February 6, 2016

Governor: school spending decision won’t happen quickly

School-BusGovernor Terry Branstad is predicting legislators will have a tough time making a school funding decision this year.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen quickly because there’s some big issues to be resolved,” Branstad told Radio Iowa during an interview Thursday.

Legislative leaders from both parties have been saying they hope to strike a quick compromise on school funding for the academic year that starts this fall. Branstad says budget realities may prevent that.

“There’s some big issues to be resolved,” Branstad said. “…This is a tough year, financially.”

House Republicans propose a two percent boost in general state aid for K-12 public schools in Iowa. Branstad last month recommended nearly half a percent more than that.

Democrats who control the Iowa Senate are seeking a four percent increase. Last year, the legislature made its decision about school funding in June — about four weeks before the budgeting year began.

Democrats seeking stop to Medicaid privatization

Pam Jochum

Pam Jochum

Democrats in the Iowa Senate plan to pass a bill that would stop Governor Branstad’s plan to move the 560,000 Medicaid patients in Iowa into private managed care plans.

“We have introduced that bill because our constituents have told us over and over again that the governor’s plan is failing,” says Senate President Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque. “He has tried to do too much, too fast and as a result he has failed to protect vulnerable Iowans.”

The Branstad Administration originally planned to start the switch on January 1, but federal officials who oversee the Medicaid program ordered a 60-day delay. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says many Iowa Medicaid patients can’t figure out if their doctor has signed up with one of the three managed care companies or if they’ll be forced to switch to a new doctor.

“This thing’s a mess right now. The roll-out has been horrible: wrong phone numbers, people that can’t get their questions answered,” Gronstal says. “…It’s a disaster.”

Republicans are defending the new system and making clear the effort by Democrats to stop the switch will go nowhere in the Iowa House where Republicans have a majority of votes. House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake, suggests Democrats are stoking the chaos.

“I’m hearing many people with question,” Upmeyer says. “And the reason we’re having so many questions is because we’re spending our time protecting the status quo instead of moving forward.”

Change is a challenge, but one that should be embraced, according to Upmeyer. Upmeyer says the governor’s staff has assured her the state is complying with the federal government’s checklist and the program will be ready for the switch on March 1.

Governor Branstad does ‘The Dab’ with ISU basketball team

Governor Terry Branstad doing the Dab in the Cyclone locker room.

Governor Terry Branstad doing the Dab in the Cyclone locker room.

Iowa’s governor went into the Cyclone locker room last night to celebrate the Iowa State victory over Kansas and did a little dancing.

Cyclone forward Georges Niang told 69-year-old Governor Terry Branstad that when you go in their locker room, “you’ve gotta Dab.” An online video captures the moment.

Branstad did it, dipping his head, raising his right arm — sort of like the way you’re supposed to stifle a cough. It’s a hip hop dance move.

Cam Newton — the quarterback for the Super Bowl-bound Carolina Panthers — did The Dab quite famously after scoring a touchdown in week 10 of the NFL season. When it comes to basketball, a video of NBA star Lebron James Dabbin’ during pregame warm-ups in early October has gone viral, too.

The Dab can be traced back to this summer and a recording from an Atlanta-based hip hop group called Migos which features the line: “Look at my dab.”

Republicans in Iowa House vote for two percent money boost for schools

Ron Jorgensen

Ron Jorgensen

House Republicans have voted to increase the general level of state taxpayer support for Iowa’s public schools by two percent, starting July 1.

Representative Ron Jorgensen, a Republican from Sioux City, is chairman of the House Education Committee and he called it a “fiscally responsible” level.

“We recognize that two percent is not a big increase,” Jorgensen said,” but when you recognize the financial realities that exist, it’s an appropriate number.”

Republicans say state tax revenues are not as robust as hoped and this two percent increase for schools eats up nearly all the tax growth that’s expected.

