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Dean Borg: For months, the halls of the Iowa Capitol Building relatively quiet. But all of that changes today with the convening of a new legislative session.
Hello, I'm Dean Borg. The Governor has already taken the podium and he is beginning his speech.
Governor Branstad: Welcome to your first legislative session. I look forward to working with you as you represent your constituents back home. And I want to welcome all returning legislators as well. We return this session without an esteemed colleague and friend who is respected by both sides of the aisle, Jack Drake. Jack was a personal friend of mine and many of you as well. He served his constituents with passion and I know we all will miss him this session.
Branstad: Ladies and gentlemen, over the past five years, the state of Iowa has made significant progress, progress that has put Iowa in a position of strength and opportunity for a bright future. Sound budgeting practices and fiscal discipline have us now ranked third best managed state in the United States. Our cash reserve and economic emergency accounts are full. The Iowa economy has created more than 214,000 news jobs surpassing our 2010 goal. Today's unemployment rate has been cut in nearly half to 3.4%, down from over 6% five years ago. Iowa has the lowest unemployment since 2001. More Iowans are now employed than ever in our state's history. Iowa family incomes have grown by 18.3% from 2010. We have seen over $12 billion in private capital investment. We worked in a bipartisan session, in a bipartisan fashion last session to improve Iowa's road and digital infrastructure. And K-12 education funding is now up 35% since 2010. When we look back at this progress, it is important that we reflect on how we got there. How did we do it?
Branstad: We did it by restoring fiscal discipline. We did it by focusing on economic growth. We did it by investing in our children. But the key to igniting this engine of success has been truly a willingness to work together. When we work together, challenges are overcome, results are delivered and Iowans have a government that works for them. When we fail to work together, challenges become steeper, results are fleeting and the government fails the very people that we should be serving.
Branstad: There is no doubt that this upcoming legislative session will provide us with unique issues and opportunities to address. It is my sincere desire to work with all of you to address the challenges that we have before us. We must come together again to tackle the challenges looming on our path to a more prosperous future. Last year's devastating avian influenza, lower commodity prices and an increasingly competitive world economy have reduced the growth in our state's revenue. While we still have some growth, it is not as robust that we had hoped or expected.
Branstad: In the budget I propose today, the two items where I propose spending the most money are on schools and on Medicaid. Simply put, Medicaid is costing more than ever. It is stretching our budget too thin. In order to improve patient health and increase the coordination of services, as well as control Medicaid costs, the state is implementing a modern approach towards Medicaid through managed care, as most other states have already done. If the state fails to implement managed care, the growth of Medicaid spending will virtually consume almost all of our revenue growth. Working families and job creating businesses across the state want government that is stable, predictable and delivers what it promises. The budget I propose today was crafted the same way that hard working Iowans do, with a cautious eye and optimism for the future. It's a tight budget. It's a budget that will keep Iowa stable. The budget is balanced today and it fits within our five-year projections.
Branstad: We should not over promise and under deliver. The budget provides schools the stability and predictability and funding they need and deserve. Today I'm proposing an increase in K-12 funding of over $145 million. This includes the third installment of our extraordinary commitment to teacher leadership and compensation. This additional investment would bring total K-12 education spending in the state budget to over $3.2 billion annually. To make this level of funding possible we had to make tough decisions in other areas of the budget. It is my sincere hope that the General Assembly will move quickly to approve supplemental state aid early this session. Ensuring that our children's future is bright also means addressing other challenges that our state faces.
Branstad: Education officials have expressed to me a strong desire for extending a critical source of funding for school infrastructure. Iowans have also expressed a strong desire to improve our water's quality. Unfortunately, too often we're presented with a false choice, raise taxes on hard working taxpayers, or do nothing. I submit to you there is a different path to chart. That is why last week Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and I were pleased to announce with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack a substantial investment through a bold framework for school infrastructure and water quality. We made this announcement while being joined by Sioux City Superintendent Paul Gausman, Waukee Superintendent Dave Wilkerson and Southeast Polk Superintendent Dirk Halupnik. These education leaders are partners in supporting our innovative plan. And we were also joined by Bob Hemesath, an Iowa farmer, Iowa Corn Grower leader Craig Floss, Iowa Soybean Association leader in Boone County, Boone School Board President Kirk Leeds and co-chair of Iowa's Water Future Task Force Larry James.
