By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
---- — FAIRFIELD — Some questions at the town hall meeting were tougher than others.
Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke to a crowd at the Fairfield Public Library on a rainy Friday morning.
Unemployment has gone from over 6 percent to 4.9 percent and there’s been $7 billion in capital investment state government is smaller by about 900 employees, primarily through attrition. Our Legislature spends less than revenue.
“We were left with kind of a financial mess,” Branstad said, adding that Iowa has run things a lot better than neighboring Illinois.
Branstad talked about tax reform. One year at a time, he said, Iowa will reduce commercial taxes 5 percent until most Iowa taxes are equal. And since local governments may lose money on the deal, the state will make them whole “dollar for dollar.”
That even-handed approach to lowering taxes on business, he said, will help draw more economic development to the state.
He also discussed making Iowans some of the healthiest people in the nation. In a related note, he said, there needs to be an incentive to increase the number of doctors in Iowa. It’s not going to help economic development if potential business owners think there are too few doctors. Right now, Iowa is 50th out of 50 states when it comes to emergency care and OB/GYN doctors. Iowa is 48th in the nation for psychiatric care.
“We train plenty of doctors in Iowa,” he said. “They do their residency out of state — and don’t come back.”
He’s adding $2 million to the budget for medical residencies to be done in Iowa. He’s adding the same amount to assist medical school loan assistance for doctors who practice in under-served rural areas. And he wants a board to look at each malpractice suit to see if it has merit, which can help lower malpractice insurance. Other states have done so succesfully, he said.
A question-and-answer session toward the end of the meeting was more animated than the status report. One woman was concerned about how little attention the administration seems to give to the environment. Another wanted to compliment Indian Hills Community College on their job placement record for students.
Branstad agreed with a woman who said she worried that the federal government was trying to impose its will, disregarding state’s rights. He talked about the various programs the feds want “to fund at 100 percent” when they can’t get their own financial house in order. Such welfare programs would end up hurting Iowa, the governor said.
An audience member said he took issue with the governor’s criticism of entitlement programs. Some attendees said the trouble with the economy and the budget comes not from entitlement programs, but from too many tax breaks for wealthy people and companies, and too much spending on overseas military bases.
Branstad disagreed. As an incentive to bring in good paying jobs, yes, he agreed not to hit some new companies with taxes that would have taken Iowa out of the running for the expansion of those businesses. That’s because Iowa has one of the highest corporate tax structures in the nation. These are companies, said the governor, that have been forgiven “future taxes that we would not have gotten anyway” had they chosen to build elsewhere. And we still bring in millions in revenue from their presence, he added.
Branstad said some of the things the federal government is trying to push on states, like Obamacare and “other entitlement programs” are going to harm thousands of people here, including, for example, Iowans who are already happily insured by Farm Bureau.
Branstad received “support” from an Iowa landlord, who told Branstad he thought there was way too much of a free ride for people who weren’t working. Some of them were taking advantage of the system, and the hardworking people were paying for them to be lazy. He said he believed that is why his taxes are too high.
The governor told him tax reform is something the administration has made a priority.
Few in the audience disagreed with the landlord — at first. The man said taxes on his properties were higher than taxes on farmers, which made farmers very wealthy.
“There are a lot of us who are farmers here,” one audience member said, “and I’m not rich.”
Branstad had said his plan would provide more equity between all Iowa taxes.
Well, continued the landlord, farmers seem to get an unnecessarily better rate on their property tax than the taxes he has to pay. Which isn’t fair, he went on, saying farmers only spend about 40 days out of the year doing actual work, get their big financial breaks, then use their excess money to buy fancy pickup trucks and Corvettes.
Amid the groans of several audience members, a man called out to Branstad, requesting that the governor please not even respond to such comments.