By DUANE NOLLEN
The Oskaloosa Herald
Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds stopped in Oskaloosa Friday afternoon for a town hall meeting to discuss the accomplishments of this year’s legislative session.
Branstad said his administration had “a very focused agenda” that got the state’s fiscal house in order and passed many items such as property tax and education reform.
Branstad said the state now does not spend more than it takes in. As an example, the governor said the state government only spent 97 percent of revenue it took in this year. The state now drafts two-year budgets and five-year budget projections. Branstad gave credit to former state Auditor David Vaudt for being the fiscal watchdog for taxpayers.
The governor said one of the big challenges of the session was tackling high commercial property taxes. He said property tax reform for all was passed this year and the state provided $400 million in property tax replacement funds to local governments to make up for lower property tax revenues.
Branstad also said education reform was a big accomplishment this year. There are now more leadership opportunities for teachers such as mentoring new educators and higher beginning salaries. Also, there is more independence for homeschoolers.
It’s a “win-win for all K-12” public school, non-public school and homeschool students, Brandstad said of education reform. Further, there is no tuition increases for students at regents universities and more aid for students attending private colleges, he added.
“Iowa is really a bright spot in the nation,” Reynolds added.
Reynolds said there are programs, such as the Skilled Iowa Initiative, to help the unemployed and underemployed get the training they need to find jobs in today’s economy.
Workers are entering “a global economy and a knowledge-based economy” where science, technology and math skills are essential, she said.
Reynolds also spoke about the modernization of health care in Iowa — the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan. The Iowa Health and Wellness Plan is a compromise between the governor’s Healthy Iowa Plan and Medicaid expansion. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan will cover all Iowans age 19-64 with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The plan will provide a comprehensive benefit package and provider network, along with important program innovations that will improve health outcomes and lower costs.
The governor and lieutenant governor also took questions from the audience.
An audience member asked about the veto of $7 million of building projects at the University of Iowa. Also, he asked if online learning is replacing traditional on-campus college education.
Branstad said there is $1 billion of construction underway at the University of Iowa to replace damage from the Flood of 2008. He said with that work underway, future building projects need to studied more.
Branstad said education is changing, but it won’t be all online in the future.
Reynolds said online education is a way to reach out to “non-traditional students.”
“It’a not an either or” situation, she added. Reynolds believes online education will supplement on-campus education.
Branstad was asked about the priorities for next year’s legislative session.
The governor thought it might be a little early to think about next year, but keeping the state’s fiscal house in order was a priority. He also said helping veterans will be a priority next year as well. Branstad would like to simplify the income tax next year and think of a new way to help fund road and infrastructure repairs.
Herald Editor Duane Nollen can be reached by email at email@example.com