State Capitol

Key Democrats say they’re willing to consider the revisions Branstad has made to his property tax relief plan, although the two parties are sticking with their dramatically different approaches to reducing taxes on commercial property.

Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, is chairman of the Senate Ways-and-Means tax-writing Committee. Bolkcom says he’s “open” to Branstad’s ideas, including new proposals to reduce taxes on companies that supply components to larger manufacturers, like John Deere.

“We’re looking forward to working together to find some solutions to some of the problems and getting this economy going,” Bolkcom says.

Branstad delivered a half-hour-long “Condition of the State” address earlier today (find text here) and he called on legislators to “shed the partisanship” that makes it difficult to develop good policy. 

“The all-or-nothing politics that often prevents the leaders from making progress on many important issues  in Washington, D.C. and in other state capitols does not have to happen here,” Branstad said. “In Iowa, we have a shared responsibility to do our work differently.”

Bolkcom applauds Branstad’s call for bipartisan cooperation on key issues, like tax policy.

“If you were to talk to the average Iowan about their feeling about politicians and what we do here, they want us to get along and get the job done,” Bolkcom says. “…The governor has heard that in his travels across the state. We’ve certainly heard it and we’re ready to roll up our sleeves and try to tackle some of these issues and work together to do it.”

Branstad is also pressing for a series of education reforms, new testing for students and teachers — with the goal of ensuring teachers are competant in their subject area and students have learned what they need to learn by certain grade levels.

“The bottom line is education must be a greater priority in our state,” Branstad said, “because if our schools are not the best, then we will fail our young people and those young Iowans who follow them.”

While Democrats are raising questions about one idea — ending “social promotion” of third-graders if they can’t read — Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal is also striking a conciliatory tone.

“I think his stuff on education, in particular the early grades of assessing reading abilities and then doing interventions, I think there’s broad support for that,” Gronstal says. “I think we’re really committed to doing something on commercial property tax.”

Yet Gronstal pointed out the plan Democrats devised last year would provide more direct relief to a small business owner Branstad cited during his speech. Democrats are also raising concerns about details in Branstad’s budget plan, specifically his call to shift some education spending around to pay for some of his proposed education reforms.

“Part of the money is coming from teacher quality…and that goes into (teacher) pay. Part of the money is coming from classroom size money…Research show next to a good teacher, (reduced) class size is one of the best things we can do for kids,” says Representative Sharon Steckman of Mason City, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee. “…It’s kind of like a shell game. You just move that money around.”

Other Democrats say Branstad hasn’t set aside enough money to cover the state’s increased share of paying for mental health care for the poor. Counties — and property owners who pay taxes to their county — now cover the costs of mental health care for the poor, but legislators have been planning to have the state take over the system to ensure all Iowans have access to the same services.