Borg: When final decisions are pending, the item is often marked TBD, to be determined. The Iowa legislature's final compromises are now on Governor Terry Branstad's desk, TBD, uncertain what the Governor signs into law and what is vetoed. And that includes high profile uncertainties, funding for the state universities and K-12 public schools, one-time funding the Governor has already said he doesn't really like. Another hot button legislation retaining, at least temporarily, the mental health institutes at Mount Pleasant and Clarinda. Decision deadline just after the 4th of July. Governor Branstad, it's good to have you back at the Iowa Press table.

Governor Branstad: Thank you, Dean, great to be with you.

Borg: And as I say that, legislation, I picture in my mind a whole stack of legislation passed by the Iowa legislature. Does it kind of feel to you that it's kind of like finals when you were in college?

Governor Branstad: Well, it's important decision-making time and fortunately I've got a lot of really capable people on my staff that are helping me and we are analyzing and going through all these bills item by item to make our final determination and we're doing that in light of the financial circumstances facing the state. We're facing this bird flu situation, farm income projected to be down 32% this year and I'm also told that some of the indicators, I guess you might say, leading indicators as far as the economy are not looking really good right now. So, all of those are considerations. We want to make sure we maintain stability and predictability and I don't want to fall back into what the previous administration did, massive across-the-board cuts, which can be so disruptive to education and government services.

Borg: Well, we've got questions on all those things. And the people who will be asking the questions are across the table, Des Moines Register Political Columnist Kathie Obradovich and Radio Iowa's News Director Kay Henderson.

Henderson: Governor, the big news nationally this week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states. Many of your republican colleagues have said that ruling is flawed. Do you agree?

Governor Branstad: Well, I'm disappointed with the court's decision. This, of course, happened in the state of Iowa in 2009. I just think the people should have had an opportunity to vote on this instead of what the court did. But it is the law and unfortunately this is the decision they have made.

Henderson: Rick Santorum campaigning in Iowa this past week has said there should be an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Do you agree?

Governor Branstad: Yes, but I'm also familiar with how difficult it is to amend the United States Constitution. It takes a vote of two-thirds of both houses of Congress ratified by three-fourths of the states. So the chances of getting that are not very good.

Obradovich: Governor, there's not even a majority of voters in Iowa who would agree to amend the Constitution here to change the issue of marriage. Is this issue running its course? Is it smart for republicans to continue to push on this issue going forward? Or is it time to change the conversation?

Governor Branstad: Well, there's a lot of other important issues facing the country. We just had a tragic terrorist action recently now just in France at an American-owned company where somebody was beheaded. We're having more and more acts of terrorism in the world. We have ISIS on the move, we've got the situation with Iran and what they're doing in many countries as well as Russia. So I think we've got to be concerned about safety of our citizens as well as what is going on in the world and this national debt, getting the American economy going again and we've got a lot of challenges.

Borg: Are you saying, Governor, leave the same-sex marriage and Obamacare behind because we have more important issues?

Governor Branstad: Well, I'm saying, and I think you know what I have focused on as Governor, has been revitalizing the economy, bringing more good jobs, improving education, reducing the size and cost of government. Those are the priorities. But I think you can't ignore these other things as well. I think Obamacare is unsustainable, unaffordable and it's going to have to change in the future and I think despite the court decision it's not going to be able to stand the test of time just because it's not affordable, it's not sustainable.

Obradovich: The Obamacare ruling, of course, was to allow people who had subsidies through the state to keep them. The state of Iowa did not set up a state exchange, we're on the federal exchange. Was that a mistake looking back?

Governor Branstad: The states that did that made the big mistake. Maryland, it cost the Governor his job because they spent over $100 million on something that didn't work. And this happened in many other states. We didn't make that mistake. We instead embarked on our own approach. We had to get a waiver from HHS to do it called the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan and that has worked quite well. So I think we took the right action. Plus we're focusing on people taking ownership of their own health. We set the goal we want to become the healthiest state and we think there's got to be accountability and people need to take action on their own to try to reduce their own risk factors.

