Gov. Terry Branstad delivered his Condition of the State Address on Tuesday, Jan. 15. He unveiled a plan of action called, "Our Opportunity. Our Iowa." This plan is focused on economic development and job creation, pushing our schools to the best in the nation, and improving the quality of life for all Iowans. He also released his budget proposal.
To stimulate economic development and job creation, Gov. Branstad focused on property tax relief. He proposes a property tax plan that fully funds the Homestead Tax Credit and the Elderly and Disabled Tax Credit; permanently changing the school finance formula so that "allowable growth" will be replaced by 100 percent state aid (meaning no longer will the school aid formula trigger automatic increases in local property taxes) and taking the current 4 percent cap on valuation growth for residential property and agricultural land and cutting it in half to two percent and applying it to all classes of property.
Gov. Branstad made it a goal two years ago to make our schools the Best in the Nation. He has made a comprehensive proposal to the legislature of his recommendations on how to get there. One portion of the proposal is to update the teaching system by elevating the teaching profession with a new teacher leadership and compensation structure that provides five career pathways, in order to offer new professional opportunities. Another element of his proposal is the Teach Iowa Initiative, which will recruit top students to become teachers. Beginning teacher pay will rise 25%, from $28,000 to $35,000 per year, and the Teach Iowa Initiative will attract top students, with a priority placed on hard-to-hire subjects, like math and science, with awards also going to future teachers in other majors as well. He also proposed a college or career readiness seal that high school students have the option of earning in addition to their diploma.
To improve Iowa's quality of life, Gov. Branstad proposed a $2 million appropriation to support medical residency programs in Iowa, $2 million appropriation to launch the Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program to primary care physicians and expand it to include OB-GYN and emergency medicine doctors and the passage of a Certificate of Merit law and a cap on non-economic damages.
While Gov. Branstad's plan has not been passed, it is a starting point for discussion. With public input, legislative committee meetings, and floor debates there will likely be many changes.
I appreciate that Gov. Branstad offered a budget that does not spend more than the state takes in, and that one-time money is not being used to fund ongoing expenses. The ongoing revenue for fiscal year 2014 is $6.7236 billion. The Governor's proposal spends $6.5435 billion - 97.3 percent of available funds. I believe it is important to pass a fiscally sound budget.
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