More than 60 Union County residents packed Adams Street Espresso Friday for Gov. Terry Branstad’s “Our Opportunity. Our Iowa” town hall meeting.
At the meeting, Branstad reported “dramatic progress” over the past two years and proposed plans to sustain the progress made.
Key topics covered were economic development, education reform, property-tax relief and health.
“We are in the best financial condition of our long and proud history,” said Branstad.
According to Branstad, the state has redesigned its economic development efforts by way of a new economic development authority headed by Debi Durham, a public-private partnership for economic progress, and an innovation board of private sector leaders who will work to identify economic development opportunities for Iowa.
“In two years, we’ve had $5.3 billion dollars in capital investments,” said Branstad. “An all-time record.”
According to Branstad, two new fertilizer plants will be coming to southeast Iowa, a $1.4 billion investment expected to create 3,500 construction jobs and hundreds of permanent jobs. The plants are expected to save Iowa farmers $600 million annually.
Branstad said the industries to gain the most investment are biosciences, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, food processing and renewable energy. He announced a few capital investments are a nitrogen fertilizer plant in northwest Iowa by CF Industries of Illinois, Korean manufacturer CJ Foods will be partnering with Cargill in the Fort Dodge area, a Japanese bioscience firm’s $100 million investment in Osage and Google Council Bluffs’ investment is more than $1 billion.
“Today’s knowledge based global economy requires our young people to finish school, ready to go to college or go for career training,” said Branstad. “Today we are not doing that well enough.”
Branstad stated only 8 percent of Iowa eighth-graders scored in advanced levels of math on the national test, that trails Massachusetts, which is number one in the nation, by almost half. He also said, of Iowa’s graduating high school classes in 2012 who went to community college, 36 percent of them needed remedial classes.
“Teachers are not the problem,” said Branstad. “Iowa teachers are stuck in a system designed for the 20th century. The skills that students need are much different than they were 30 to 40 years ago.”
Branstad proposed a three-part plan for education reform.
First, Branstad recommends state investment in a new teacher-compensation model. The initiative would increase teacher salaries and provide a $20,000 stipend paid over five years for top 25 percent of achievers who go into teaching and stay for at least five years.
Second, Branstad said there will be a significant increase in student aid to provide students an opportunity to go into careers of math and science.
Third, college and career readiness certificates will be available for students in addition to their diploma. The purpose of the certificate is to demonstrate knowledge and skills to work in a particular field or to go onto higher education.
“When Iowa can brag about having the best and most educated workforce anywhere in the world, businesses will feel ready to expand and will want to locate here,” said Branstad. “And more young people will want to stay in Iowa where they can get good jobs that pay well and a great quality life.”
Branstad said a key component to expanding opportunities for Iowa families is by reducing the property tax for both residential and commercial properties, and he plans to provide $400 million in actual property-tax relief over the next four years.
To do this, Brandstad said he is focused on three components:
• Fully fund the Homestead tax credit, elderly and disabled tax credit for this year and all future years, as well.
• Permanently change the school finance formula so allowable growth will be replaced 100 percent by state aid and no longer require an increase in property tax.
• Stop future tax shifts between classes of property by tying all the classes together and providing a uniformed rollback.
Quality of life
According to Branstad, the obesity epidemic and early onset of chronic diseases stretch the capacity of the medical system to meet the needs of Iowans.
“We are encouraging people to take ownership of their own health,” said Branstad.
Branstad is also focused on attracting healthcare professionals, particularly doctors, to rural areas.
“We train enough doctors, but we don’t keep them in Iowa once they complete their education,” said Branstad.
Branstad said some of the ways Iowa plans to attract more rural doctors is to invest in medical residencies in critical areas such as emergency services, launch a rural physician loan repayment program and offer certificates of merit on medical malpractice to reduce the number of frivolous law suits, which drive up the cost of insurance.
According to Branstad, creating good jobs, reducing the tax burden and preparing and retaining good workers is the way to sustain Iowa’s current progress.
“The country is on the wrong track,” said Branstad. “The state of Iowa is in a strong position and growing stronger.”
The town hall meeting closed with Branstad taking comments, suggestions and requests from residents on topics ranging from advocacy and funding for autism and Alzheimer’s, gun control, medicaid and conservation.
The full plan for 2013 proposed by Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds is available online at www. governor.iowa.gov.