Obradovich: Are you satisfied that if Obamacare is here to stay that the state of Iowa has everything in place right now to work with it, to make it work for Iowa? Or are there other things now that need to be done?

Governor Branstad: Well, there's a lot of problems with it. We did get an extension so people could keep their insurance, say with Farm Bureau, and we have been able to get that done for two years. Whether we're going to be able to keep doing that or not, that's a question. There's a lot of other questions. We were able to get people to be able to have their dental insurance through Delta Dental.

Obradovich: Are you operating though as if Obamacare is going to go away at some point? Or are you operating as if, okay, it's here and we're going to have to just make it work for Iowans?

Governor Branstad: We're trying to make the best of a bad situation. We're trying to do the best job we can to restore stability and predictability and to try to control the costs and get people to take ownership of their own health. We can't control what is going on at the national level but we certainly want to do everything we can to try to protect Iowans and to make sure that people are doing what they can for themselves to protect their health and to try to control health care costs.

Henderson: One of the major accomplishments of the 2015 legislative session was passage of a 10 cent increase in the state fuel tax. Did you help or hurt things right afterward when you said let's complete Highway 20? Because the argument for passing it had been the money is needed to fix crumbling roads and deteriorating bridges.

Governor Branstad: Well, first of all, we're doing all of that. We're moving up projects to deal with roads and bridges in cities and counties across the state, as is the DOT. But Highway 20, for 30 years they have been promised to get that done and finally it's going to get accomplished now. That is a very important project for economic development in northwest Iowa, for safety on our Interstates. It will reduce the truck traffic on 29 and 80 as well as obviously completing 20 by the year 2018 I think is important. I would also point out the Patel 2.0 study indicated that for Iowa to continue to grow our economy and bring good jobs, we need to focus on infrastructure. That includes roads and bridges and high speed Internet. Fortunately, we took action on all of those infrastructure issues this year. So one of the big accomplishments of the 2015 session was addressing the infrastructure issues and being able to move up the project to repair and improve the roads and bridges as well as complete Highway 20 and other needed projects.

Henderson: What do you say to your fellow republicans who say raising taxes is never the right answer?

Governor Branstad: Well, this is a user fee where the people that are getting the benefit of the roads are paying for it, including the out-of-staters that are driving on our roads and bridges. During the previous administration, they raised the fees that people have to pay on their cars and trucks. That is paid only by Iowans. I think Iowans prefer the users that get the benefit of our roads, including those that come through the state, also pay part of the cost.

Obradovich: Governor, you were unhappy at the end of the legislative session about the legislature's approval of a bunch of one-time money for education, it was something like $56 million or something like that. That bill is still on your desk. What are you going to do about it?

Governor Branstad: Well, let me point out one of the reasons I came back and ran for Governor is the previous Governor and democratic legislature had used all kinds of one-time money for ongoing expenses. And then, of course, we ran out of money and they did a massive across-the-board cut and I came in with a $500 million hole in the budget because they had used one-time money for Medicaid. And so the first thing we had to do is eliminate those bad budgeting practices and restore stability and predictability. That is why we put together a two0year budget and five-year projections. I don't want to fall back into those bad budgeting practices. I don't want to revisit the mistakes of the past and have massive across-the-board cuts.

Obradovich: That sounds like you're going to veto it. It sounds like a preview of a veto message actually.

Governor Branstad: Well, I guess I want people to know this is my philosophy, this is why I came back and why I ran for Governor. I'm in the process of reviewing and scrutinizing each and every appropriation bill and all the items in it and we'll be announcing our decisions on that in the days ahead.

Borg: If you do veto that, that means that the money is gone, whatever money is there, yes it's one-time money, but it's gone so you're going to have to call a special session.

Governor Branstad: No, no, no. We don't have to call a special session because, first of all, one-time money should only be used for one-time purposes. If you put one-time money into things like salaries at the colleges or universities or K-12, what happens the next year when you don't have that one-time money because it is one-time money, it doesn't come back? That's bad budgeting practices.

