boden/IPR / Iowa Public Radio

Gov. Terry Branstad said on Monday morning that he has “great confidence” Iowa’s Secretary of State, county auditors and poll watchers will make sure the upcoming election is “honest and clean.”  But when asked about GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeting that Republican leaders deny that there’s “large scale voter fraud,” the governor pivoted to discussing what he perceives as a media bias against his party’s nominee.

Flickr / GAGE SKIDMORE

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is showing no sign of pulling his support from  Donald Trump. That's in spite of the fact that dozens of Republican governors, congressional representatives and senators have rescinded their endorsements of the GOP presidential nominee or said he should step down.

Clay Masters / IPR

Donald Trump returned to Iowa Saturday where the race between him and Hillary Clinton remains very close. Trump was there for Iowa freshman Sen. Joni Ernst's Roast and Ride fundraiser, which features a motorcycle ride and barbeque.

Sen. Joni Ernst led the group of more than 400 riders on a 42-mile trip that started at a Harley Davidson dealer in Des Moines and ended on the Iowa State fairgrounds. Trump did not participate in the ride.

Iowa Public Radio/Sarah Boden

A federal report released last year shows in 2014, for-profit companies managing part of Iowa’s three billion dollar Medicaid program made far fewer faulty payments than the state-run portion of the program.  

Governor Branstad says that shows fraud and abuse will go down, now that for-profit companies are in charge of most of Iowa’s Medicaid patients.      

JOHN BOLLWITT

Gov. Terry Branstad has ordered a review of Iowa’s alcohol laws. A working group will likely begin meeting in the next month to review existing regulations and make modernization recommendations.

"There is a huge emergence of entrepreneurial enterprises like craft distillers, micro brewers, family wineries," says spokesman Robert Bailey of the Iowa Alcohol Beverages Division. "It’s changed a lot since (Iowa's alcohol) law was first written when prohibition was first repealed."

Gage Skidmore/flickr

A spokesman for Governor Branstad confirms that the governor has agreed to advise the Donald Trump campaign on renewable fuels and other issues, what the spokesman calls “issues important to Iowans".  

But the spokesman declined to comment on reports that another prominent Iowan, agribusiness leader Bruce Rastetter, is on the list for a job in a Trump administration.  

Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes is downplaying the announcement about the governor advising Trump.

Joyce Russell/IPR
Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad is urging the administrators who oversee spending for Iowa’s Regents universities to keep a close eye on their budgets, after reports of large salaries at the Regents administrative offices.   

Due to the salary for the board’s executive director and other expenses, over $3.5 million will come from the universities themselves to keep the board office running.   

Branstad says the cost of running the board should stay as reasonable as possible.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad today criticized Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, after Trump got into a so-called war of words with the father of a soldier who died in Iraq.  

At last week’s Democratic convention, with his wife by his side, Khizr Khan spoke out against Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the United States until security concerns are addressed. 

Trump calls that a vicious attack, and he questioned why the dead soldier’s mother didn’t speak. 

Branstad suggests Democrats set a trap for the candidate by having Khan speak.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad is unhappy with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Texas abortion law.    

The case dealt with the same issues the Iowa Supreme Court considered when it upheld Iowa’s telemed abortion program.   

The Texas law required abortion clinics to be near hospitals, so doctors performing abortions can admit patients if there are complications.

It also required abortion clinics to meet certain building, equipment and staffing regulations.

Branstad says states should be able to protect the wellbeing of their citizens.

Gov. Terry Branstad says he was encouraged by the unity and commitment he observed last Thursday night at the Lincoln Day Dinner, an annual fundraiser for the Iowa GOP.

Many Republican voters, both statewide and nationally, are struggling with whether to support Donald Trump, the party’s de facto nominee.  Though Branstad doesn’t support everything Trump stands for, he is endorsing the New York real estate mogul, citing national security, health insurance costs and debt.

CLAY MASTERS / IPR

Gov. Terry Branstad says he’ll support the nominee of his party in the presidential race this November. He adds that he'll be the very first to admit that he underestimated real-estate mogul Donald Trump, the apparent Republican nominee.

"This summer, when he came to the Iowa State Fair, flew his helicopter around and all of this stuff. I thought, 'This is not going to last,'" says Branstad. "Well I was wrong, as have been most of the pundits and political people."

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad and the top Democrat in the Iowa Senate exchanged harsh words Monday over the legislature's failure to approve a plan for water quality improvements before adjourning last week.    

Governor Branstad's proposal to tap school infrastructure dollars to raise billions of dollars for water quality fell flat.  

On a bipartisan vote, the House passed a bill to divert money from other state programs but the bill was not debated in the Senate.  

Branstad says Majority Leader Mike Gronstal wasn't serious about doing something about water quality this year.

John Pemble/IPR

A state senator who oversees spending on public buildings, including the capitol complex, has harsh words for Governor Branstad as state lawmakers move toward adjournment.  

The governor has rejected borrowing for infrastructure repairs, including more than $600 million in deferred maintenance.

As a result, repairs will be left undone at the Wallace State Office Building, the State Historical Building, and the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.

Des Moines Democrat Matt McCoy charges that Branstad will not leave public buildings in better shape than he found them.

Photo by John Pemble

A controversial measure to defund Planned Parenthood because the organization performs abortions is again under consideration at the statehouse, with the blessing of Governor Branstad. 

Republicans have added the measure to a human services budget bill, setting up a showdown with Democratic critics.   

The governor won’t comment on the specific legislation, but at his weekly news conference he made his views clear.

Joyce Russell/IPR

It will be another year before Iowa schools will be required to offer mandatory summer school for third graders not reading at grade level, under a preliminary education budget unveiled at the capitol today.

Lawmakers of both parties say there’s not enough money to start the program as scheduled in 2017.   

Under the proposed budget, schools will now have until 2018 to offer summer help to struggling third graders and to require children to repeat the grade if they don’t attend.      

Reji/flickr

Republicans in the Iowa House Monday added more money to their water quality initiative, proposing to spend nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars over the next 13 years.  

But experts estimate that meeting goals for nitrates in the water will cost as much as five-and-a-half billion dollars.

“We have a severe water quality issue in the state of Iowa,” said Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt (D-Cedar Rapids).   “Especially with nitrates.”

Anders Adermark/flickr

A Republican-sponsored water quality bill passed by a wide margin in a House committee today in spite of reservations from Democrats.  

The bill takes existing tax revenue, and commits it to cities trying to get pollutants out of their drinking water.  

Iowans who live in cities pay a tax on metered water.  The bill would direct the tax to a special fund for water treatment upgrades.   

But Democrats say farm chemicals and other contaminants will still be in Iowa waterways.  

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