“Even though many other state agencies will once again operate with no budget increase, or in many cases operate with budget cuts, that is not the case with K-12 funding,” Jorgensen sid. “Would I like to give education more dollars? Sure…but I’m also a realist. You can’t manufacture dollars. The pie is only so big.”

House Democrats, like Representative Timi Brown-Powers of Waterloo argued schools need at least a four percent boost.

“If we are not going to make educaiton a priority, then I am proposing today our next bill is to change the picture on the Iowa Quarter,” Brown-Powers said. “Instead of having a schoolhouse, maybe we need to put a ‘Help Wanted’ sign.”

Representative Scott Ourth, a Democrat from Ackworth, suggested rural schools will be hard-pressed to stay afloat under the Republicans’ plan.

“I hope you’ll reconsider this low-water mark of two percent,” Ourth said. “And when the real negotiations start, I would hope that you’ll listen to our superintendents and our teachers and parents.”

Representative Charlie McConkey, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, said his city’s property-poor school district will be forced to cut programs and lay off staff.

“Education is the best economic growth tool we have available to us today,” McConkey says. “So let’s make education our top priority again.”

Republican Governor Terry Branstad has recommended a slightly higher increase in state support for schools than Republicans in the House propose. Senate Democrats favor a higher level. It’s unclear how quickly the two parties may compromise and make a final decision.

Live Healthy Iowa Challenge begins another round with the New Year

Chuck Long

Chuck Long

An annual event that’s designed to help Iowans lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle is entering its 15th year.

Iowa Sports Foundation executive director Chuck Long spoke at a statehouse news conference this morning to mark the kick off of the 2016 Live Healthy Iowa challenge.

“You’ve made your New Year’s resolution and this is a great way to back it up,” Long said. “What’s that resolution? It’s usually to lose weight and get in shape.” The 100-day, team-based challenge runs through April 1. Over the course of the next 10 weeks, teams of 2 to 10 people track the exercise minutes and weight loss through Live Healthy Iowa’s website.

“If you haven’t registered, there’s still time to join us as registration remains open through February 7,” Long said. For $20, all participants receive an official 10 Week Wellness Challenge T-shirt, a one-year magazine subscription of choice, exclusive discounts at businesses statewide, and chances to win weekly prizes.

In 2001, the Iowa Sports Foundation launched the health challenge, originally called Lighten Up Iowa. According to the Governor’s office, over the past 15 years, Live Healthy Iowa has helped over 308,000 Iowans to record nearly 600 million minutes of activity and shed 1,146,395 pounds.



Federal grant gives Iowa millions for flood reduction, water quality projects

Governor Terry Branstad talks about the grant as Lt. Governor Reynolds and HUD Regional Administrator Jennifer Tidwell.

Governor Terry Branstad talks about the grant as Lt. Governor Reynolds and HUD Regional Administrator Jennifer Tidwell.

State and local officials announced a massive grant approved for Iowa from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to go toward flood reduction and the improvement of water quality. Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds says the grant is nearly $97 million.

“From water infrastructure projects in Dubuque, Coralville and Storm Lake, to investments in our rural landscapes. This grant will build on the great work that has already been done and that they have been working on,” Reynolds says. The grant approved for Iowa is the fourth largest in what is called the National Disaster Resilience Competition.

“Some of the highlights of the funding include eight-point-four million dollars for the Dubuque healthy homes project, 23.1 million for Dubuque infrastructure, 6.5 million for Storm Lake infrastructure, 1.8 million for Coralville infrastructure, and 31.5 million for investments in nine targeted watersheds.”

Governor Terry Branstad was asked about criticism that this public money is being spent on what some consider to be a private problem. “It’s a public problem. It’s a problem we all have,” Branstad replied. “We want to reduce flooding. I go way back with this — the flood of ’93 — and we lived through that here in Des Moines. Des Moines was the largest city at the time that had lost its waterworks because of flooding. And a lot of work has been done to mitigate that.”

Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol.

Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol.

Dubuque will use part of the money for flood mitigation on what’s called the Bee Branch Project. Mayor Roy Buol says the area has suffered from repeated flooding after heavy rains.

“We’re actually daylighting a creek that was buried over 100 years ago. That storm sewer had about one-fifth the capacity of the rain events that we’ve seen over the past 10 to 12 years in the City of Dubuque,” Buol says. ” So, we are actually daylighting that creek, we are creating the capacity for that 500-year storm.”

Buol says this project alone has a cost of $200 million. He says they will also work on the homes that have failing foundations, mold and appliances that were destroyed repeatedly. Buol says the money will help them move some of the sewer expansions ahead to create enough capacity to move the water out of the neighborhoods. While they have already been working on the project with state and local money, he says the federal dollars give it a big push ahead.

“Those projects would have had to wait up to 20 years maybe before we could actually find the funding to actually implement them,” Buol explains. “So, this is going to be a big help in getting this project to the place where it will handle those 500-year storms in a much shorter period of time.”

HUD regional administrator, Jennifer Tidwell, says the cooperation among all levels in Iowa impressed them. “It is evident that the state of Iowa’s partnerships have worked extensively through this competitive process to strengthen their plan to reduce flood risk and improve water quality,” Tidwell says.

The nine watersheds involved in the grant are: Bee Branch Creek; Clear Creek; East Nishnabotna; English River; North Raccoon River; Middle Cedar River; Upper Iowa; Upper Wapsipinicon River and the West Nishnabotna River. The amount of money given to each area is still being worked out as they move ahead with the formal contracts. It is expected to take three to five years to complete all the work.


Board of Education raises concern with governor on reading program funding


Charles Edwards.

Members of the Board of Education and Governor Terry Branstad discussed concerns about the budget during the board’s meeting Thursday in Des Moines.

Branstad told the board it will be a tight budget situation this year with the drop in farm income and other factors.

Board president Charles Edwards of Des Moines told the governor they understand the budget issues, but said they are concerned about the Early Childhood Literacy program funding.

“We do not believe that there are proper funds in place — you could even go so far as to say massively underfunded,” according to Edwards. “And that’s what we’re hearing from school districts. Is that they need more funds to provide summer programs.” The Education Department asked for $9 million in funding for the program.

The summer programs help bring the students up to a third grade reading level to allow them to continue advancing in school, and there is a June 2017 deadline to have them ready.

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and Governor Terry Branstad at the Board of Education meeting.

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and Governor Terry Branstad at the Board of Education meeting.

Branstad says he is working on raising funding for some of the programs. “I am hopeful that within a month or two that we are going to be able to announce what we are going to do for these pilot projects this summer.”

The governor says he wanted to first address the amount of school funding that will be available, so that issue is taken care of before looking at the other funding. Branstad says he would have loved to have put the money in the budget for the summer programs in addition to the 2.45 percent increase proposed for supplemental state aid to schools.

“And I saw what happened last, and I don’t want to see the legislature spending the whole year fighting over supplemental state aid,” Branstad says. He says getting the state aid approved early gives  school districts information to plan with. The governor says he does not want the legislature to just pass a budget to get through an election year as they have in the past.

Board member Mike May of Spirit Lake says the Board of Education is aware of the budget issues, but reiterated the concern over the literacy funding. He says there are thousands of kids who won’t meet the requirements and will need help.

Mike May

Mike May

“We’re concerned about the impending disaster that is going to occur in May of ’17. And it’s going to be one that we are all going to be blamed for, the board, and the governor and lieutenant governor, the legislature we are all going to share in that,” May says. “And the question is how we can mitigate that as much as possible.”

Branstad says there will be time to meet the deadline. “This is 2017 and what I am going to do is ask the legislature to approve this at the beginning of the session of 2017,” Branstad says.

The discussion was part of the governor’s annual January meeting with the Board of Education.