Branstad: The Lieutenant Governor and I continue to meet with education, agriculture and business leaders to build support for a solution that helps schools, improves water quality and protects Iowa taxpayers. Today our schools rely on the secure advanced vision for education or SAVE fund for school infrastructure. The current law expires in the year 2029. Since its inception in 2009, schools have already received $3.2 billion in infrastructure funding. Our proposal will increase annual funding from the present $458 million this year to $788 million by 2049 providing $20.7 billion for school infrastructure.
Branstad: At the same time, by sharing the portion of growth above $10 million annually, this plan will provide nearly $4.7 billion for water quality over the same period of time. Schools will receive guaranteed growth of $10 million each year, or $100 million in new funding for school infrastructure every decade on top of what they're already receiving. This is a monumental investment in both education infrastructure funding and water quality and it does it without raising taxes.
Branstad: Our rich soil and abundant water, from our rich soil and abundant water, Iowans are blessed with resources that are the envy of the world. Over the years positive steps have been taken to improve our state's water quality, including our innovative nutrient reduction strategy. However, it is clear we need a stable, long-term source of funding to more significantly improve water quality from both point and non-point sources of pollution. Unfortunately, the issue of protecting our state's water quality risks tearing apart the fabric of Iowa, pitting Des Moines against rural Iowa. Simply put, we must significantly accelerate our water quality efforts in order to avoid eroding our path to prosperity. As we provide certainty for our schools and a reliable long-term source of funding for protecting our water quality, we must also offer certainty to the engines of economic progress, hardworking Iowa families.
Branstad: Lieutenant Governor Reynolds and I travel the state going to all 99 counties every year. As we do, we see help wanted signs, jobs are available here in Iowa, but some of those jobs are going unfilled because of the skills gap in our workforce. Our Regents institutions, community colleges, private colleges, unions and employers are working to help close those skills gap. We recently established a Future Ready Iowa goal of 70% of Iowa's workforce having the education and training beyond high school by the year 2025. The Future Ready Iowa Initiative can help focus and better align our education workforce and economic development efforts.
Branstad: From the Home Base Iowa Initiative to Skilled Iowa to promoting registered apprenticeships, we are enhancing Iowa's workforce. In 19 months, the Home Base Iowa Initiative has already led to 1,700 veterans who have been hired across Iowa according to the Iowa Business Council.
Branstad: Also thanks to your bipartisan support, Iowa is a national leader in registered apprenticeships. Apprenticeships allow individuals to earn while they learn. And that is exactly what Joe Gomez did through Eastern Iowa Community College's registered apprenticeship culinary arts program. While completing his apprenticeship he also earned credit from the community college. Joe has leveraged those skills into becoming an owner and operator of his own restaurant in Davenport. Joe and his wife Michelle are here today. Joe, please stand and be recognized.
Branstad: Thank you for being an example of the power of apprenticeships to grow our state's talent pipeline. Last year, thanks to the generous public and private sector support, more than 100,000 Iowa students participated in quality STEM programs throughout the work, through the work of the Governor's STEM Council, the Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council. I want to recognize some of the students that are with us today. From ADM High School, Eastview School in Norwalk, Carver Elementary School in Des Moines and Iowa Christian Academy in West Des Moines. Thank you students and thanks for what you're doing in studying STEM for future jobs.
Branstad: I want to thank the STEM Council's co-chairs, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and Dr. Chris Nelson of Kemin Industries for their leadership, passion and vision. With support from the General Assembly, Iowa can continue to be a national leader in STEM and empower more students with STEM skills. In fact, a STEM Council recommendation inspired our proposal to move students into the 21st century by requiring Iowa high schools to offer at least one high quality computer science course by the year 20118-2019 and for middle schools students to have the opportunity to take an exploratory unit on coding. This General Assembly also has a tremendous opportunity to advance more effective career guidance within our K-12 system. This is about teachers, counselors and school leaders infusing career information and career related skills into local curriculum.
