The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Iowa

January 14, 2014

Branstad presents budget for next fiscal year

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad offered a budget proposal Tuesday that includes a tax break for veterans, a tuition freeze for college students and incentives to encourage Internet expansion in rural Iowa, a more modest list of priorities one year after he collaborated with lawmakers to enact sweeping changes.

Branstad's roughly $7 billion spending plan also includes proposals to halt school bullying and increase funding for apprenticeship job training programs. He discussed those goals in his annual "Condition of the State" speech before a joint session of the Legislature.

In his remarks, Branstad — who is expected to run for a sixth term this year— repeatedly used the phrase "Iowa is working." At times, the speech sounded like a campaign pitch.

"Iowa is working. The Iowa dream is here to be realized. But I believe we can — and we must — dream even bigger," Branstad said.

Last year, Branstad worked with lawmakers in the politically divided Legislature on a property tax cut, new education spending and an expansion of low-income health care.

The state is projecting a budget surplus of nearly $900 million. But Branstad has said that money is mostly needed to pay for the policies approved in 2013 over the next few years. The budget plan includes $120 million to provide funding to local governments to make up for some of the lost property tax revenue. It also contains $54 million for the education policy changes.

This year is scheduled be a shorter session and is an election year for many lawmakers, meaning less activity is expected. Branstad has focused on policies with a good chance of bipartisan support.

The budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 represents about an 8 percent increase in general fund spending, compared with the current fiscal year. In addition, there is some spending allocated from other state funds.

Under the proposals for veterans, military pensions would be fully exempted from state income tax, compared to the current system where retirees may exempt a portion of that income. That would cost the state a projected $10 million in lost revenue.

"In Iowa, we honor our veterans — not only with words and ceremonies, but with action," Branstad said.

A bullying law has failed to advance in the Legislature in the past. Branstad's plan this year would require schools to notify parents if their child is involved in a bullying incident. It also would give schools some discretion to deal with bullying off school grounds, under certain conditions.

"We can untie the hands of schools to allow them to better address cyberbullying," Branstad said.

The Internet expansion proposal would offer property tax breaks to companies that install broadband infrastructure in underserved areas before the end of 2018. And the apprenticeship plan would triple the funding for such job training programs.

Legislative leaders from the Republican-majority House and Democratic-controlled Senate were largely positive Tuesday about Branstad's plans.

"I think all the proposals have some pretty broad based support in the general assembly," said House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, called Branstad's proposals a "good, solid bipartisan agenda."

Political posturing is expected on some issues with little hope of success in the divided legislature. That will likely include Republican efforts to push an income tax cut and Democratic moves to increase the state minimum wage.

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Iowa
  • Despite ruling, Iowa to bar all felons from voting

    Elections officials will continue to bar felons from voting despite an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that suggests not all of them have lost their voting rights.

    Three justices ruled Tuesday that only some felonies are considered "infamous crimes" under the Iowa Constitution that bar individuals from voting or holding office.

    April 16, 2014

  • Branstad's tax return shows income of $234,907

    Gov. Terry Branstad released his tax returns Wednesday, showing he earned $234,907 and paid $28,298 in federal taxes in 2013.

    The governor and his wife paid $32,085 in federal taxes but are getting a refund of $3,787. Their state tax return shows they paid in $10,285 in taxes but will get a refund of $4,158. In addition the governor and first lady each received $54 back from the Legislature as all Iowa taxpayers did making their total Iowa tax bill $6,235.

    April 16, 2014

  • Iowa workforce chief gave judge positive reviews

    Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert approved positive performance evaluations for the agency's former chief unemployment appeals judge, records show, undermining her public claims that he was a poor manager who decided cases slowly.

    Wahlert sharply criticized the agency's former chief administrative law judge Joe Walsh on April 3, hours after he filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. He contends that Wahlert laid off both him and his wife, who worked in another agency division, after he opposed Wahlert's efforts to change his job into a political appointment and to favor employers over workers in decisions.

    April 16, 2014

  • Cool, wet spring may ease western Plains drought

    A spring forecast of above-average rainfall in parts of the Plains region is raising hopes for a break in drought conditions plaguing much of the area.

    "It looks pretty good for conditions to improve into the early summer," said Sioux Falls-based National Weather Service hydrologist Mike Gillispie about predictions for precipitation in parts of Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota.

    April 16, 2014

  • Regents considering Branstad order on settlements

    More than three weeks later, the Iowa Board of Regents is still figuring out how to comply with Gov. Terry Branstad's order to post employee settlement agreements online.

    In an executive order on March 24, Branstad ordered his administration and the regents to post all legal agreements that resolve employment disputes on websites that are easily accessible to the public.

    April 16, 2014

  • Broadband bill advances in legislature DES MOINES (AP) -- A legislative panel has backed a plan meant to extend broadband access to rural Iowans, though an agreement hasn't been reached on language about the placement of new cell towers. The House Ways and Means Committee voted 16-to-9 Tu

    April 16, 2014

  • Iowa Senate approves disabled veterans tax credit DES MOINES (AP) -- A bill meant to further relieve the financial stress of disabled veterans in the state has won the unanimous support of the Iowa Senate. The Senate voted 50-0 Tuesday to expand a homestead tax credit already in place for disabled v

    April 16, 2014

  • Iowa regulators to hold forums on investment scams

    Iowa's insurance commissioner has scheduled forums in Cedar Rapids and Davenport to educate the public on how to avoid investment and insurance scams.

    Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart said a May 1 forum and panel discussion at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center would be limited to the first 210 respondents. A similar event is scheduled June 5 in Davenport.

    April 15, 2014

  • Panel asks managers to return for more questioning

    Two top managers at the Iowa Department of Administrative Services answered lawmakers' questions during a nearly two-hour hearing Monday but did not clarify the big question: Who authorized settlement agreements with former state employees in which money was paid for secrecy?

    April 14, 2014

  • Branstad: Action needed to protect Iowa students

    Gov. Terry Branstad has called on the Legislature to take action following an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that found school coaches cannot be convicted of sexual exploitation by a school employee under current law.

    The Iowa Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Friday to overturn the conviction of a former Bloomfield basketball coach who had sex with a 16-year-old girl on his team, saying coaches without teaching licenses are not considered school employees and therefore cannot be convicted. In a statement Monday, Branstad urged lawmakers to pass legislation to include school coaches in the law to protect Iowa students from sexual exploitation.

    April 14, 2014

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