Since I was distracted yesterday with other news I wasn’t able to write my thoughts about Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s Condition of the State address on Tuesday.  Overall it was a good, positive address by Governor Branstad.  He is right to brag on Iowa’s current fiscal status.  Seeing our spending go below our revenues is always something to celebrate.  Also we have a low unemployment rate at 4.9%.  Governor Branstad’s sound budgeting practices and efforts in job creation in Iowa should be credited.

I also appreciate his call to return “a large portion” of the current tax surplus to the taxpayers of Iowa.  He noted they are the ones “who made that surplus possible in the first place.”  Very true… I’ll be even happier if that “large portion” ends up being all of the surplus, but it is a start.

The Good.

  1. Property tax reform.  Governor Branstad called for permanent property tax relief.  He said there should be no shift of the tax burden between classes of properties as we’ve seen happen in Iowa.  He also said that there should be property tax reduction for all classes of property.  His budget fully funds the Homestead Tax Credit and the Elderly and Disabled Tax Credit.  He called for a reform in school finance and change the formula so all of the “allowable growth” will be funded by the state.  Before it meant an uptick in property tax at the school district level.  He proposes that the valuation growth rate that was capped at 4% be lowered to 2%.  It seemed that county assessors like increasing your property values if they couldn’t raise your taxes (even in the midst of a recession with real estate prices in the toilet).
  2. Tort Reform.  Governor Branstad proposes a cap on non-economic damages in medial malpractice lawsuits.  He also wants to see the Legislature pass a “Certificate of Merit” law.  The Certificate of Merit would require a medical expert review of the facts of a particular case.  They would then verify that the injuries could have come from substandard care or say the plaintiffs are full of crap (my words, not the Governor’s).

I really hope to see these two things pass.

The Bad.

  1. Teachers are *perfect*.  I know that teachers get blamed for a lot of things, but to make this blanket statement.. “Let me be perfectly clear to the teachers here today and teachers in classrooms across Iowa, you are NOT the problem.” Really?  Brownnose the teachers’ unions much?  There are some great teachers, to be sure, and there are some awful teachers.  Teachers are not the only problem, but some are a big part of what is wrong with public education.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  Why else is he pushing to reform teacher evaluations?
  2. More money for teachers is the answer (in part).  Really?  Governor Branstad wants to raise the starting minimum teachers salary from $28,000 to $35,000.  This will come in stages and in five years will add $180 million to our budget.  Since homeschoolers and private schools constantly out perform public school kids and they get paid nothing and a pittance respectfully don’t tell me that paying teachers more is the answer.  There is zero proof that is the case.  This is a trade off to teachers’ unions to get them to sign off on the teacher evaluation reforms.
  3. Career pathways that will take successful teachers out of the classrooms.  While I believe in mentoring, I’d rather see struggling teachers come out of their classrooms to shadow and be mentored by successful teachers.
  4. Diminished local control in education.  The evaluation system and career pathways will be foisted on local school districts.  Why do we have school boards anymore?  I’ll have to address education more since Branstad’s bill was just dropped.  I haven’t had a chance to read it, but have seen his larger agenda.
  5. Money, money, more money… Whether it is teachers’ pay, kids taking a college/career readiness test on the state dime or tuition reimbursement for rural doctors he talked about how he was going to increase the budget, not cut it.  Just because we have a surplus in tax revenue doesn’t mean we should raise the budget.  Because we can pay our bills now doesn’t mean we’ll always be able to.  Congress, whether they want to or not, will have to eventually cut spending which likely mean money to the states (of which Iowa gets approximately $6 billion).  We could end up in another recession or worse depression.  It’s better, at the very least, to cap spending if not cut it.

The Omitted:

Things I would have liked to hear in Governor Branstad’s address, but didn’t.

  1. No gas tax.  He’s still toying with the idea, but has said taxes in other places would have to be cut.
  2. Reigning in public unions – it’s likely a shot in the dark with the current make of the Iowa Senate, but I would have hoped he could have been inspired by the example of Wisconsin and Michigan.
  3. School choice – one reform that can actually do some good (full gamut, not just charter schools).
  4. A pushback against federal mandates and carrots/stick offers.  They’ve embraced the Common Core and acquiesced – kinda with the health care exchanges.

It sounds as though Governor Branstad is willing to consider other ideas and if bills are passed that were not in his agenda doesn’t mean he won’t sign them.  I’ve heard that he’s willing to look at other education proposals so there’s hope.

Looking at his overall plan it seems better than last year’s, especially with education.  It was touted as a bold agenda, but I didn’t find it particularly bold.  Perhaps it was realistic considering the make-up of the Legislature, but let’s not call it bold.

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