Branstad: It is also about employers leading conversations in every community in our state to advance productive partnerships with educators. It's about business and non-profit communities better articulating key needs to Iowa educators. We must prioritize policies on industries that are poised to grow like biorenewable chemicals, a state biorenewable tax credit, which is revenue neutral, will create more high quality jobs building on our state's leadership in renewable energy. I know we can do it because we have already done it by becoming the nation's leader in renewable energy.
Branstad: In the 1980s, Iowa began investing in renewable energies like ethanol, biodiesel and wind. We were the first state to implement a renewable electric standard, which I signed into law in 1983. At that time we were almost entirely dependent on coal for electricity and foreign oil for motor fuel. But look at us today, we produce significantly more ethanol than we consume in gasoline, which offers our consumers more choices at the pump and gas is a lot cheaper here than it is in California, I can tell you that. We are the leading biodiesel producing state in the nation. We are seeing significant investments in technologies like cellulosic ethanol, with new plants in Emmetsburg and Nevada. Today wind generates nearly 30% of Iowa's electricity generation, more than any other state in the whole country. And solar power generation is growing and it is an attractive renewable resource that an increasing number of Iowans are utilizing. All of these accomplishments show the growing diversity in Iowa's economy. But we must keep looking to the future, working to understand our needs and pushing for more renewable, reliable, low cost, clean energy to meet our needs.
Branstad: Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds is chairing our statewide effort and working with the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress to develop a state energy plan. This plan will include input from the public, the business community and a variety of state and federal partners and help us set our priorities for the future. It includes an assessment of current and future energy capabilities and it will benefit the state in outlining clear goals and strategies to keep energy costs low and facilitate economic development. Companies who have invested recently in Iowa cite our low cost of energy and growing use of renewables as major reasons for locating here.
Branstad: Iowa could be the first state in the nation to meet 40% of our energy needs from wind power by the year 2020, far ahead of any other state.
Branstad: The extension of the federal wind energy tax credit will help us grow wind investments and jobs in Iowa. Our leadership in green energy not only makes us a leader in renewables, but also powers job growth. Every wind turbine you see while driving across our state means income for farmers, revenue for local governments and jobs for Iowans. Let's build on that foundation for a greener Iowa future.
Branstad: Our state flag is emblazoned with the motto, Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain. Maintaining our rights means we must maintain those rights for all. It's time for a fresh look at our criminal justice system in Iowa to ensure we're doing the right thing for all of our citizens.
Branstad: Last year I was invited to participate on a panel at the NAACP's Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities. I was invited by my friend, Betty Andrews, who has joined us today. Betty is the President of the NAACP Chapter for Iowa and Nebraska. Betty, thank you for being here. Please stand and be recognized.
Branstad: At the Summit, I announced the formation of a bipartisan working group on justice policy reform tasked with researching and making policy recommendations. The working group consisted of representatives from state and local government and the NAACP. The efforts of the working group and the advocacy of Betty Andrews and others convinced me that we all need to work together to address justice in Iowa.
Branstad: Ensuring fundamental fairness of our system is a worthy goal. But a fair and more equitable criminal justice system also aligns with the long-term interests of taxpayers who fund our criminal justice system. For example, in many cases, tax dollars may be better spent on rehabilitation rather than incarceration.
Branstad: We can protect the public while rehabilitating those who have committed crimes. We can take steps to ensure that the most serious of crimes are punished with the most serious of penalties. We can take steps to make sure that when our criminal justice system does impose punishment that we're punishing the right person and that race does not play a role.
Branstad: Let's take action this year in all three branches of government to improve our criminal justice system. In the executive branch, our state public defender Adam Gregg established a new wrongful conviction division to investigate wrongful convictions of innocent people. These efforts will not only bring justice for those who have been wrongfully incarcerated, but will protect public safety by ensuring that the right person is held responsible when a crime is committed. We're already seeing a decline in our prison population and simultaneously a reduction in the rate of recidivism because of the collaboration between the parole board and the Department of Corrections. We're more focused on providing individuals in the corrections system with the skills they need for rewarding careers once they are released, including apprenticeships within the institutions.
