Iowa Governor Terry Branstad's 2014 Condition of the State Speech
Madam Lieutenant Governor, Madam President, Mr. Speaker, Leaders, justices, judges, legislators, elected officials, distinguished guests, family, friends and fellow Iowans, good morning.
I offer a special welcome this morning to new Representatives Brian Meyer and Stan Gustafson and new Senator Julian Garrett. I look forward to working with you and all members of the General Assembly.
I stand here today honored to be serving as your Governor, humbled by the opportunity and eager to meet the challenges we face.
I am pleased to report on the condition of our state.
Over the past year, we have come together as families, as communities, as Iowans, putting our differences aside to move Iowa forward.
Because of our hard work last legislative session, Iowa’s economy, educational system and health are moving forward.
Iowans have proved time and time again, when working with one another rather than against one another, we can overcome any challenge.
For example, the International Olympic Committee last year took action to eliminate wrestling from the Olympics.
More than 25,000 people joined us through an online petition to keep Olympic wrestling, the entire Iowa Congressional delegation joined us and more than 30 other governors came together joining me in a letter to the IOC to keep wrestling. And together, we kept wrestling in the Olympics and the Olympic dreams of Iowa wrestlers alive.
My friends, Iowa faces another challenge where we can come together again and rally around what is best for our state. The EPA has proposed reducing the level of biofuels outlined in the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).
If this rule is adopted, it would be a devastating setback to the agriculture sector of the Iowa economy.
The proposed rule comes at a time when our state continues to implement new pioneering policies encouraging growth and innovation in the renewable energy sector.
In a partnership with Iowa State University, we launched the “Fueling Our Future” program last October, which will bring Iowa to the forefront in the use of E30 fuel.
This new program is a reflection of the importance of further advancing the renewable fuels industry, and how the RFS is helping to create important Iowa jobs.
The RFS has led to a cleaner environment, opened the markets for Iowa corn and soybeans and reduced our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. Thousands of Americans are coming together to support the RFS.
We will be holding a public hearing later this month to give Iowans the opportunity to voice their concerns with the EPA’s proposal. Lt. Governor Reynolds and I are pleased the entire Iowa Congressional Delegation and Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey have agreed to co-host this important forum.
Today, I call on the General Assembly, as its first order of business, in bipartisan fashion, to pass a resolution in support of maintaining a robust Renewable Fuels Standard.
Whether it is our sense of community that saved wrestling or collaboration in support of agriculture and renewable fuel, Iowans come together.
It is this sense of community and collaboration that defines us as Iowans. And it should again shape our approach to governing this year.
As we’ve demonstrated before, we should again attack our problems with the same common sense and seriousness as Iowans across our state:
- working hard,
- working together, and
- working to make things better than we found them.
To me, this is the Iowa Dream. That dream of opportunity and prosperity which can become a reality for every Iowan willing to work for it.
The seeds of that dream have been planted with our work over the past three years. But now we must cultivate that dream of opportunity – of a great job and a great place to raise a family – so that it can grow and flourish.
The simple truth is we Iowans are a people of faith, of tenacity who each year plant the seeds of our livelihood with the devout belief that with hard work and the grace of God we will reap a bountiful harvest.
Today it is my duty and honor to report to you on the condition of our state. And I am here to tell you, with great pride: the State of Iowa is working.
With more Iowans going to work each and every day, the current unemployment rate stands at 4.4 percent: Iowa is working and our citizens are working toward their Iowa Dream.
With personal incomes growing: Iowa is working.
With schools and students improving their performance and their standing compared to other states around the nation: Iowa is working.
The Federal government has been paralyzed by partisanship leading to cliffs, ceilings, sequesters and shutdown, Iowa leaders have done the opposite; we have come together to work on behalf of Iowans.
We put aside our political differences, to achieve common sense compromise in cutting taxes, improving education and modernizing health care in our state: All evidence that Iowa is working.
Three years ago, like many other states, Iowa faced serious budget challenges. The path to prosperity was grim. Yet the charge to us was clear: restore predictability and stability to the state to get our fiscal house in order.
Working together, we have done just that.
We have passed two biennial budgets that restore predictability to the state budget.
These are budgets that hard-working Iowa taxpayers can depend on, budgets that work for Iowans by prioritizing education, economic development and job training.
