There is a saying when it comes to state legislative politics: “The governor proposes and the legislature disposes.” Given such limitations on executive power, why should we care about Governor Branstad’s “Condition of the State” speech next Tuesday?
Iowa’s rosy fiscal condition has been well documented the last few months; notably the $800 million in “surplus” or “rainy day” funds (or $1.5 billion according to the Des Moines Register). But don’t expect the governor to talk about spending widely on various programs. Rather, as Kathie Obradovich reports based on conversations with Branstad’s chief budgetary officer, David Roederer, the governor will use the speech as an opportunity to talk about giving back to Iowans (through property or income tax reductions). Indeed, Republican Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen has been quoted as saying, “We don’t have a surplus. We have overpayment by taxpayers.”
And therein is the fundamental point of contention for the 2013 legislative session.
Will Democrats be able to convince Iowans that a long-term approach (i.e. “investment”) to public policy is sensible? Or, will Republicans’ tax-cut and save approach be more appealing? Tuesday’s speech is the biggest stage either party will have to take their message to the public.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register (video is included in the link), Governor Branstad is quoted as saying his performance in office receives an “incomplete” at this point. In other words, he has and is working on several projects, but has not finished what he set out to accomplish.
With the 2014 election now just 20 months away, and more importantly, just two legislative sessions away, look for Governor Branstad to use Tuesday’s speech to put more pressure on the legislature, specifically the Iowa Senate and Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that the state of Texas is in a similar financial condition as Iowa, with excess money floating around. But the battle between Democrats and Republicans there over how to spend such money has already begun (and is probably more intense given that Texas has biennial legislative sessions; one of just four states to do so). According to the article, Texas Governor Rick Perry has taken an equally conservative approach to Governor Branstad regarding the use of excess funds in the hopes of preserving the state’s fiscal footing should he run for reelection in 2014.
As discussed many times in the last two months, Governor Branstad is still looking for that “signature policy achievement” on which to run in 2014, or on which to cement his legacy in Iowa politics (if he hasn’t already) and pave the way for his successor. Legislative victories on tax cuts and property tax reform in 2013 (and possibly education reform), and an unemployment rate below 5 percent in early 2014, would present a very formidable challenge for any Democrat seeking residence on Terrace Hill.
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