Governor Lays Out Final Push Before Leaving Office; Democrats Try Twitter to Push Back

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Gov. Terry Branstad gave what is expected to be his last Condition of the State Address Tuesday morning, while a Democratic State Senator tweeted back during his speech as his party tries to build itself after a crushing loss to Republicans in last November's election.

“As I approach the U.S. Senate confirmation process my main priority is to continue serving the people of Iowa with the same energy and passion that I have brought to this office each and every day,” said Branstad.

The governor focused on a few main topics during his speech. Branstad reassured Iowans that the two-year budget is balanced and stable, and based on principles laid out by the Iowa Taxpayers Association.

He also called for replacing the current collective bargaining system for public employees and creating jobs in rural Iowa.

Branstad spoke about the record high number of traffic deaths in the state this year and ways to make our roads safer.

“I ask that all Iowans join the Iowa law-enforcement community, first responders, the League of Cities, all the major cell-phone carriers, the insurance industry, and the medical community in demanding real change in the laws for distracted and impaired drivers,” Branstad said.

The governor closed the address by thanking his wife and family for their support during his time in office.

Lieutenant Kim Reynolds defended the governor's speech that didn't include a new proposal that could serve as a signature piece of legislation to add to Branstad's legacy from his time in office.

Read the entire address, as prepared for delivery below:

Gov. Branstad’s 2017 Condition of the State Address, as prepared for
delivery, is as follows:

Madam Lieutenant Governor

Mr. President

Madam Speaker

Legislative leaders, legislators, justices and judges, elected officials,
distinguished guests, family, friends and fellow Iowans.

I’m honored and humbled to once again address a joint session of the
General Assembly delivering the Condition of the State for the final time
as your governor.

For 22 years, I have addressed this body as governor and today I want to
especially welcome the 22 new legislators with us—from both sides of the
aisle— who were elected in November.

Your constituents sent you to work hard, to work for them, and help make
Iowa a better place.

I hope you are filled with the same sense of excitement and eagerness that
I had when I first served in the Legislature in 1973.

Lt. Gov. Reynolds and I look forward to working with each of you and
listening to your ideas on how to make our state an even better place for
families to live, work and grow.

In that spirit, I am today extending an invitation to each legislator to
meet with me personally during this legislative session.

We also gather again with shared sadness, returning to do our work without
our friend, Sen. Joe Seng of Davenport.

Joe was a devout Catholic and a true statesman.

We enjoyed his contagious and positive personality and working with him.

As I look back on my years of public service, I am thankful for those
Iowans who have stepped forward to serve their fellow citizens.

In particular, please join me in applauding those Iowans who have helped
make our state and nation safer by serving in the military, law enforcement
or as first responders.

Since taking office in 2011, we have made the necessary changes to
strengthen our economy and improve the quality of life across our state.

We’ve made tough decisions to give Iowans a smaller and smarter government.

We have stayed the course with an unwavering commitment to create jobs,
increase family incomes, reduce the size of government, and give Iowa
students a globally competitive education.

We have provided significant tax relief for Iowans the past five years,
especially for commercial property taxpayers.

And last month, Lt. Gov. Reynolds and leaders from the Economic Development
Authority and Department of Transportation unveiled Iowa’s most
comprehensive Energy Plan.

The plan was developed after collaboration with the private sector, public
sector, educators, non-profits and utilities.

Iowa is already a leader in low-cost and renewable energy.

The comprehensive new energy plan will help build on our past energy
successes and reaffirms our commitment to maintaining Iowa’s energy
leadership in the future.

I’m proud that we have made government smaller and smarter.

We’ve seen unemployment in our state drop from 6.2 percent to 3.8 percent.

The state has helped attract more than 13 and a half billion in
private-sector capital investment, which has translated into great-paying
jobs across Iowa.

And more Iowans have been employed these past few years than at any other
period in our state’s history.

We have also made the tough decisions to ensure government lives within its
means like Iowa families must do.

We have accomplished this with a relentless focus on fiscal discipline,
demanding budget predictability, fully restoring Iowa’s reserve accounts
and reducing the state’s debt liability.

Together we have made progress toward our goal of restoring Iowa’s schools
to best in the nation through a series of landmark reforms and innovative
policies.

