State Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge, a Democratic candidate for governor, is proposing a new state tax credit that would help small businesses pay for their employees’ health insurance. “A small business that is struggling because of the high cost of covering health care, that might be the break they need,” Judge says. She says there’s a “crying need” for health care relief. Judge says if elected governor, this idea would be part of her overhaul of state economic development programs.

She is not enamored with the “Iowa Values Fund” which Governor Tom Vilsack, a fellow Democrat, devised and which was administered by one of her primary opponents, former Economic Development director Michael Blouin. The fund hands out huge grants to businesses promising to locate or expand in Iowa. Judge says the Values Fund awards aren’t getting spread around the state and the program “is not really doing the entire state as much good as it might.” She says “trickle down” economics doesn’t work and Iowans are telling her they’d like policymakers to take another look at the Values Fund.

Judge says it’s “questionable” in her mind whether the Values Fund has created any jobs outside the state’s cities. Judge, who was a nurse before entering politics, says she’s meeting privately with experts and plans to offer other health care reform ideas in the coming months. Judge is among the handful of candidates who are competing for the Democratic party’s 2006 nomination for governor.

Others seeking the nomination include Blouin, state Representative Ed Fallon, Secretary of State Chet Culver and Sioux City businessman Sal Muhammad.