October 6, 2015

Senator accuses governor of seeking ‘absolute power’

The chairman of the committee in the state senate that drafts tax state policy says Governor Terry Branstad is trying to push through a $37 million tax break for businesses that senators reviewed but did not approve two years ago.

“He’s making an end run around 150 legislators who, at this point, have not come to consensus on whether or not in fact we ought to approve this policy,” says Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City who is chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Bolkcom says the governor is abusing executive power by having the proposal drafted as an administrative rule and implemented by his state agency.

“This governor has been around so long he thinks that he gets to make all the decisions and this is just another example,” Bolkcom says. “Earlier this year he closed two Mental Health Institutes. A year and a half ago he closed the Juvenile Home for girls. He shut down 60 Workforce Development centers. All of those things illegal, but he believes that he has absolute power at this point.”

Bolkcom says the move is also suspect because Branstad item vetoed millions of dollars worth of state spending for schools in July.

“Three months later we apparently are flush with money and are able to give another major corporate tax cut,” Bolkcom says.

The proposal deals with “consumable supplies” that are used in the manufacturing process, like hydraulic fluids and drill bits. Branstad’s Department of Revenue is proposing an administrative rule that would exclude “consumable supplies” from the state sales tax. It’s an estimated savings of $37 million for Iowa businesses. Branstad describes it as a way to “modernize” the tax code. A bill that would have achieved the same goal passed the Republican-led Iowa House in 2013, but stalled in the Iowa Senate, where Democrats control the debate agenda. A legislative committee reviews all administrative rules and could block the proposal.

Governor ‘shocked’ by faculty at his alma mater

The Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus.

The Old Capitol on the University of Iowa campus.

Governor Branstad says he’s disappointed faculty at his alma mater have called for the ouster of the entire board that governs the University of Iowa.

“I was kind of shocked that the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, of which I am a graduate, would advocate for something that I clearly don’t have the authority to do,” Branstad said today.

Faculty groups in Iowa City have been expressing displeasure with the hiring of Bruce Harreld as the next president of the University of Iowa. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences last last month called on the entire nine-member board that hired Harreld to resign or be forced out by the governor. Branstad has said he doesn’t have legal standing to take that action.

“They do not serve at the pleasure of the governor, so I do not have the authority to just dismiss them,” Branstad said today.

The nine members of the Board of Regents are appointed by the governor, but have to win the support of at least 32 state senators in a confirmation vote to serve on the panel. Branstad has said University of Iowa faculty need to “calm down” and give the new president a chance. Harreld is scheduled to start on November 2.

Branstad disagrees with former foe’s ‘legal analysis’ about Planned Parenthood funding

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad says he disagrees with the assertions his 2010 Republican Primary opponent is making about state money going to Planned Parenthood.

Bob Vander Plaats, a leading Christian conservative activist in Iowa, says Branstad is making “phony excuses” and failing to follow through on a 2010 campaign promise to “defund” Planned Parenthood.

“I just disagree with his legal analysis,” Branstad told reporters this morning during his weekly news conference.

Branstad pointed to Vander Plaats assertion several years ago that Iowa’s governor had the authority to undo the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

“He’s also the one that said…a governor could overturn a Supreme Court decision by an executive order and I think we all know that’s not true,” Branstad said. “And we’ve now seen the United States Supreme Court step in on that issue.”

Planned Parenthood does not get taxpayer money to cover abortion costs, but it does get reimbursed for providing other services to Medicaid patients, like annual reproductive health tests and breast cancer screenings. Vander Plaats said last week that a letter from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal “schools” Branstad on how to cut off that money to Planned Parenthood, but Branstad said Jindal has been sued for making that move.

“As has the governor of Alabama, the governor of Arkansas and I think, most recently, the governor of Utah,” Branstad said. “So we have carefully reviewed and analyzed what we can do.”

The contracts that provide reimbursement to Planned Parenthood cannot be broken, according to Branstad.

“Unless we can show a violation of the terms of their grant, the attorney general has told us we don’t have any authority to do so,” Branstad told reporters this morning.

Branstad said if he did issue an executive order to cut off all taxpayer funding to Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood sued, the chances he’d win the lawsuit are “not very good at all.”

“I’m interested in working with the legislature on these issues, but I also respect the limitations on the authority that I have,” Branstad said.

The Family Leader has launched a “Keep Your Promise” ad campaign to pressure Branstad on the issue.

Goal: credentials beyond high school degree for 70 percent of Iowa workers

Nicole Smith with Lt. Governor Reynolds and Governor Branstad.

Nicole Smith with Lt. Governor Reynolds and Governor Branstad.

Iowa’s governor and lieutenant governor say they plan to work with educators and the business community to find new ways to ensure that 70 percent of Iowa workers have more than just a high school degree by 2025. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds calls it the “new minimum.”

“The goal demonstrates that we want to empower more Iowans with the degrees and the credentials that really will enable them to attain the rewarding careers that are available right here in our great state.”

Neither Reynolds nor Governor Branstad are calling for more state spending on their “Future Ready” initiative. They’re calling for collaboration among colleges, universities and businesses to get more Iowans earning two- and four-year degrees, becoming apprentices and taking courses for new work certifications.

“We’re excited about the initiative,” Reynolds says. “I think it’s the next step that we need to take to make sure that we have a talent pipeline to meet employers’ needs.”

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 68 percent of jobs in Iowa in 2025 will require some form of training beyond a high school degree.

“A perennial problem for every state, indeed especially since the Great Recession, is how to find the skilled workers necessary to compete,” says Nicole Smith, a senior economist at Georgetown.