To improve Iowa’s education standing, we needed to make sure our
hardworking teachers had all the tools necessary to succeed given higher
expectations for all students.

So, we created a new Teacher Leadership System that better utilizes the
expertise of top teachers to improve education, instruction and foster
greater collaboration.

I’m proud to say that every public school in Iowa today is participating in
our Teacher Leadership System.

To ensure that our children are prepared for a 21st century economy we
advanced a nationally recognized STEM initiative that gives students the
confidence and skills for rewarding careers.

The STEM initiative is led by Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Kemin Industries
President & CEO Dr. Chris Nelson and has seen outstanding growth and
success.

Sustaining these measures over time is critical to get the right results
for our students and our state.

The ability of Iowans to overcome challenges bolsters my optimism for our
state's future.

When faced with challenges, Iowans consistently seek opportunities.

Some of the challenges we have overcome--like the Farm Crisis of the
1980s--tore at the very fabric of our communities.

In the 1980s, Bloomfield, Ia.--a community in Davis County in southeast
Iowa--struggled like many communities across the state.

An uninsured bank in Bloomfield closed in 1983 and caused great losses for
area families and businesses.

And area farmers were straddled with debt and limited market opportunities
for their crops.

However, through a persistent focus on economic diversification and an
entrepreneurial spirit to rebuild its community, Bloomfield now has new
manufacturers that are growing alongside innovative startups.

And, to continue their effort to stay on the cutting edge community leaders
are instituting aggressive strategies to become Iowa’s first energy
independent community by 2030.

I visited Bloomfield last year and was impressed with the Main Street
revitalization, a new hardware store and the M3 Fabrication manufacturing
plant.

And Woodbine, Ia., is another example of a community that took its future
into its own hands.

The community showed how an integrated approach to community revitalization
that focuses on historic preservation and community sustainability can
redefine a struggling, small rural community.

Woodbine also had a bank closure in the 1980s, but the community turned its
challenges into future growth and diversification.

Lt. Gov. Reynolds and I visited Woodbine and were impressed with the
success of their Main Street program.

And Waterloo, Ia., after experiencing economic challenges throughout the
previous three decades embraced the challenge of reshaping its industrial
heritage to succeed in modern times.

Cedar Valley Tech Works has made Waterloo a nationally recognized leader
for manufacturing innovation.

And John Deere continues to be a leading manufacturer and innovator in
Waterloo.

In the balcony, we have leaders from Bloomfield, Woodbine and Waterloo.

Please join me in congratulating their accomplishments and supporting their
future success.

Iowa’s industries are increasingly high tech, including advanced
manufacturing.

In total, Iowa has over 6,100 manufacturers that contribute more than $31
billion to Iowa’s economy and employ over 200,000 Iowans.

Over the next year, the Iowa Economic Development Authority will work with
Iowa’s manufacturers to advance a “Year of Manufacturing” in Iowa to help
grow this important part of the Iowa economy.

We should also be proud that Iowa remains an agricultural powerhouse that
feeds and fuels the world thanks to the hard work and innovation of Iowa’s
farmers and agricultural producers.

We just set an all-time record for ethanol production, set a new record for
biodiesel production by an additional 55 million gallons and lead the
nation in percentage of electricity generated by wind.

We now generate over 35 percent of our electricity from wind and expect
this number to exceed 40 percent by 2020.

Over the past 30 years, we’ve significantly added value to our agricultural
commodities.

We’ve also diversified the Iowa economy by expanding exports and supporting
growth in biofuels, wind energy, data centers, fertilizer plants,
bio-renewable chemicals, advanced manufacturing, insurance and financial
services.

These newer industries employ hundreds of thousands of Iowans in rewarding
careers.

And while I am pleased with this progress and optimistic about Iowa’s
future, I believe there is more work to be done.

We must seize the opportunities before us.

This new General Assembly brings new dynamics, new expectations and new
opportunities to deliver positive results for Iowans.

Our state is in an admirable position.

Many states are strapped with crushing debt, poor credit ratings and a
bleak economic outlook.

But Iowa is a shining example of what hard work and smart, tough choices
can do for growing businesses and nurturing families.

While the December Revenue Estimate is lower than previous projections the
estimate still shows a modest increase in state revenues.

