This week Gov. Terry Branstad set out an agenda for the 2013 legislative session that is both ambitious and realistic.
His Condition of the State speech on Tuesday pointed to some very encouraging progress:
Iowa has a balanced budget reflecting fiscal discipline. Expenditures have been evaluated with appropriate regard for the state's long-term needs while paying close attention to honest projections of anticipated revenues.
Economic development efforts are paying major dividends with more than $5.3 billion in corporate capital investment in Iowa in the last two years. That, of course, means more jobs and tax revenue.
At 4.9 percent, Iowa's unemployment rate is down from more than 6 percent two years ago.
Branstad is calling on the state's lawmakers to work across party lines to help implement a plan of action designed to address three crucial issues:
Furthering economic development and job creation.
Making Iowa's schools among the best in the nation.
Ensuring greater access to health care.
The governor understands that providing property tax relief is a key component of any long-term strategy to grow Iowa's economy. His budget proposals address this need.
"I am proposing a significant plan to reform our property tax system to make it competitive and provide nearly $400 million in actual property tax relief to Iowa's hardworking taxpayers," the governor told the legislators.
He said the principles guiding the property tax plan involve making the property tax relief permanent, not shifting the tax burden between classes of property and property tax reduction for all classes of property.
"If left unchecked, current law will allow property taxes to grow by over $2 billion in the next eight years and half of the increase will fall directly on Iowa homeowners," Branstad said, underlining why property tax reform must occur now. "I find that prospect terrifying and ask you to work with me to ensure property taxpayers are protected from this unprecedented property tax increase."
Policy disagreements between the Democratically controlled Senate and Republican House resulted in a property tax reform stalemate in the last legislative session. Branstad is right to bring this issue back for resolution in 2013. It is absolutely imperative that a compromise acceptable to both parties be achieved this year.
Iowa once led the nation in terms of the quality of its public education system. Our schools are no longer the trendsetters they once were. The governor wants to reclaim Iowa's leadership role in public education. Proposals he outlined both last year and in his speech Tuesday are an excellent starting point. A thoroughgoing discussion of what reforms are needed must take place. The Messenger applauds the governor's decision to make this crucial policy area a priority and commends Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds for her role in leading this initiative. Doing education reform right requires a statewide dialogue that will be advanced importantly by Branstad's recommendations.
Keeping Iowans healthy should be a priority for leaders both in the governmental and private sectors. The governor has made useful recommendations. Changes in the health care system being driven by national policy, however, will be of great concern to Iowans both in 2013 and in the years beyond. Branstad's time as president of a medical school just prior to returning to the state's top office has made him uniquely qualified among the nation's governors to help this state devise a sensible response to a confusing and complicated health care world.
Terry Branstad knew when he sought to reclaim the governor's chair that leading the state into the 21st century would be a difficult assignment. He is fully up to the challenge. Iowans are fortunate to have this outstanding public servant leading the debate about the state's future direction.