Obradovich: But you agreed to it in 2013, right? You assigned some one-time money for education in 2013, did you not?

Governor Branstad: Well, now that was in I think the 2011-2012 bill and it was because the second year had funding, permanent funding, so school districts knew what was going to be one-time and what was going to reoccur because what they're going to get in the second year. What this legislature failed to do, and I think is a huge mistake, they failed to comply with the law, they failed to approve my recommendations for funding for the second year, for fiscal year 2016-2017 and that is going to give schools the same kind of uncertainty they went through this year. We don't need to have a fight over school funding every year. That is a huge mistake.

Obradovich: That sounds to me like schools now are going to be getting even less than what you recommended on the bottom line and that they're the ones who are going to have to live with that.

Governor Branstad: Well, there's two proposals here. There is one of permanent funding for the first year at the level I recommended and then there is one time in the separate bill. So those are two separate decisions.


Borg: But, as Kathie says, if you veto that one-time money that you have already said now you don't like, then they aren't going to get that one-time money and so they are going to be, as Kathie insinuates, they're even shorter than they are now.

Governor Branstad: Well, the problem with using one-time money is it creates a big problem the next year when you don't have it. And we don't know what's going to happen next year. The legislature didn't approve the second year's funding for K-12 education as I recommended -

Henderson: Are you going to call them back in special session and tell them to do it this fall rather than wait until next year? You said we shouldn't have this fight next year. Should we have it this year?

Governor Branstad: Well, there's no reason to call them back unless we have an agreement between the House and the Senate leaders that they're going to permit, that they're going to approve a level of funding for fiscal year 2016-2017. So I'm open to that if the leaders can reach an agreement on that issue. But that is pretty difficult considering they weren't able to reach an agreement on it this year.

Borg: And you have already said that very contentious compromise there. And part of the compromise worked out, shoved to the side one proposal that would have changed collective bargaining laws concerning arbitration. And right now school districts are saying the tables are tipped against us in favor of union negotiators because arbitrators have only two choices, the employer's offer or the employee's offer, the union offer and they can pick one or the other. The arbitrator's often pick because the school districts have the taxing authority to go ahead and tax to meet the higher union offer. Are you in favor of modifying Iowa's collective bargaining laws as it relates to arbitration to give the arbitrator more flexibility?

Governor Branstad: Well, it's not realistic with a democratic Senate that that's going to happen. So I believe in focusing on things that I think have a realistic chance of getting approved.

Obradovich: Ideally though would you --

Governor Branstad: Well, I know House republicans prefer to go that direction. But my feeling is as Governor I try to focus on things that I think can be accomplished and I have a split legislature so I know what is a non-starter with the democrats in the Senate and consequently it doesn't make any sense to tilt windmills.

Obradovich: Speaking of bipartisan action, the legislature did decide at the end of the session to give more time before the mental health institutes at Clarinda and Mount Pleasant would be closed. You had said at the beginning of the legislative session that it was your intent to close those. But pink slips have gone out, layoff notices have already gone out earlier this month. Was that your answer as far as keeping those institutions open temporarily?

Governor Branstad: Well, we're continuing to scrutinize all of those bills and we haven’t made final decisions. But I would point out Iowa was late to get serious about redesigning our mental health system. Other states like Minnesota went from 11 institutions to 1. They have done that, Wisconsin has reduced the number of institutions, so has Nebraska and Illinois, most of our neighboring states. We passed this mental health redesign in 2012. We're in the process and now we have brought all these counties together into regional systems and  developing a whole new way to deliver mental health on a community based basis, closer to home, I think better designed to meet their needs, instead of in these giant institutions that used to warehouse thousands of people. That's not the way to deliver mental health today. And you don't have a psychiatrist on the staff, they're not accredited. So we really look at a new system and I don’t want to go backwards, I want to continue to move forward with the redesign of mental health.