Today, Iowa’s rainy day and economic emergency funds are full and we are fortunate to have a healthy budget surplus. Iowa is working.
We have taken a similar common sense approach to health care in our state by working to improve the health of Iowans, bringing more doctors to Iowa and providing better care for low-income Iowans.
Since announcing the Healthiest State Initiative, Iowa has improved from 19th to 9th in Well-Being.
During this address last year, students from Des Moines University (DMU) joined us in seeking increased support for a public-private partnership that would encourage more doctors to move to rural Iowa.
Today, the private sector, rural communities and the state are coming together to ensure more doctors will be coming to underserved communities.
These students will benefit from this partnership and our state will benefit from their commitment. As doctors they will work to improve the health of our citizens and as valuable members of rural Iowa their work will help bring jobs to our communities.
Thank you, DMU students, for joining us again this year.
The Iowa Health and Wellness Plan is now in place. Thousands of Iowans are now receiving more than just access, they are getting health care designed to get them healthier.
The Iowa Health and Wellness Plan is using health risk assessments and physicals to empower Iowans to take ownership of their own health. On top of that, more Iowans are receiving private insurance than ever before.
Iowans living longer, healthier lives will improve the health of our state, our economy and our families.
We may not have always agreed on the path to these policies, but we can all resoundingly agree on this: Our plan was designed by Iowans, not out of touch bureaucrats in Washington, DC., and it is going to make Iowans healthier. Iowa is working.
Three years ago, more than 100,000 Iowans were out of work. Jobs were hard to come by and investment in our state was inadequate.
We refocused our economic development efforts by changing our approach. Together, we created the Iowa Partnership for Economic Progress.
This public-private partnership is reaping dividends for our economy with more investments and more jobs for Iowans.
In the last three years, Iowa has seen 7.5 billion dollars in new capital investment, and I am pleased to report that since taking office, over 130,000 new jobs have been created in this state.
Perhaps the best example of our state’s turnaround and of our policies working for middle-class families is seen in Lee County, which had the highest unemployment rate in the state when I took office in 2011.
Iowans in Lee County are getting back to work, thanks in part to the largest on-shore purchase of wind turbines in history and a multi-billion dollar, world-class fertilizer plant bringing much needed jobs and investment to the area.
Thanks to these projects, unemployment in Lee County has dropped by 40 percent, and many southeast Iowans are back to work!
To help Iowans keep more of their hard-earned money, and to help employers invest and grow in Iowa, you passed and I signed into law the largest property tax cut in Iowa history!
This historic measure will provide more than 4.4 billion dollars in tax relief, slashing taxes for middle class families and encouraging businesses to grow.
Middle class families are working hard every day to achieve their version of the Iowa dream and providing this much needed tax relief will help them achieve it.
Improving education in our state is imperative to improving our jobs outlook, our economic outlook and the outlook for the Iowa Dream itself.
Together, we have taken steps to help keep our best teachers in classrooms, increase school choice and better equip our students for college and the workforce. We have begun to reform Iowa’s education system, and we can expect Iowa schools to pull away from the middle of the pack and reclaim preeminence in student achievement as measured against the rest of the United States.
The demands of both college and the workforce have changed.
In the 21st century, the skills needed to succeed and compete globally include science, technology, engineering and math. Through the STEM advisory council led by Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and Vermeer CEO, Mary Andringa, about 60,000 additional students are expected to have access to innovative STEM-focused opportunities this school year.
Today, students across Iowa are learning to build robots and solve complex math problems, preparing them for the jobs of tomorrow. In the gallery are students from Des Moines East High School and Greenwood Elementary School. Please join me in welcoming them to their Capitol.
We have worked together and invested in students, teachers and schools.
We have worked together and invested in the health and well-being of our state.
We have worked together and invested in middle-class families, main street businesses and our communities.
I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish working together. The results of our work will have a positive impact in the lives of many Iowans.
However, there is still much more work to be done. Together, let’s make this another successful and productive session.
This year, let’s continue to work to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of our citizens as they seek the Iowa Dream.
Skyrocketing college costs have made reaching the Iowa Dream unattainable for too many. Those who do pursue higher education are often strapped with massive amounts of student debt that they spend decades paying off.
