Back to work at the Iowa Statehouse

Lawmakers settle in; Branstad to speak

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad plans to zero in on ways to create jobs, cut property taxes and reform education Tuesday when he delivers his 17th Condition of the State address to a split-control Legislature that opened its 2012 run with hopes that this year’s session can be “one that historians will write about.”

Branstad, beginning the second year of his fifth term, told reporters Monday he will ask lawmakers to lower commercial property taxes 5 percentage points annually for the next eight years. He also wants them to limit the growth of spending by local governments to inflation, and cap tax increases on residential and agricultural property at 2 percent annually as a way to provide broad-based relief while protecting cities, counties and schools from revenue declines.

The governor said he will unveil a four-part plan to create jobs that includes his revised property tax reform proposal, and he will seek to launch a major push to revamp Iowa’s education system. The 30-minute televised address to a joint convention of the 84th General Assembly will be carried live on Iowa Public Television.

“It’s going to be very focused,” Branstad said of the speech, which will be accompanied by the fiscal 2013 budget plan he wants lawmakers to consider. “I’m not going to try to cover the whole waterfront. I’m really going to focus on jobs and education.”

Democrats who control the Iowa Senate 26-24 and Republicans who hold a 60-40 majority in the Iowa House initially gave bipartisan assurances that they will work to find common ground on reform efforts for property taxes, education and mental health initiatives.

“My goal is a short, productive session. We should focus on doing all government can do to help Iowans create jobs and grow our economy,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs. One way to do that, he said, would be to cut property taxes in a focused way that would help “the people who need it, Iowa’s small and Main Street businesses.”

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said lawmakers need to forge a property tax compromise this year, otherwise taxes for homeowners and farmers could jump 4 percent annually due to valuations and the state’s rollback formula.

“We have a caucus that is absolutely ready to do something on property taxes,” he said. “If we don’t do anything, we have a huge property tax increase coming at us. It’s going to get worse if we do nothing, so ... it needs to be addressed this year and we’re ready to do that.”

Legislators spent their first day doing administrative chores, holding introductory meetings and organizing their work areas for the onslaught of bills to come. Senators welcomed a new member, Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Cedar Rapids, who was elected last November in a special District 18 election to replace now-Iowa Utilities Board member Swati Dandekar. In the House, representatives got accustomed to cameras being trained on them during floor action as part of a new feature to live stream their proceedings online.“The excitement of the opening day of session never seems to fade,” said House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, R-Garner, who noted it was a shortened interim period for legislators due to the fact that they did not wrap up last year’s contention budget fight until June 30.