Although we have faced a headwind out of Washington, D.C., that is stifling
our agricultural economy, we still have positive state revenue growth.

But we must proceed with caution and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

With that prudence in mind, I present my proposed adjustments to the
current fiscal year budget to you today.

These adjustments are required by law.

My proposal does not include across-the-board cuts, does not reduce funding
for K through 12 education, does not reduce property tax credits and does
not include furloughs for state employees.

The budget reductions I am recommending for this fiscal year are difficult.

But they maintain funding for our mutual priorities.

I am committed to working with legislative leaders to implement these
adjustments.

For the coming biennium, I am presenting a complete two-year budget that is
balanced each year and meets our five-year projections for a sustainable
future.

This budget is based on the principles laid out by the Iowa Taxpayers
Association.

It prioritizes education, health care, economic development and public
safety.

And it redirects family planning money to organizations that focus on
providing health care for women and eliminates taxpayer funding for
organizations that perform abortions.

On my first trip to China in 1984, I learned that the Chinese word for
danger and opportunity is one in the same.

Today, America and Iowa exist in a challenging world.

But we must seize the opportunity to make it a better place.

In 2010, Lt. Gov. Reynolds and I promised to reduce the size and scope of
government.

I’m proud to report that we have a smaller, smarter government with a
steady focus on improving services for our citizens in a more timely and
efficient manner.

Yet, while the size of government is smaller, benefits for public employees
at the state and local level have increased.

Unfortunately, the cost of these benefits has grown dramatically because of
our antiquated collective bargaining system that has led to over 500
health-care plans, many of which are inefficient and way too costly for
public employees and Iowa taxpayers.

Under our present system, a few adverse health outcomes will destroy the
budget of a city, county or school district.

By replacing this system with one comprehensive statewide health-care
contract we can spread the risk and dramatically reduce costs.

Using a uniform health-care benefit system similar to the IPERS program for
retirement we can provide quality health care at a significantly lower cost
and give local governments more flexibility to provide better wages and
meet other needs.

The statewide health-care contract also needs to reward employees who take
ownership of their own health by conducting health risk assessments and
taking actions to improve their own health.

We have made a commitment to examine every dollar of revenue and
expenditure in order to maximize efficiency and respect hardworking
taxpayers.

We are committed to a smaller, smarter government that seeks innovative
ways to provide services rather than blind adherence to the way things have
always been done.

I’m asking the General Assembly to take a comprehensive review of all of
our state’s boards and commissions to address unnecessary barriers that
prevent competition and raise costs.

I encourage you to ask the tough questions that challenge the status quo.

In Iowa, 90 percent of our general fund budget is spent on three items; K
through 12 education, Medicaid and employee wages and benefits.

The state has significantly increased funding for education since 2011,
amounting to over 654 million additional dollars.

Education and job training are the foundation for our future economic
growth.

Growing our state’s talent pipeline needs to be a top priority.

Even with our modest revenue growth my recommendation includes an increase
of $73 million for K-12 education for fiscal year 2018 and an additional
$61 million for fiscal year 2019 which equates to roughly 2 percent growth
each year.

So this year, let’s show Iowans we can make these decisions early and meet
the legal requirements of setting supplemental state aid for fiscal year
2018 and fiscal year 2019 in the first 30 days.

The second largest driver of our state budget is health and human services
spending.

Together, we have transformed our mental health system to a community-based
model, we obtained a federal waiver for our Iowa Health and Wellness Plan
which has reduced charity care for hospitals and, like 39 other states, we
have modernized our Medicaid program.

As a result, we have created a new system where more Iowans have access to
mental health services closer to home than ever before; more Iowans are
covered with health insurance than ever before; and more than 80 new
value-added services are now being offered under our modernized Medicaid
program.

We’ve also replaced the old Medicaid system with a coordinated team of
health-care professionals to ensure patients see the right provider at the
right time.

As a result of these reforms and innovation, we have improved the focus on
health outcomes and saved the taxpayers $110 million.

Our increase in education funding last year was made possible because of
our modernized Medicaid efforts.

Without these vital reforms, the budget choices before us today would be
twice as hard.

In order to grow Iowa, we must also look at policies and reforms that will
continue growing family incomes.

One way to do this is to close the skills gap which in many ways is the
biggest challenge our state faces over the next decade.