Borg: That sounds to me then like you are not going to allow and sign into law the temporary reprieve for Mount Pleasant and Clarinda.

Governor Branstad: Well, we haven't made a final decision but I have shared my philosophy and my goals to have a better system that better meets the mental health needs of Iowans and I believe the direction we're going with redesign makes more sense.

Henderson: Without legislative input you closed Workforce Development offices around the state, you closed the juvenile home, you made it clear -- at Toledo -- you made it clear that you are going to close these two institutions in southern Iowa. What is the next state institution that you have set your sights on to close?

Governor Branstad: Well, first of all, the people of Iowa elected me to come back and get the state's financial house in order and reduce the overblown size of government and modernize and make it more efficient and provide better, more efficient, more accountable services to the people of Iowa. I'm the Chief Executive of the state.

Borg: Governor, with that philosophy, Kay is asking, what's next?

Governor Branstad: Well, we haven't laid out the agenda for next year because I haven't even completed action on the bills that were passed this year. I will tell you there are things that didn't get done, such as the anti-bullying legislation. We're going to be back pushing to have an effective way to deal with cyberbullying and things like that, that are occurring in our state. We're going to be continuing to look at how we grow more good jobs in Iowa, how we become a healthier state, how we continue to make education better and more accountable and reward teachers that take on more responsibility.

Borg: But she's asking about state institutions. Are there other state institutions, such as the Soldier's Home at Marshalltown, might that also be --

Governor Branstad: No, let me just say about the veteran's home in Marshalltown, it's one of the best and one of the biggest in the country and I think Jodi Tymeson is the commandant, first woman commandant, by the way, has done a phenomenal job. So I'm very supportive of that. We also get substantial federal dollars for that. We made significant improvements there and we have no intentions of closing that. And I do think from time to time it is appropriate to look at all of the functions of state government and all of the institutions and some of these are over 100 years old, they're very expensive and outdated and it's appropriate to review those. But we don't have any list at this time of things that we're intending to do next year. I want to complete the work this year and then we'll look to the future. There are many things that I want to accomplish. I've got a lot of energy and a lot of interest in doing things to make Iowa a growing, prosperous, efficient state.

Obradovich: You partially answered my question about cyberbullying just now, whether they have shut you down, the legislature has refused to pass it three times. You say you're going to go for a fourth. What will make it different? And how can you present this issue differently so that legislators -- this is a divided legislature, as you said -- that will make them want to listen to you on bullying?

Governor Branstad: Well, I'm really proud of the fact that we got 43 votes in the Senate, strong bipartisan majority. What is even more exciting is the amount of students that are getting involved and the action they're taking to stand up to bullies and to teach their colleagues what they can do. We're also seeing more parents and teachers and school administrators get actively involved. There is broad-based public support to take further action, to give school more tools to deal with cyberbullying and things like this. The Lieutenant Governor and I and my wife Chris, we consider this a cause that we want to do everything we can so that all kids will feel safe and secure in their schools and not fear going to school because of being taunted by a bully.

Henderson: Governor, you said this two weeks ago that you were going to call Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, and complain about the way they were deciding who should and shouldn't participate in the GOP candidate debates. Did you have that conversation?

Governor Branstad: I haven't had a chance to talk to either Roger Ailes or with Reince Priebus, the republican's national chairman, yet. But I think that we should not be deciding who gets to participate in a debate based on the polls at a particular point in time. I think every candidate, every candidate that has announced, that is an official candidate, should be able to participate. If they have to have two panels, fine. But it looks like we're going to have 15, 16 candidates. So if you have two panels of 8, I think let the voters, let the people of America decide rather than have some political poll make the decision. That's not fair and it gives the advantage to the people with the most money.

Obradovich: Do you think that could hurt the caucuses if in fact candidates have an incentive to try to get their national poll numbers up as opposed to just campaigning in Iowa?