Branstad: The Department of Corrections has dramatically reduced phone fees as recommended by the Governor's working group.
Branstad: Because we know increased communications between inmates and their families while incarcerated will lead to a lower rate of reoffending when released. The executive branch is not alone in taking action. As you know, Chief Justice Mark Cady has become a leader in seeking to address the significant racial disparities which have become evident in the Iowa criminal justice system. I applaud his efforts.
Branstad: You judges can stand for this too along with everybody else.
Branstad: Thank you. Thank you. I thought I could get the judges to stand once, but, anyway, thank you very much. In addition, the courts are working to implement some of the working group recommendations such as improving the jury selection process to ensure racial diversity of jury panels, which in turn helps assure a fair trial for all. I look forward to working with all of you in the General Assembly to improve our criminal justice system by examining how we can protect our children and family members from human trafficking, combat domestic violence and examine the funding model for drug and mental health courts. A significant recommendation of the Governor's working group included the confidentiality of juvenile delinquency records. Currently under most circumstances the juvenile delinquency records are public records. That means that a juvenile, even with a minor theft or minor drug possession, can be haunted by that mistake for the rest of their life when they apply for college, for a job, for an apartment or for the military. Some of our friends and neighbors who made some poor decisions when they were young continue to face significant roadblocks to success throughout their entire life.
Branstad: We must examine whether these policies are truly protecting the public or simply blocking the path to career success for impacted Iowans. A minor crime should not be a lifelong barrier to a successful career.
Branstad: Juvenile records should remain confidential unless a judge specifically finds that disclosure is in the best interest of the child and the public. This would allow public disclosure on serious cases, while giving judges discretion to allow confidentiality in cases involving minor offenses.
Branstad: Friends, this is the 86th General Assembly of the state of Iowa. And the question before us is this. What can we do to provide certainty and opportunities for all Iowa families? Together, together we can forge a new path that will lead us to stable and predictable funding for school infrastructure, an historic long-term protection for water quality, a path that connects Iowans to rewarding careers, a path that leads to exponential growth in the energy sector, a path that provides a more fair and equitable society for all. Let us be bold. Let us be courageous. Let us set our path toward the future and seize the opportunities before us. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the people of Iowa.
Borg: Governor Branstad getting a standing ovation after his Condition of the State Address. That's Linda Upmeyer there that he's embracing right now. The Governor began his speech this morning saying it's historic that he can introduce Madam Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, Madam President, that's Senate President Pam Jochum of Dubuque and Madam Speaker Linda Upmeyer, all three in the chambers today.
Borg: That's Pam Jochum of Dubuque.
Jochum: Will the committee please come forward to escort Governor Branstad and his family from the House Chamber.
Borg: As the Governor exits now the chamber you'll be seeing the people who you saw during the telecast seated just in front of the rostrum, that's the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Cady and members of the Iowa Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Justice Cady will be speaking to the legislature tomorrow morning with the State of the Judiciary. And also there the Branstad family you'll see that. There's Kim Reynolds, the Lieutenant Governor. And then that's Chris Branstad, of course, the Governor's wife and grandchildren. That was Marcus his son and daughter-in-law. There's Marcus.
Borg: The Governor now leaving the Chamber, spoke for just a little bit more than a half an hour touching on Medicaid, schools. He led off the speech with that saying spending most of the state money on education and Medicaid, in fact, about 80% of the state budget goes to education and Medicaid. And of course, all that the Governor has been talking about here is going to find its way through the Iowa legislature. And that takes the okay also of the Iowa Senate where the democrats are in charge. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs determines a lot of what gets through that chamber. Senator Gronstal, what surprised you in this speech?
Mike Gronstal: I don't think there's -- off the cuff I'd say the Governor taking credit for all of the wind energy in the state of Iowa, I guess that's the height of politics and we're all kind of a bunch of hot air and the Governor essentially had nothing to do with the wind energy in the state. But I'm not going to dwell on that. I think it was a good speech. I think the Governor has the right priorities. As you know, the details are always important. When we did education reform a few years ago the Governor had a Blue Ribbon Summit on education. When we went through that exercise one of the things they said was, ed reform, expecting better results can't cannibalize existing funding. And the Governor's budget this year, if you subtract out the money that goes to the teacher quality initiative, he's really down around 1% in terms of allowable growth. That is one of the worst sets of numbers we've seen in decades.
