The hope that education funding might emerge as a less-controversial issue this legislative session was quickly dashed on Tuesday with Governor Terry Branstad announcing his latest plan on school funding. At a press conference at the Capitol, Branstad unveiled a new idea that would divert part of the one-cent sales tax that goes toward school infrastructure improvement to water quality projects. The proposal would extend the tax from 2029 to 2049, and use new growth in the tax for water quality instead of schools, as it originally was designed. Branstad, who called it his “biggest and boldest initiative” ever, estimated it would produce $20.7 billion in extra funds for schools by 2049, along with $4.7 billion for water quality.
Democrats and education advocates were unimpressed.
“The Governor’s proposal pits two worth-while issues against each other, which I think lacks a great deal of foresight,” Representative Chris Hall told Staring Line. “It’s silly and counter-productive.”
Many activists and leaders on the left in Iowa view Branstad’s proposal as a cynical attempt to divide progressives during the legislative session.
“I was actually hopeful after last summer’s vetoes of spending for education that the Governor had run out of ideas on how to undercut our local schools,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal said in a press conference afterward.
“I think that people who have been working on the issue closely won’t be fooled into supporting something that pits the environment against public education when they’re both very worthwhile causes,” Hall believed.
Why Branstad, who burned many bridges last year with the Legislature over his veto of school funds, is offering up this idea without first consulting lawmakers is also concerning to many.
“The Governor, more than anyone else, lacks credibility on education issues right now,” Hall said. “I think him choosing to try and present a proposal on education infrastructure is almost laughable considering the lack of interest in supporting education over the last few years … He’s been much more interested in giving taxpayer dollars away to corporations than he has in investing them into public education. As far as water quality, I would expect Republicans would like to see farmers and agriculture have some skin in the game, and the Governor’s proposal does anything but that.”
Some of the leading Iowa agricultural groups, on the other hand, was ecstatic over Branstad’s new proposal, likely seeing it as a way of addressing the water quality problem caused by agricultural run-off without actually having to pay for it themselves. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was also on hand at the Governor’s press conference to give support to Branstad.
by Pat Rynard