DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — After reaching bipartisan agreements on several major policy initiatives last year, Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday that he is setting more modest expectations for the 2014 legislative session.
Speaking at The Associated Press' annual legislative seminar, Branstad said he will unveil proposals next week dealing with bullying, Internet access and support for veterans. Those items will be released along with his budget plan.
"We intend to have a very focused session," Branstad said.
Last year Branstad and lawmakers in the Republican-majority state House and Democratic-controlled state Senate approved a property tax cut, new education spending and an expansion of low-income health care. Branstad and legislative leaders cautioned that they were not expecting the same kind of results this year.
"It's not going to be quite as dramatic as the last session," said Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, of Hiawatha.
Because this an election year for many lawmakers, some likely will want to conclude work quickly and get on the campaign trail. Branstad also is expected to run for re-election, though he has not announced his plans.
Legislative leaders cited a few areas of interest. Democrats said they will be looking at ways to increase the minimum wage, while Republicans said seeking continued tax cuts will be a priority. Issues that remain up in the air include how to dedicate more resources for Iowa's crumbling roads and bridges. It also is not clear if lawmakers will set schools funding for the 2015-16 school year during this session, as dictated by state law.
Iowa continues to enjoy a strong budget position and officials expect to end the fiscal year in June with a surplus of nearly $900 million. But Branstad cautioned that those dollars are needed to pay for the education spending approved last year and to make up some of the tax revenues local government will lose due to the commercial property tax cut.
"It's a good reason why not to go on a spending spree and it also cautions people about what is affordable in terms of reducing taxes," Branstad said.
Branstad also expressed concern about the economic impact of a recent proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the amount of ethanol that must be blended with gasoline in 2014.
Iowa is the nation's leading producer of ethanol, a fuel additive primarily made from corn that produces lower carbon emissions than gasoline. The EPA in November proposed reducing by nearly 3 billion gallons the amount of biofuels required to be blended into gasoline in 2014, prompting outcry by political leaders from both parties who claimed such a move would devastate Iowa's economy.
"We want to make it clear to anybody that's looking at national office that this is an issue Iowans care deeply about and this is an issue that could take the Midwest from leading the nation's recovery into a tailspin," Branstad said.