Smith says Iowa has more advanced manufacturing jobs than its Midwestern neighbors and those jobs require more skills — and they pay higher salaries, too.

The governor and lieutenant governor will hold public meetings in Waukee, Cedar Falls and Sioux City this month to discuss their “Future Ready” initiative. Branstad, Reynolds and Smith discussed the initiative at the opening of Branstad’s weekly news conference.

AUDIO of Branstad’s weekly news conference, 27:00

11,000+ cases of chlamydia reported in Iowa last year

Among the bacterial infections that are tracked by state health officials, sexually-transmitted diseases are the most frequently reported.

“Chlamydia definitely has the greatest number of new diagnoses, by far, compared to any other sexually-transmitted infection,” says George Walton, a program manager in the Iowa Department of Public Health.

State law requires doctors and laboratories to report confirmed cases of chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV and AIDS to the department. There were more than 11,000 cases of chlamydia confirmed in Iowa last year.

“It is relatively ease to diagnose and treat, but you have to be looking for it,” Walton says. “…The testing that we have available now is very sensitive…not nearly as many false-negatives as we saw with older testing technology.”

Chlamydia is the most common infectious disease in the United States. If left untreated, chlamydia can make it difficult for women to become pregnant. The recommended treatment now for chlamydia is a single dose of a prescription drug. The second-most prevalent sexually-transmitted disease in Iowa is gonorrhea. About 1600 cases of gonorrhea were reported in Iowa last year. Walton expects even more cases to be reported this year.

“That’s one that we’re really keeping an eye on for a number of reasons,” Walton says. “One is there’s a lot of concern with antibiotic resistance with that particular infection.”

The other most common sexually-transmitted disease in the U.S. and in Iowa is syphilis. There was a 450 percent increase in the number of new syphilis cases in Iowa in 2013. Syphilis is highly-contagious, but it can be treated with one dose of penicillin.

There were 99 cases of HIV infections diagnosed in Iowa during 2014. That was a “significant decline” of 19 percent from the year before according to Walton, but he expects the number of confirmed cases of HIV to be higher in Iowa this year.

“My guess is that it’ll be closer towards the average for the last five years,” Walton says.

Other types of infectious diseases that must be reported to state officials include any of the five strains of Hepatitis.

Rubio, Carson rap Obama over approach to Russia

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio today said the U.S. is “barreling toward a second Cold War” with Russia. According to Rubio, Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to “divide” Europe.

“He’s trying to destroy NATO,” Rubio said during an appearance in Cedar Falls last night. “He’s challenging the influence of the United States all over the world.”

During an “Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security” forum in Cedar Rapids over the noon hour today, Rubio said President Obama is failing “the test of leadership” against Putin.

“Let me tell you what happens in a world where America is weaker,” Rubio said, “the world gets chaotic and dangerous.”

Rubio has been calling Putin a “thug.”

“I love this, you know he was asked on ’60 Minutes’ the other night, verbatim, they said: ‘Marco Rubio says you’re a gangster.’ He said: How can I be a gangster? I worked in the KGB,'” Rubio said in Cedar Falls and the audience laughed. “I’m not making that up. He really said that.”

Rubio, who is wrapping up a two-day campaign swing through Iowa, today promised that if he’s elected president, he’ll “move to isolate Russia” by refusing to issue travel visas to Russian officials and proposing economic sanctions against Russian corporations.

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is also campaigning in Iowa today. This morning, Carson said it’s time for a “no fly” zone along the Turkish border with Syria, so U.S. and Russian fighter jets aren’t crossing paths in Syria.

“If the two forces are together, there’s a greater incidence of an international incident that could escalate,” Carson said.

President Obama needs to “step it up a little bit,” Carson said, and tell Russia’s president the U.S. military “will maintain” its battle plan against ISIS in Syria.

“If I were Obama, I would call Putin and I would say, ‘We need to sit down and talk immediately,’ and I would let him know that we’re not backing off,” Carson said. “We’re not restricting the flights of our jets. We’re not respecting any new boundaries in the water.”

The U.S. needs to “reestablish” a missile defense system, Carson said, and deploy more troops in key areas around the globe.

“Putin has very great aspirations, not just in Syria, but globally,” Carson said. “And we need to put a strong front against him everywhere. I mean, you know, throughout the Baltic basin.”

Carson made his comments during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight on Iowa Public Television.

Carson says everyone ‘needs to have skin in the game’ and pay taxes

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson says no one in America should be exempt from paying federal taxes.

“I think everybody needs to have skin in the game because it doesn’t make any sense to me to have half of the people not needing to pay, but they get a say in how much the other half pays,” Carson says.

Republican competitor Donald Trump unveiled his own tax plan this week. Trump would exempt individuals who make $25,000 a year and couples who make $50,000 annually from paying any federal income taxes. Carson has not yet released a tax proposal. Carson is considering a flat tax on income and getting rid of the income tax and imposing a national sales tax instead.

“I can see merits in both of them,” Carson says. “…I’m putting out proposals that tend to go toward an income tax that is equal across the board.”

Carson says his approach will be based on the Biblical principle of tithing.

“I like to use 10 percent because it’s easy to work with, so if you make $10 billion, you pay $1 billion; you make $10, you pay $1 and you get the same rights and privileges. You get rid of all the deductions and all of the loopholes because that creates inequality,” Carson says. “If that’s the system that’s good enough for God, it’s good enough for me because proportionality is the only thing that’s fair. When you get out of proportionality, you enter your own biases into the situation.”

Carson made his comments this morning during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight on Iowa Public Television.