WAVERLY -- Republican Gov. Terry Branstad offered a few hints to his 2017 legislative priorities during a meeting with Waverly business and community leaders Wednesday.
But it first came with a warning.
“Honestly, it’s going to be a real tight budget year; in fact, it’s so tight that we’re going to have to do some deappropriation for this fiscal year that we’re in that ends June 30,” Branstad said to the more than a dozen leaders gathered in Waverly.
Branstad shared his thoughts on state priorities ranging from school funding to public union negotiations to a minimum wage hike to health care during his nearly hour-long meeting.
Branstad has been tapped by Republican President-elect Donald Trump to be ambassador to China, but he gave no signs of slowing down on his state duties as he gears up for the legislative session -- with total Republican control -- that begins in January.
“I want to put together an agenda that is ambitious but is also doable,” Branstad said.
While Branstad still has to be confirmed by a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, his appointment earned mentions and congratulations throughout the meeting.
Branstad also stressed his working relationship with Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and expressed confidence there would be a smooth transition after he would be appointed ambassador.
“I will not resign unless and until I get confirmed,” Branstad said, adding, “Because we’ve been partners along the way and she’s been in all the decision-making, I think it’ll be a very smooth transition, and she’s already indicated she wants to basically maintain the department heads and staff that we have in place.”
He added, “She knows all aspects of the job.”
Looking ahead to 2017 priorities, Branstad told Ed Klamfoth, superintendent of Waverly-Shell Rock Schools, his plans for the inflationary spending growth in education, known as supplemental state aid.
“(It) is my hope that I can recommend supplemental state aid of 2 percent. I don’t think it’ll be higher than that; I think it’ll be hard to get to that; and we’ll have to cut a lot of other things to get there,” Branstad said. “I intend to recommend a biannual budget with supplemental state aid for both years at 2 percent, and ask the Legislature to do it within the first 30 days.”
Klamfoth said it would be beneficial to set the figures in a timely manner.
Branstad also made clear that any funding decreases that will be made this fiscal year would not cut from education or Medicaid dollars.
The superintendent also asked about potential changes to the collective bargaining laws, as negotiations have just begun for the public employees unions.
Branstad suggested his support for removing health care from negotiations with the unions so that there would be “one uniform statewide plan,” which he estimated would result in a cost savings for the state.
“Obviously it’s controversial, and it’s somewhat complicated, but I think it could make a real difference,” Branstad said. “Generally, what I’m thinking, is everybody needs to have some skin in the game.”
Branstad and some business owners signaled an interest in raising the state minimum wage. Their interest stemmed in particular from the counties that have raised their minimum wage, while cities within those counties have opted out.
Branstad did not express any preferred rate, but he suggested possibly having a different “youth wage” than minimum wage.
He acknowledged it may not be easy to pass and would be another “controversial” effort, but he said he’s willing to look into it.
“It’s one thing for me to recommend it, but you’ve got to get it through two houses of the Legislature,” Branstad said. “I want to work with them.”
Jim Atty, chief executive officer of Waverly Health Center, asked Branstad how hospitals can work with the administration to improve health care, and particularly the Medicaid modernization plan implemented this past spring.
While Branstad was defensive about the Medicaid privatization and how it has been received by the Iowa Hospital Association, among others, Atty signaled a willingness to work with the state but looked for guidance on how to make progress.
“We all want the same thing. We’re going to be able to do it better if we’re sitting at the same table,” Atty said after the meeting.
Branstad referred Atty to his staff for any particular problems and reiterated his goal to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation.