Governor Chet Culver is asking state legislators to increase overall state spending by about seven-and-a-half percent. Culver’s big "ask" is for an additional $70 million to raise teacher pay. He proposes 25 million more for the general budgets at the state universities in Ames, Cedar Falls and Iowa City, plus about $12.4 million more for the state’s community colleges.
Culver is also asking lawmakers for another $20 million for preschool programs. "If we make these investments in educational excellence, the results will be with us for generations to come," Culver said during his budget address to the legislature.
In the health care area, Culver is proposing an increase in the state tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack, and the governor got a rousing response when he mentioned it in his speech. He’d use about $18 million of that new state tax revenue to expand the number of Iowans who have health care coverage. That amount would cover about 10,000 kids and their parents who do not currently have insurance. "I know that some appear to suggest we should only increase the cigarette tax by 30 to 60 cents, but in this case half-measures will not even produce half the results," Culver said. "In fact, we have hundreds of millions of dollars in health-care-related needs. We must find a responsible way to pay for them."
Back in the campaign( Culver promised to create an Iowa Power Fund to bankroll the renewable fuels industry, and Culver’s asking lawmakers to set aside $25 million in each of the next four years for that. "It’s time for us to take control of our energy future. It’s time for us to win the race to become the energy capital of the world," culver said. "It’s time for Iowa to break free from our dependence on foreign oil."
Culver was sworn in as Iowa’s governor on January 12th and presented his nearly $6 billion state spending plan to lawmakers today. "We have a lot of work to do," Culver said. "As I said in my inaugural address, this is our time. This is (the) time for us to lead Iowa forward and fulfill our state’s unlimited potential."
During today’s budget address, Culver touted the state’s economy and healthy state tax revenues, but Culver cautioned lawmakers he will not accept past budget practices of failing to put money in state savings accounts or the habit of intentionally setting aside less money for some programs — expecting to fill the gap later. "We must all realize that state revenues are always limited," Culver said. "We can do virtually anything we put our minds to do, we just can’t do everything we might want to do."
As his budget speech neared its end, Culver called for a new "Enduring Freedom Support Fund" that would help injured Iowa soldiers and their families pay the rent or the mortgage and meet other expenses. "They fought for us," Culver said. "Now it is time we fought for them."
Culver also led a moment of silence assembly to honor the 50 Iowa soldiers who’ve died on active duty since September 11th, including the soldier whose funeral is being held this morning.