Borg: Are you disputing then the 2.45% supplemental increase that the administration is claiming to be asking for?
Gronstal: He's claiming to be asking for that. It also involves probably a significant cut to Area Education Agencies, which help school districts provide special education programs for kids. So there's some cuts there. And, again, there's $50 million, a little more than $50 million for teacher quality, but that is inside the existing funding stream. And so even though it looks like 2.45%, the reality is it's a significant cut to AEA's and it is also --
Borg: What I'm hearing is that it's going to have a tough sled through the Iowa Senate, that proposal for 2.45%.
Gronstal: Well, your opening remarks about it has to be able to get through the Senate, it also has to be able to get through the House, and I would say historically the Governor, Governor Branstad has had more challenges with his republican colleagues than he has with the democrats.
Borg: 2.45 exceeds what the House wants and that's the republicans, isn't it?
Gronstal: Pardon me?
Borg: That 2.45 exceeds what House republicans want.
Gronstal: That's right. That's right.
Borg: Let me ask another one. What were you expecting that you didn't hear in today's speech?
Gronstal: What did he miss? I think he kind of slipped by higher education, mentioned community colleges, but his investments at our Regents institutions will -- I was hopeful there'd be more there and that we could avoid continued tuition increases. We think growing the middle class is about making sure we match up skills. And I did appreciate the Governor's emphasis on training programs.
Borg: Did you expect his emphasis on reforming the criminal justice system?
Gronstal: That may have been a little bit of a surprise but I think we kind of got wind of that yesterday and so it wasn't a complete surprise. And I appreciate that. I think it's important for a society, for our country to really look at these continued racial inequities because it's real and it creates division in our society and looking at it and facing it head on is appropriate. I'm glad the Governor did that.
Borg: That brought standing ovations from the entire chamber, democrats and republicans, that tells me that that may be something that can be enacted in a bipartisan way.
Gronstal: I think there are good opportunities to be had there, yes I do. And I know we have people in the Senate that have been very interested in dealing both with the racial disparities and also with things like domestic violence. And the Senate has passed a number of those initiatives and they haven't gotten too far in the House Chamber.
Borg: You're up for re-election this year.
Borg: The Governor, of course, is targeting democrats and that is you. Is this going to be a session that is going to be bogged down, gridlocked on many issues because of partisanship election?
Gronstal: Dean, I think the Governor targeted me in '12. I can remember back to '96 when he targeted me. That's the job of both parties is to make a case for their candidates. I certainly understand that. After he targeted me in 2012 we came into '13 and had a remarkable session where a republican House and a democratic Senate and a republican Governor did education reform, we did commercial property tax relief in the state of Iowa, we expanded access to health care, to up to 150,000 Iowans. The year after we had a hard fought election, when I think the republicans realized we were still here, they sat down and they worked with us and we're going to try and sit down and work with them here this year. And who knows what the next election, how it will turn. We shouldn't be worrying about that right now.
Borg: We're going to give you a chance later on this week on Iowa Press because you and Speaker Upmeyer are going to be coming on Iowa Press.
Gronstal: Yes, yes.
Borg: Thank you for your comments right now.
Borg: Thank you. We're convening a trio of Statehouse reporters in just a moment to discuss the Governor's speech and to look ahead at this 2016 legislative session. But first let's look back at a moment from today's Condition of the State Address.
Branstad: This is a monumental investment in both education infrastructure funding and water quality and it does it without raising taxes.
Branstad: Our rich soil and abundant water, from our rich soil and abundant water, Iowans are blessed with resources that are the envy of the world. Over the years positive steps have been taken to improve our state's water quality including our innovative Nutrient Reduction Strategy. However, it is clear we need a stable, long-term source of funding to more significantly improve water quality from both point and non-point sources of pollution. Unfortunately, the issue of protecting our state's water quality risks tearing apart the fabric of Iowa, pitting Des Moines against rural Iowa. Simply put, we must significantly accelerate our water quality efforts in order to avoid eroding our path to prosperity.