Governor Branstad: Absolutely and that's one of the reasons why I feel strongly about this because I think instead of focusing on meeting with real voters and answering their questions and going to all 99 counties, if all they're doing is focusing on trying to get on national television and increase their poll numbers, that's not the way we ought to be running elections in this country.

Obradovich: That's a TV advertising campaign.

Governor Branstad: That's right and that's the reason why it's so important to keep Iowa and New Hampshire first so that real people that meet the candidates have an important voice in who is launched and gets off to a good start in the presidential nominating process.

Henderson: People who try to listen to you and hear signals heard you talking about drafting your agenda for next year. So once you have achieved the goal of being the nation's longest serving Governor in December, you're going to stick around and serve out the remainder of your term?

Governor Branstad: Absolutely. I love this job and I love this state and I'm not done yet. I have a lot more I want to do.

Henderson: Running again? Run again for another term? That would really make you the longest serving Governor ever.

Governor Branstad: You know, I followed a very successful, long-term Governor, Robert D. Ray and he didn't make his decision not to run again until February of the election year. I don't intend to make my decision until the election year of 2018. I am less than six months into a four-year term as Governor and I want to accomplish as much as I can, I want to move this state forward, I want to grow good jobs, improve education, reduce the size and cost of government, all those things that I ran on and promised the people of Iowa that I'd work on and I’m' going to work hard for those goals every day.

Obradovich: But, Governor, campaigns are a lot longer than they were back when Governor Ray was running. Aren't you risking leaving your party perhaps in an awkward position if you wait until election year and then say, you know what, I'm not going to run so you guys figure it out?

Governor Branstad: It worked for Bob Ray. I got elected Governor and, listen, I've got a great Lieutenant Governor, she's a good partner with me. If I choose not to run I think she is fully ready and prepared to do the job, probably better prepared than anybody else has ever been because we're partners and she has been in on all the decision making, she's part of the executive branch of government, unlike when I was Lieutenant Governor, I was a legislative leader, President of the Senate, so although I was Bob Ray's Lieutenant Governor I wasn't in the same position that Kim Reynolds is today as being a partner in the Governor's Office.

Obradovich: Last week on this program, UNI President Bill Ruud said that his institution would face budget problems this fall if you item veto the extra money for his institution and there's also some consideration that maybe the tuition freeze that had been promised to college students at the three state institutions will not come to fruition in the spring. Are you signaling to parents that they may have to dig a little deeper in their pocketbooks to put their kids through college?

Governor Branstad: Well, I'm certainly not going to do like Vilsack did, increase tuition 17% and 18%. We've had two years in a row of no increase in tuition for Iowa students.

Henderson: Are you going to have a fall third?

Governor Branstad: Well, I hope so. But let me say that I'm still in the process of reviewing the budget. I do support the idea of the additional $5 million going into the base budget of the University of Northern Iowa. They have not been treated fairly by the Regents' funding formula for the last several decades so that is something that needs to be corrected and I do support that. The one-time money is a different issue and I'm going to review that, of course, as a separate matter. But the one-time money should not be used for salaries and ongoing expenses anyway.

Borg: Governor, as I introduce this program I use those initials, TBD, and I was talking about legislation but now I see it applies also to whether or not you might run again. TBD. And so I think we're going to keep that, as we close this program, we're going to keep that chair open I guess.

Governor Branstad: Well, first of all, it is an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Iowa. I love this state and I get up every day invigorated trying to see what more I can do. Yesterday I had the honor of going down, representing agriculture and fighting for the Renewable Fuel Standard in Kansas City, along with the Governor of Missouri, Governor Nixon.

Borg: We're out of time.

Governor Branstad: That's too bad.

Borg: Thank you very much.

Governor Branstad: Thank you, Dean.

Borg: Next week on Iowa Press, Second District Congressman Dave Loebsack. A conversation with Congressman Loebsack, usual times, 7:30 Friday night and noon on Sunday. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today. 

More from this show

Iowa Bankers Association
Associated General Contractors of Iowa