Branstad outlines plans for growth
Gov. Terry Branstad believes that cutting property taxes, improving schools and encouraging more physicians to practice in Iowa will remove obstacles to the state’s future growth.
”What we’re trying to do is focus on the things that we think are the biggest impediments to the kind of dynamic growth that we’d like to have,” he said Wednesday in Fort Dodge.
A day after presenting his agenda in the “Condition of the State” address, Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds talked about their priorities with the editorial board of The Messenger.
The Branstad-Reynolds administration’s goals for the 2013 legislative session include providing property tax relief, especially for businesses; implementing teacher leadership roles to help make Iowa schools the best in the nation; and launching a loan repayment plan to encourage young doctors to practice in the state.
Branstad defended his demand for the Legislature to pass his education reform proposals before setting the annual allowable growth figure for school district budgets.
”My concern is if we don’t do the reform up front, it won’t happen,” he said.
The governor said a state program called Rail RISE may be a source of money to pay for building a new railroad spur at the North Central Ag Industrial Park west of Fort Dodge.
”That needs to be done some way or another,” he said of the project.
Branstad restated his commitment to making U.S. Highway 20 a four-lane highway all the way between Dubuque and Sioux City. He said he believes the four-lane project will be completed in about six years.
Property tax relief
Reducing the amount that businesses have to pay in property taxes has been a priority for Branstad since he returned to the governor’s office in January 2011. Protracted debates on the subject filled the last two legislative sessions. In both years, tax plans failed, in part because of the fear that they would leave school districts and local governments without enough money to properly function. Branstad said Wednesday he thinks he has a plan that will address that fear.
Unlike homeowners, businesses pay taxes on 100 percent of the value of their property. The governor’s new plan would reduce that to 80 percent over four years.
He said the state government will reimburse the school districts, cities and counties for whatever revenue they lose. He added that he has prepared a five-year, $400 million plan to do that.
”This is a very sweet deal for local governments because the state is going to pick up 100 percent of the reduction,” he said.
Under Branstad’s plan, the state would fully fund the homestead and elderly property tax credits.
The governor is also proposing to reduce the amount that the assessed value of agricultural and residential property can increase. Now that growth is limited to 4 percent a year. Branstad wants to reduce it to 2 percent.
”I think this is our best chance to really get permanent property tax relief,” Branstad said.
”We’re stuck in a 20th century model and it’s time for us to move to a 21st century model,” Reynolds said of Iowa’s education system.
Establishing new teacher leadership roles is part of the Branstad-Reynolds administration’s plan to move toward a 21st century education system. The teachers who would take such leadership roles would work with principals to coach younger teachers while still fulfilling their regular duties.
”They’ll be in the classroom, but they will also be providing some mentoring and guidance to some of the new teachers or ones that maybe need some help,” Branstad said. ”We don’t anticipate that they will be out of the classroom a lot.”
Reynolds said the plan also calls for raising the minimum starting salary for teachers from $28,000 to $35,000.
She said a Teach Iowa Initiative that would provide tuition reimbursement of up to $4,000 a year is being proposed to help entice more people into the teaching profession.
Education majors would spend their entire senior year as student teachers, under the reform proposal. Currently, they spend one semester student teaching.
Iowa law requires the Legislature to pass an allowable growth number for school district budgets within the first 30 days of the session. Branstad said he wants the lawmakers to pass his reforms before addressing allowable growth.
”Now we’re saying, OK, once we get this approved then we’ll talk about allowable growth, but we don’t want it to be allowable growth which has a property tax component,” he said. ”We want it to be supplemental state aid to schools where the state provides 100 percent of it going forward.”
The governor said Democrats who control the state Senate are willing to spend a lot of money on schools without making any changes in the education system.
”The Senate Democrats don’t want any accountability, they just want more money,” he said. ”That’s the bottom line. Frankly, if Senate Democrats got their way the money would all be spent and we wouldn’t see education reform.”
Branstad said businesses aren’t going to locate in places where their employees can’t get proper health care. To address that concern, he is proposing these steps:
- Investing $2 million of state money to expand medical residency programs.
- Starting a Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program to include obstetrician-gynecologists, emergency medicine physicians and primary care physicians.
- Implementing medical malpractice liability reforms.