That is why Lt. Governor Reynolds and I set the Future Ready Iowa goal that
70 percent of Iowans in the workforce should have education or training
beyond high school by 2025.

Today, less than half of our workforce does.

Accomplishing this ambitious goal will create unprecedented opportunities
for Iowans and better position our state to compete in an increasingly
knowledge-based, digital economy.

That is why we established the Future Ready Iowa Alliance, co-chaired by
Lt. Governor Reynolds and Dan Houston of Principal, which will make
recommendations by Oct. 31, 2017, to assure more Iowans have the careers
they deserve and employers can hire the skilled workers they need to grow
and innovate.

Even with a tight budget, we should continue to prioritize initiatives that
will grow the state’s talent pipeline like the STEM initiative, registered
apprenticeships and work-based learning for Iowa’s students.

Please help me recognize the students here with us today from Jackson
Elementary School in Des Moines, Bondurant-Farrar Middle School and Waukee
High School, which has one of the premier work-based learning programs in
our state.

The students in the gallery represent children across Iowa who are counting
on all of us to modernize schools for the 21st century.

That’s why Lt. Governor Reynolds and I are launching a comprehensive
computer science initiative.

We are encouraging every high school to offer at least one high-quality
computer science course, every middle school to provide exploratory
computer science, and every elementary school to include an introduction to
computer science.

All students need to learn how computers operate because it is fundamental
to life and work today.

Computer science will provide students a chance to join one of the
fastest-growing and best-paying fields.

No student should miss out on this opportunity because of where they live.

This is another step to better align education and training with essential
workforce needs.

We all care deeply for the safety of our families, our friends, and our
neighbors.

However, a troubling trend has begun to emerge that threatens Iowans’
safety on our roads.

Traffic deaths went from 315 in 2015 to 400 in 2016.

This is unacceptable.

Earlier this year, I called on the Department of Public Safety and the
Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau to lead a working group to study this
disturbing trend.

The group, with the support of key stakeholders, including law enforcement,
made recommendations worth your consideration.

I am asking you to take a hard look at these recommendations and evaluate
which can be put into law to make our roads safer.

Unfortunately, too many innocent bicyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and
passengers have lost their lives on our roads.

Last year, I received a handwritten note from Christine and Darrel Harken,
parents of Grace Harken, who live near Riceville.

They wrote “our daughter Gracie’s life was so sadly ended July 29, 2015, by
someone who was driving and texting.”

Grace was biking safely and lawfully during a morning bike ride, when a
driver who was texting struck and killed her.

They went on to write, “Grace would have forgiven the driver and moved
forward.

“That is what we have chosen to do. But we miss her so.”

Grace Harken’s life was tragically ended way too early.

Modern technologies should come with new responsibilities.

I ask that all Iowans join the Iowa law-enforcement community, first
responders, the League of Cities, all the major cell-phone carriers, the
insurance industry, and the medical community in demanding real change in
the laws for distracted and impaired drivers.

Last year, I called on the Legislature to send me a water-quality
improvement bill.

I was pleased to see bipartisan progress made on this front with the House
passing House File 2541 last session.

This bill was approved by the Agriculture, Ways and Means and
Appropriations Committees and passed the House with 65 votes.

This bill provided for a long-term, dedicated and growing source of revenue
to help implement projects to improve habitat and water quality directed by
the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy.

The bill also provided funding for community conservation practices and
improvements to wastewater and drinking water facilities.

By leading on this issue, together we have the opportunity to modernize
Iowa’s agricultural infrastructure, create jobs in rural Iowa and promote
collaboration between urban and rural communities.

I believe our discussions should begin with the House-passed bill from last
session.

I hope we can work together to perfect and improve the legislation that
will provide a long-term, dedicated and growing source of revenue for
water-quality improvements.

I’ve been so blessed to serve as your governor, leading the state I love,
for 22 years.

I am confident Iowa will continue to move forward because Iowans care
deeply about their neighbors, their communities and creating an even better
future.

And I’m extremely thankful for perhaps the most patient person in the state
-- my wife, Chris -- as she has also served Iowa as first lady with grace.

She has welcomed Iowans and visitors from around the world to Terrace Hill
and she has volunteered to help in many ways, including reading with
Jackson Elementary students.