We’ve taken steps to ease this burden. Last year, we provided historic financial support for our community colleges.
We increased the Iowa Tuition Grant for those who attend private colleges. We provided targeted support for high achievers entering the teaching profession, and providing rural health care.
And last year, the budget that you passed, and I signed, provided Regent universities with the necessary resources to freeze tuition for the first time in 30 years.
This year, my budget proposes another investment in key tuition assistance programs so we can continue the fight against escalating student debt.
This year, I am submitting a budget to once again freeze tuition for Iowa students at Regent institutions.
We need to reinforce with our students that if they borrow, they need to borrow only enough to pay the bills. The University of Northern Iowa is requiring all students receiving loans to participate in financial literacy programs.
And it is working!
Last year, student debt at the University of Northern Iowa decreased by eight percent!
Today, I am calling on members of the Iowa Legislature to join me in working to reduce costs to make college affordable and reduce the amount of debt incurred by Iowa students and their families.
What if more students could earn while they learn? Apprenticeships allow just that opportunity by providing focused and streamlined training.
One of the positive outgrowths of the historic capital investments made throughout our state is increased demand for jobs. Apprenticeship programs allow us to quickly and effectively train workers to meet this demand.
The budget I propose to you today triples support for apprenticeship programs. These programs strengthen our middle class, our businesses and our economy. Together we can further build the pipeline of skilled workers. Together we can ensure our workers have the skills they need to fill the jobs they want.
But we need to do more if Iowa is going to remain a national and global competitor. This means we need to be connected. Iowans are now interacting differently.
Interacting differently with businesses, with their government and with each other.
Through technology, we can connect our dreams to reality. Technology will improve educational instruction and make new resources available for our students. It can connect businesses to new customers and new markets. It can connect you to your dream job.
Technology connects the entrepreneur without a dime in her pocket to the billion dollar idea in her dreams.
We’ve had great success in Iowa in the tech sector. We are home to data centers with household names like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. We have thriving tech startup communities in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, and elsewhere, all with entrepreneurs looking to create the next Dwolla, Pinterest or WebFilings.
Cedar Falls has become a Gigabit City, and three Iowa communities have distinguished themselves as Connected Communities. Yet as a state, we need to do better.
In September, I announced our initiative to Connect Every Iowan, with the goal of making Iowa the Most Connected State in the Midwest. I charged the STEM Advisory Council’s Broadband Committee with developing recommendations for our consideration.
Today, I propose The Connect Every Iowan Act, with incentives to encourage access, adoption and use of broadband technology by businesses and individuals.
My plan includes programs that will train workers for 21st century careers in information and communications technology.
My plan also calls for moving to ICN 2.0, repurposing the Iowa Communications Network so it can partner with the private sector to provide connectivity in underserved areas of our state.
Together, we can use broadband technology to grow the Iowa Dream throughout our state, especially in rural areas. As our connection speeds increase, so does the pace of our economic progress, so does our ability to grow jobs, and so does our ability to turn the Iowa Dream into reality.
To keep the Iowa Dream alive, we must keep rural Iowa vibrant and working. As I visit communities throughout our state during my annual 99 county tour, this vibrancy is seen, felt and heard.
From the enjoyment experienced at Watermelon Day in Stanhope, the Bell Tower Festival in Jefferson, and at the Swamp-Fox Festival in Marion. To the early morning farmers markets, and the Rotary Clubs at Noon, day-to-day life reflects our shared Iowa values.
Yet, some of the schools and public buildings which used to be the source of that pride are now empty shells dotting the landscapes of our communities. Once filled with the hustle and bustle of schoolchildren and their teachers, these are more than just abandoned buildings. They hold a part of our childhood. They hold a part of us.
Instead of letting these treasures stand empty, let’s turn them into the economic centers of our communities. Let’s once again make them part of our daily lives.
We will submit legislation to provide tax incentives to repurpose abandoned schools and public buildings.
Let’s turn what used to be our centers of education into centers of commerce. Let’s repurpose the crumbling structures with renewed investment, and reinforce the foundation with new jobs.
As we repurpose our schools of yesterday, let’s also refocus on our students of today.
Sadly, for some children in Iowa, the bully they face makes every day feel more like a nightmare.
