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Iowa Politics Roundup: Branstad Sworn in as Governor, Calls for Less Government and Taxes PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 14 January 2011 15:52

Republican Terry Branstad was sworn into office as Iowa’s 41st governor Friday and used his inaugural address to issue calls for service, less government, more integrity and transparency, a reduced and simplified tax system, and a renewed commitment to education.

“It is time for a new covenant between Iowans and their government,” Branstad said. “It is a covenant that is founded upon principles of limited government, service above self, transparency and integrity, world-class schools, and celebrating the success of Iowans. These are the principles that will guide my days as your governor.”

Branstad, a Boone Republican who previously served four terms as governor from 1983 to 1999, returned to office with a swearing-in ceremony at Hy-Vee Hall in Des Moines decorated simply with a large American flag and set up for 2,000 people, although several hundred seats were empty.

The day marked Iowa Republicans’ return to power. Democrats have held the governor’s office for the past 12 years. Tom Vilsack of Mount Pleasant served for two terms, while Chet Culver of Des Moines served for one.

“We must be rid of the yoke of government which taxes us too much, spends too much, and regulates us too much,” Branstad said. “Government must, as Abraham Lincoln once said, do only that which the people cannot do for themselves. That is new-covenant principle number one: We have too much government – state, county, city, school, local – and it must be reduced.”

Branstad campaigned on reducing government by 15 percent – a proposal that drew criticism from Democrats for being short on details. In his speech, Branstad renewed that call for cuts.

“Our auditor tells us that at least 15 percent must be permanently eliminated from government to make our books balance once and for all,” he said. “And I aim to make sure we do it and do it now. We will all share in the sacrifice, while protecting those who need our help. But we will remove the lead boots of excess government from our economy. And without that burden, we will be able to run like the wind in the race to prosperity.”

Branstad also talked about the need for tax reform.

“Our tax system, whether it be property or income taxes, punishes those who create the jobs we need,” he said. “That will change. Both will be reduced and simplified. The job creators will be rewarded; they are welcome here, and it is about time our tax system reflects that fact.”

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, an Osceola Republican and former state senator, also took the oath of office. Her speech followed Branstad’s themes: “Together, we will redefine the role and structure of government – a limited, transparent, smaller government, which focuses on essential services, infrastructure, safety, and quality education. A partner rather than an obstacle in reaching our goals. My focus will be on creating an environment where business owners choose to invest in our workforce and our communities, where good jobs can be found all across Iowa.”

Culver Touts Progress with Programs Targeted for Elimination

In his final Condition of the State address, Governor Culver touted progress that his administration has made over the past four years, especially with several programs now on the chopping block in the new Republican administration: the Iowa Power Fund and state-funded preschool.

“We now generate 20 percent of our power from renewable sources, up from just 5 percent four years ago,” Culver said on Tuesday. “One of the tools we used to accomplish this goal is the Iowa Power Fund. It has allowed Iowa to become the ‘Silicon Prairie’ of the Midwest.”

The Iowa Power Fund is one of the programs that would be eliminated under a bill proposed by House Republicans that would cut $500 million over three years.

Culver also said Iowa is leading the nation in expanding access to preschool. “During the last three years alone, 23,000 additional children have been enrolled in early-childhood-education programs,” he said. “As a result, 90 percent of four-year-olds now have the opportunity to attend a quality preschool program, up from just 5 percent a few years ago.”

Republicans did not applaud when Culver talked about preschool. Iowa’s state-funded voluntary-preschool program is also on the chopping block under the new Republican leadership. The program would be eliminated in House Study Bill 1. House Appropriations Chair Scott Raecker (R-Urbandale) on Monday said the state simply can’t afford to send all four-year-olds to school. Branstad also advocated for its elimination during the 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen (R-Hiawatha) said Republicans do not plan to change their minds about state programs advocated by Culver that are now targeted for elimination. “Many of those decisions and things he highlighted, many of them are decisions that were made long ago,” Paulsen said. “There are things we campaigned on. There are promises we made to Iowans.”

The House speaker called the speech a good closing note for Culver: “He came in, he delivered a very serious, thoughtful speech; I thought he delivered it well.”

But Paulsen said much still needs to be done, including finding jobs for the 110,000 unemployed, improving the economy, and getting the state budget under control.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) indicated that Democrats would work to protect some of Culver’s landmark programs targeted in the $500 million in budget cuts proposed by House Republicans. He specifically noted the importance of renewable energy and access to early-childhood education.

“We will certainly look at those proposals; we will try and protect the ones that we think are the most important,” Gronstal said. “We recognize that there’s a new majority in the House and a Republican in the governor’s office. And we’ll have to work with them so we’re pragmatists about that. But walking away from the effort to make Iowa energy-independent we think would be foolish. That sounds like the course the Republicans want to pursue, so obviously we’ll put up some fight on that.”