Democratic lawmakers say Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s 2013 agenda contains some shared goals, but they’re raising concerns about Branstad’s property tax proposal. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says Democrats are for tax cuts, too, just not by the method Branstad proposes.
“We passed a significant property tax plan last year that for four out of five Iowa businesses was better than Branstad’s. It was targeted to small and medium-sized businesses in the state of Iowa,” Gronstal says. “We continue to think that’s where the real long-term growth in our state comes from, not from attracting new people to Iowa, but to growing our own businesses on Main Streets in Iowa.”
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines also questions Branstad’s long-term promise to local governments — that state taxdollars will be forwarded to make up for lost commercial property tax revenue.
“We want to make sure we don’t set in motion a train that’s going to go off the track in a few years,” McCarthy says.
McCarthy suggests the state income tax or sales tax might have to be raised to fulfill all of Branstad’s promises. Yet Democrats fault Branstad’s education spending plan for being too lean. According to state law, the level of general state support of K-through-12 public schools is to be set about 18 months before a school year starts — yet Gronstal notes Iowa schools still don’t know how much state taxpayer support they’ll get for the school year that starts this July 1.
“We think the governor should follow the law he signed until somebody changes the law he signed,” Gronstal says.
House Democratic Leader McCarthy says the “low point” of Branstad’s speech was his ultimatum over school finance issues.
“What I took away from the speech is: ‘We’re going to violate the law. We’re not going to fund our schools. Schools are going to send layoff notices unless you pass my bill.’ In other words: ‘It’s my way or the highway,'” McCarthy says. “I think usually on the first day of session we try to start off in a little bit more bipartisan tone, at least on the signature proposals.”
Branstad’s budget plan calls for a status quo state spending level on schools, although the governor does call for giving schools $14 million more in the coming year to finance some of his education reform ideas, like boosting beginning teacher pay. Senator Gronstal says that’s far from adequate.
“This is really a historic retreat in terms of support for public education, not a committment to public education,” Gronstal says.
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members staged a protest outside the governor’s office today. Members of the group say Branstad’s focused on a “corporate agenda” that fails to address the concerns of “everyday Iowans.”