DES MOINES — In her first Condition of the State speech, Gov. Kim Reynolds offered a vision of an Iowa “overflowing with opportunity” while also calling for an end to the “destructive force” of sexual harassment.
“It must stop,” Reynolds said, adding praise for women who have found the courage to speak out about the “stain on our culture.” That would seem to include a former staffer to the Republican caucus she once was a part of who won a $1.75 million lawsuit settlement last year that involved claims of sexual harassment.
“As a woman, a mother of three girls, a grandmother, wife, sister, and daughter, I understand we’re at an unprecedented moment in time,” Reynolds said. But sexual harassment is not a partisan issues that can be stopped by legislation, Reynolds said early in her speech to a joint session of the Iowa House and Senate Tuesday morning.
“You cannot legislate kindness or respect or morality,” Reynolds said. “The solution starts with every individual, man or woman” including elected officials who should serve as role models.
“What we do here matters. Iowans are watching. We can’t change behavior everywhere, but we have an obligation to lead and, as long as I am governor, we’re going to,” Reynolds said.
For the most part, Reynolds, 58, who became the state’s first female governor in late May when Gov. Terry Branstad resigned to become ambassador to China, was upbeat as she declared the condition of Iowa strong “because our ability to dream is infinite and the will of our people is great.”
She then laid out an agenda for tax reform that includes ending federal deductibility, an initiative to expand broadband access in rural Iowa, a public-private effort to increase the number of Iowans with 21st Century workplace skills, and expanding mental health services and combating the growing problems of opioid abuse.
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Reynolds also maintained her commitment to privatized management of Medicaid, but admitted mistakes have been made in the transition from a state-run program.
In sum, Reynolds offered a vision of an Iowa where “your last name and Zip code aren’t nearly as important as your ability to dream and willingness to reach for it … (where) if life got in the way of those dreams, you can find a second start … and if you’ve made mistakes, you can find a second chance.”
Drawing on her personal experience, Reynolds described an Iowa “where a small town girl from rural Iowa can become governor and have the opportunity to serve Iowans at the highest level.”
“I hope that can be an inspiration to every waitress, every grocery checker, every overworked and stressed out mom, and the little girls who dare to dream,” the former pharmacy clerk, county treasurer, state senator and lieutenant governor said. “In Iowa, if you’re willing to work for it, those dreams can come true.”
Addressing the controversial transition from a state-run program to an individualized, patient-centered approach similar to 39 other states, Reynolds allowed that mistakes have been made. However, it was “a change that needed to be made” to stem the rising cost of providing health services to more than 600,000 low-income Iowans, many of them children or elderly.
She conceded the projected savings this year of $47 million is far less than estimated when Branstad made the change nearly two years ago. However, the Department of Human Services director she hired “has the passion, and — most importantly — the compassion to make this work” and the state’s new Medicaid director has the experience “to get things turned around.”
Turning to tax reform, Reynolds reducing rates and ending federal deductibility will make Iowa’s tax code more competitive. Iowa is one of only three states that allow taxpayers to deduct their federal taxes.
“While that might sound like a good thing, right now it’s not,” she said explaining that if Iowans’ federal taxes go down as a result of congressional tax reform, their state taxes will increase. “And it often punishes those who we want to help the most” — working-class families, farmers and small business owners.
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As much as she would like to reduce uncompetitive corporate taxes, “this is not the year,” Reynolds said. She will create a bipartisan task force to analyze tax credits that have come in for criticism from members of both parties.
Turning to another priority issues for both parties, Reynolds promised to include money in her budget for a program with Des Moines University and the National Alliance on Mental Illness to train every new doctor to identify and treat a patient with a mental health challenge.
She’s asking the mental health stakeholders to help create a long-term and sustainable funding structure to establish these much-needed residential access centers to provide short-term care to get Iowans in crisis stabilized and back to their families.
“Creating a mental health system is complex and it won’t be solved overnight,” she said, “but no parent, child, friend or neighbor should suffer in silence when it comes to mental health.”
Reynolds wants to address the opioid epidemic, which resulted in 67 overdose deaths in 2016, up from 28 in 2005, by increasing use of the Prescription Monitoring Program that requires physicians and prescribers to check a database to prevent addicts from getting addictive painkillers from multiple places. He plan also includes supporting enhanced intervention for Iowans addicted to opioids, and expanding medicated assisted treatment.
Acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg will lead an initiative focused on reviving rural Iowa because Reynolds believes “the heart, soul, and spirit of Iowa will always remain in our small towns and rural communities.”
The goal is to promote investment and connect rural Iowa by expanding broadband capabilities in every corner of our state in order to “keep and bring home Iowa’s sons and daughters and grow the next generation of community leaders,” Reynolds said.
Education is a “real priority” the state will back up with “real money,” Reynolds said. Since she became lieutenant governor, the state has increased preK-12 funding by $735 million to an all-time high of $3.3 billion, she said, proposing an increase of $54 million, which is more than $10 million above the current finding level.
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Her tax package will include expanding the use of 529 college savings plans to allow them to be used for K-12 education to offer “families the option to teach their values, beliefs, and viewpoints to their children.”
She also spoke of partnering with the private sector to expand education and training opportunities for Iowa workers who lack necessary skills. Today, just over half of our workforce has training or education beyond high school. Reynolds wants to increase that to 70 percent.
Her plan calls for legislative approval of the Future Ready Iowa Act and $500,000 to expand programs like one at West Delaware in Manchester that teach high school students vocational skills that lead directly to jobs in their communities. Reynolds also includes $1 million in her proposed budget to expand apprenticeship programs.
She offered to use state dollars to match private investment in an Iowa Employer Innovation Fund for training programs that best fit the needs of business and industry.
In closing, Reynolds returned to the positive themes she used to open her speech.
“I believe that Iowa is — and ought to be — a place where, if you’re willing to work for it, you can make your dreams come true,” she said. “My vision is to give the people of Iowa a place to call home that unleashes opportunity at every turn.”
She called for building a “future where our ability to dream is infinite and the will of our people remains eternally unbroken.”
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