- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Gov. Terry Branstad said Tuesday that he plans to spend this year working to improve Iowa’s roads and Internet infrastructure and to combat school bullying, among other things.

Branstad told the General Assembly during his 2015 Condition of the State speech that it is time to find a bipartisan solution that will increase funding for the state’s bridges and roads, many of which are in disrepair.

“Without action, Iowa’s roads and bridges face an uncertain future. Our farmers will find it more difficult in delivering commodities to market,” said Branstad, who called on lawmakers to help him craft a bipartisan approach to funding the repairs instead of laying out a plan of his own.

Branstad, a Republican who will be sworn in for his sixth term as governor on Friday, has proposed a slightly larger general fund budget for the next fiscal year, of $7.3 billion.

He said he will seek the approval of two initiatives that failed last year - an expansion of broadband Internet and an effort to crack down on bullying. His proposals this year include a grant fund for Internet investments and an anti-bullying plan that provides students and schools with more discretion over parental notification.

“Together we can make 2015 the year Iowa acted to protect our children and grandchildren by ending bullying in schools,” Branstad said.

The budget plan also includes funding to support a tuition freeze at state universities and some additional funding for schools. Branstad also proposed more investment in parks and cultural initiatives and said he will offer legislation to crack down on domestic violence through increased penalties for repeat offenders.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state House and Democratic-controlled Senate must now review the budget plan. Democrats are seeking an investment in K-12 education and many want more funding than the roughly $100 million in new funding that Branstad has proposed, some of which would go to a teacher training effort. Republicans have expressed an interest in cutting state income taxes, which Branstad has not cited as a top priority.

Democratic Senate President Pam Jochum, of Dubuque, said she was pleased by the priorities Branstad laid out, but said Democrats would like to see more money for schools.

“We really believe that is the pathway to our future,” Jochum said.

Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, of Hiawatha, said GOP members may still pursue income tax reform, even though the issue was absent from Branstad’s speech.

“Obviously finding a way for Iowans to leave more of their own money in their pockets is a priority of House Republicans,” he said. “I expect to work on that.”

Branstad said there was little money for new programs. The budget plan includes funding to continue paying for a property tax cut and education overhaul approved two years ago.

“Our state budget is tight, that is no secret. Iowans rightly expect predictability and stability in state government. They also rightly expect our state budget to reflect their priorities,” Branstad said.

Branstad’s budget director, David Roederer, told reporters before the speech that the state must be cautious with the spending plan, citing falling corn and soybean prices paid to farmers as one area of concern.


Associated Press writer Barbara Rodriguez contributed to this report.


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