Borg: Joining us now, three reporters who are covering the session and listen to the speech today, Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson, Gazette Political Reporter James Lynch and Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich. I'm going to start out with Kay Henderson and ask you Kay, you heard what the Governor just said, is that a divisive issue? Because the Governor said already, without using the word divisive, that it's pitting Des Moines against rural Iowa. Well, there are Des Moines legislators here and there are many legislators from out across Iowa. Divisive issue?
Henderson: Well, curiously I think inside this building there is unanimity on this one. The legislators are rejecting this idea. The school infrastructure money was promised as school infrastructure money. Republicans aren't wild about raising taxes and that is what they see as a tax extension because this thing is slated to end, the Governor is proposing extending it for 20 more years. Republicans don't want to do that and democrats don't want to divert this money from schools. So, oddly enough, he has used this particular issue to unite legislators.
Borg: Is that the way you see it, Kathie?
Obradovich: Yeah, I do. And I think that there is bipartisan support for doing something about water quality. The lawsuit that you mentioned could put the state in a bind if the court starts dictating what the state should do for water quality. Nobody wants that. That's one of the big reasons why I think former Governor Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, came on board with the Governor's plan here before the legislative session. He thinks it will put farmers in a bind if the courts end up dictating what should be done with water quality. That may happen anyway. But the state has a lot of opportunity to do voluntary measures. That needs money. The issue about schools I think is partly a carryover from the bad will, bad blood of last year when the Governor vetoed money for schools.
Borg: Yes. In other words, we're not going to do anything that would take more money away from schools, even if it would be infrastructure way out in the future.
Lynch: I think this to me didn't strike me so much as bold as sort of vintage Branstad where he takes what he has and tries to leverage it to do something else. So he's taking a funding stream that already exists and saying we're going to divert some of that to water quality. But I really don't think that's going to work. I was talking to two rural lawmakers, both farmers, both former school board members, and they just said, well we have to do both but this is just the starting point. It's just a discussion point for people to start kicking it around and finding some way to fund both.
Borg: Well, Kay, keying off that just a starting point, does that mean during this legislative session, you've already said, he has united people against taking money from schools, but does that mean that nothing will be done about improving water quality as far as legislative action?
Henderson: Well, before the last legislative session there was some reluctance among legislative leaders to commit to anything while this lawsuit is sort of hanging out there. Again, it is still unresolved in 2016. I think legislators want to wait and see what the courts actually say. What is the state's role in this? Maybe states won't have a role in this. Maybe it will be up to individual property owners is what the court ruling may be. And so I think there's some thought among legislators that let's wait, let's hold back, let's figure out what the courts do and then come up with a strategy to respond to it.
Borg: Does that mean then -- Jim?
Lynch: I was going to say I think there's some -- legislators have some fear of what the courts might do. And I don't know if there's anybody that really wants to see this case go to trial, say Bill Stowe from the Des Moines Water Works, but lawmakers are always wary of letting the courts decide because they sometimes think you can legislate things, you can mitigate the impact through legislation but if the court says you must, you must. And they might not like what that mandate is from the court.
Borg: What do you see then, Kathie, nothing done in this legislative session? It's kind of a wait and see and see what the courts do? Because I thought, Jim is just saying, we don't want the courts to tell us.
Obradovich: Yeah, other than the court action, legislators do have a little bit of time. The money for Branstad's plan was only going to start trickling in and the real money is in the out years. So they could set up a framework, they could start talking about it and start figuring out where the money is coming from and it will be a small amount at the beginning. But the other part is, I think that there are going to be efforts on the part of the environmental community to try to build support among Iowans for raising an extra penny of sales tax, which that constitutional amendment says part of that would have to go for environmental programs. And this conversation over where the money is going to come from may start kicking off that discussion as well.
Lynch: I think following the year when they raised the gas tax I think a lot of lawmakers are not looking forward to raising the sales tax at all and especially in an election year saying well we raised your gas taxes, we raised your sales taxes, please re-elect us. That’s not a great strategy.