As they consider whether they can continue to take abuse from the bully, they don’t know where to turn. Even if they turn to school officials, our laws have tied their hands.
Imagine being that child.
Imagine being unable to escape, as the bully relentlessly pursues them online, in a form accessible 24/7. Imagine how bleak it must be. Imagine how lonely it must feel.
This session, we can let our children know they are not alone. I call on both houses and both parties to support the Bully Free Iowa Act of 2014.
We can take action to empower students and their parents.
We can untie the hands of schools to allow them to better address cyberbullying.
And we can get educators the training they need to respond effectively to bullying.
As we take action to protect our children from bullies, let us also commit to honoring and better serving the men and women that protect our liberties and rights every day.
This session, the centerpiece of my agenda is Home Base Iowa. It is a bipartisan jobs plan focusing on recruiting service members to Iowa and matching them with good, high paying careers.
Here today in the gallery we are joined by members of the Iowa National Guard and veterans organizations. They have served our country and our state with dignity and honor.
Please join me in thanking them for their service.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.”
In November, I announced the Home Base Iowa initiative to recruit veterans to Iowa, because I believe Iowa can offer our nation’s veterans something even greater than a square deal. We can offer them a better opportunity to live the Iowa Dream. We can give them the best life America has to offer.
Joining me in this endeavor are two men who have served their country, two men who share my uncompromising passion for honoring our veterans.
Please join me in recognizing the Co-Chairs of Home Base Iowa, Congressman Leonard Boswell, and Bob Myers, CEO of Casey’s General Stores. Thank you both for your continued service.
We want our veterans to know that in Iowa, if you dream it – you can achieve it. In Iowa, you can find a home you can afford.
In Iowa, you can find a good paying job. In Iowa, you can send your kids to a good school and they can play in a safe neighborhood.
And in Iowa, we honor our veterans – not only with words and ceremonies; but with action.
Today, I call on the legislature to pass the Home Base Iowa Act. Join me in telling veterans that we will no longer tax their military pensions.
Let’s increase support for the Military Homeownership Assistance Program, which provides up to $5,000 in down payment or closing cost assistance.
Let’s give veterans credit for their military training and experience as they pursue occupational licensure in our state.
And let’s make Iowa the destination for veterans to continue their education. Already, the University of Iowa has been named the 6th best university for veterans by U.S. News and World Report. But we can do even better.
I will be asking the State Board of Education to join the Regents institutions by passing rules giving veterans, their spouses, and their dependents automatic in-state tuition at our community colleges.
I will also be convening stakeholders from the Regents, community colleges, and private colleges to develop consistent policies to provide veterans academic credit for their military training and experience.
Our veterans have risked their lives defending our freedom. To show our gratitude, let’s make Iowa the leader in respect, support and opportunity for veterans.
Ladies and gentlemen, Iowa is working.
Our state is open to new ideas, open to honest dialogue and open to more business. Iowa is working.
Our efforts are making a difference in the lives of everyday families as they pursue their Iowa dreams.
Our schools are getting better, our communities are coming together and our government is working. But that success tells me that we have an even greater opportunity.
An opportunity to build upon what is great about our state and our people, so that we are competitive now, and in the future.
With those significant accomplishments passed, the opportunity to do even more is at hand.
Iowa is working. The Iowa dream is here to be realized. But I believe we can – and we must – dream even bigger.
As we look to the future, our path is not dictated. We have opportunities not seen in other states or other parts of the world. To be true to our constituents, and ourselves, we must dream big.
We must dream of an Iowa that is competitive with any other place in the world. An Iowa where it is easier to build a business. To build your ideas. To support a family.
We must dream of an Iowa where a world class education is not a dream, but a reality for every Iowa child. An Iowa that embraces the simple goal that every child should be ready to compete in a 21st century marketplace.
We must dream of an Iowa that continually asks the question, how can government better serve people? An Iowa that uses technology for greater transparency and accountability for the taxpayers.
Now is not the time to shy away from the challenges and the opportunities. Now is the time to embrace them, to be bold, to move Iowa forward, to increase the competitiveness of our state and its people today and for years to come.
Iowa is working. But there is more work to be done to realize the Iowa Dream. Let’s show everyone we are up to the challenge.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the people of Iowa.