Borg: How does this then affect the tenor? There are several divisive issues, the Governor already says this water quality thing is a divisive issue dividing rural Iowa and the city of Des Moines. But there are other divisive issues. School funding is one of them. You have already alluded to that because water quality affects school funding, not going to take it away from infrastructure, school funding, even out in the future. And this is an election year so there are all tree things, you've got water quality, Des Moines and rural Iowa, you've got election year politics. Many of these people are going to be up for election this year, we have a presidential election year. And we have this divisive issue of school funding. Can you think of anything else that will divide? How is this going to affect the length of this session? The gridlock we might expect? And you can name anything else.
Henderson: Well, I guess there are two main reactions to the scenario that you just painted. One is we get everything resolved that we can resolve quickly and get out of here and get out on the campaign trail. That's one option. The other option, which they are very familiar with because they have opted for it in several of the past years, is take this up to the brink of July 1st when the next state budgeting year starts. So I don't know which one they're going to choose. I think it's going to be a political calculation on the part of republicans who control the House and Governor Branstad how far they want to go. And it is going to be a calculation among democrats in the Senate when they want to capitulate because they see school funding as an issue which motivates their voters and republicans see this intransigence as an issue that motivates their voters. So I think it's a calculation that may wind up having the three of us spend a lot of time in Des Moines.
Lynch: Let's hope not. I think we're going to get a good idea in the next few weeks here. If they can resolve the education funding issue in 30 days as they're supposed to, then they can move on to other things, water quality, judicial reform, whatever. But if they can't get education funding resolved then I think there' little likelihood of getting much else done during the session regardless of how long it goes.
Obradovich: And also it always depends on whether some of these issues get tied together. So far I haven't heard the Governor saying, I'm not going to approve supplemental state aid unless I get my water quality package. But those kinds of things can happen as part of the discussion. I haven't heard legislative leaders say we might be more willing to think about this infrastructure issue if you increase supplemental state aid, the per pupil spending for schools. But sometimes those kind of deals can get made and those usually get made very late in the session.
Henderson: And the most interesting thing about opening day for me was how willing people were in the open to say the opposite party is a bunch of no good dirty rotten scoundrels. Usually on opening day there are some platitudes and gosh it's nice to see you. They didn't seem terribly glad to see their partisan opponents this time around.
Borg: It's a matter of let's get started early.
Lynch: Why wait.
Borg: Another divisive issue, even though it's not up for legislation, is Medicaid. Kathie, the Governor's staff, maybe the Governor himself influencing his staff, seem obsessed about Medicaid costs.
Obradovich: Well this is a long and ongoing problem. The state has a pretty good handle on its fiscal situation. Medicaid is the big, big exception to that. Uncontrolled costs, they have a hard time predicting it, they have a hard time controlling it. We heard this morning from the Governor's staff that Iowans in their own taxes are spending $51 a second on Medicaid. That's a huge amount of money. So managed care is part of it and there's a big fight over that. But there's still going to be, regardless of what they do, an issue of how you're going to manage this Medicaid.
Borg: And $51 a second and that comes out of Iowa but it's a shared program with the federal government and it's $144 a second total spent in the state of Iowa on Medicaid.
Obradovich: A huge amount of money. And so I think that the idea of managed care for Medicaid isn't necessarily anathema to everyone at the Statehouse, people are I think willing to look at that as an option. But they didn't like how abrupt it happened, they didn't think people were ready for it, they didn't like the way the vendors were chosen, did not like the amount of time people had to get used to this. And so there's a lot of issues going forward.
Henderson: Democrats are in a box on this because they were hoping that maybe the Obama administration would put the kibosh on this. The Obama administration has indicated we're going to approve this. So, well there may be another extension, we don't know. There is an evaluation, there is a checklist of things that the Branstad administration has to show federal officials that they have answered before the Obama administration will give the go ahead. But it said in the department that is managing this approval they're going to do it. So democrats are now in a different box, they're trying to figure out ways to more effectively have legislative oversight, not executive branch oversight, but legislative oversight of the program.
Lynch: There was little republican support for that last year, which is kind of interesting, because I think if it was turned around and we had a democratic governor, republicans probably would want lots of legislative oversight over --
Obradovich: The clock is ticking on this because every month that this gets delayed it is more money out of the state. And so legislative leaders on the democratic side who want that money for education, they can't afford to keep delaying this out.
Borg: So back to my original premise here. Is this going to affect the tenor of this session, this Medicaid costs business?
Obradovich: I think there's some things that they can work on in a bipartisan way that the Governor talked about today. And I think that some of those things will happen even while they're fighting like cats and dogs over these other issues. One of the big ones I think is criminal justice reform. There is a huge amount of bipartisan I think interest in this. Of course we always say the devil is in the details and the Governor did not offer very many specifics. He said he wants to work with both parties on this. But I do think that both parties want to come to the table and do this and as the Governor said, there's an interest in making the justice system more fair and equitable, including getting rid of racial disparity, which is of a lot of interest. And then secondly, potential for savings for taxpayers. And so that brings both parties together.
Henderson: There was an interesting event this summer at which a representative from Koch Industries, and we all know Koch has been vilified in the political realm, was arguing for sentencing reform alongside a person who used to work in the Obama administration. So this is a rare occurrence when you have both republicans and democrats saying we see a problem, we need to have a solution. I think the problem here is that drafting significant solutions that address the underlying problems will take more than a few months, it will take years.
Borg: We're two days into this session right now and it's 100-day session by law, not enforced because that is when the expense per diem pay for legislators runs out. I think it's April 19th this year if my memory is correct. But, this is an election year, Kathie, do sessions historically end early in an election year?
Obradovich: It depends. Some years the calculation is that you're best off, as Kay said, making a deal and hitting the trail. And a lot of times there is bipartisan cooperation to make those deals. However, sometimes the political calculation is that it is better to stay and fight. So, for example, for democrats, if they need to stay and fight over education spending they may very well decide that that is what voters want from them and they will give up that time on the campaign trail.
Borg: It's better to be here making case for the voters rather than out on the campaign trail. I'm going to change genders here, deliberately. James, the Governor began his speech today, acknowledged the fact that for the first time in Iowa history he could Madam Lieutenant Governor, Madam Speaker, that was House Speaker Linda Upmeyer of Garner, and Madam President, President of the Iowa Senate Pam Jochum. The question though is, with female leadership more prominent than ever before, might that affect at all, James, the tenor of this session?
Lynch: Well thank you for that hand grenade, Dean. Let me pull the pin on it here. Perhaps. But when you look at Speaker Upmeyer and President Jochum, these are people who have been in leadership positions for a number of years. They're not like newcomers to leadership. So their respective caucuses know them, everyone knows them in this building and has worked with them on one level or another. Linda Upmeyer I think sort of jokingly said the other day that she probably uses more words when she talks than the previous Speaker used. But I think, sure, with each leader there's a different dynamic and they bring their own personalities and their own priorities to this. I don't know that it's going to dramatically change the direction of the legislature.
Henderson: I think the grenade that was tossed was Terry Brantad at the pep rally republicans had at 7:00 on Monday morning in which he basically was touting his Lieutenant Governor, Kim Reynolds, as the next governor of Iowa at the same table where Bill Northey was sitting, who also intends to run. So part of the reason Terry Branstad is bringing this up is because he is trying to advance Kim Reynolds as the first female governor of Iowa.
Borg: Just a half minute, Kathie. I knew you couldn't be unbiased in this but I'm going to ask you anyway about the female leadership.
Obradovich: So I think that women have taken leadership positions, even though they may have not held the titles, we've had some significant deals made in the legislature over health care, for example, and women were the ones who were sort of tasked with making those deals. And I think research shows that women can be more collaborative as leaders and be more bipartisan. But this legislature I think has been operating that way for a long time.
Borg: Thank you all for your insights. And we'll be along with you covering this session. This Friday on Iowa Press, covering the session, we'll be questioning Senator Mike Gronstal and Speaker Linda Upmeyer, to whom we just referred, from our on-site studio here at the Iowa Statehouse. That's Iowa Press Friday night at 7:30, Sunday at noon. For our entire Iowa Public Television crew here at the State Capitol in Des Moines, thanks for joining us today.
Funding for this program was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation.