BETTENDORF -- Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said Iowa is in the best financial position in its history during a State of the State address on Wednesday in Bettendorf.
About 300 people attended the Quad Cities Chamber Morning Network event at the Waterfront Convention Center where Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds spoke.
Gov. Branstad outlined the state's recent achievements and his planned emphasis this next year on property tax relief, education and Iowa's quality of life.He saidIowa's balanced budget is built on principals of stability and predictability, and was achieved by restoring proper budget practices and strict financial discipline.
"We insisted on a two-year budget and measured all tax and spending decisions to the lens of five-year budget projections," he said. "As a result of the tough choices we made, Iowa is currently in the best financial position in the state's long and prosperous history.
"That is quite a contrast to our neighbors to the east and neighbors to the north, and a lot of other states in this country," he said.
The state redesigned its economic development efforts and, as a result, landed the two biggest projects in Iowa's history: a $1.4 billion fertilizer plant in Lee County and a $1.7 billion fertilizer plant in Woodbury County, Gov. Branstad said.
The two projects will generate thousands of construction jobs, hundreds of permanent jobs and reduce the cost of nitrogen fertilizer for Iowa farmers, he said, adding the savings they realize can be invested in other ways.
Gov. Branstad said, in the past 24 months, Iowa has had $5.3 billion in new capital investments, and he will ask for a significant increase in economic development incentives. "These investments translate into jobs for thousands of Iowans and higher incomes for many Iowa families."
He said the state's unemployment rate was more than 6 percent when he took office, but now is 4.9 percent, and family income in Iowa has increased at the highest rate in the nation, nearly 7 percent.
"We want to build on these successes for the future," Gov. Branstad said. He said his plan of action for moving ahead is focused on three goals:
-- Job creation and expanding opportunities for Iowa families by reducing the tax burden
-- Improving educational opportunities for all children in the state
-- Improving the health of all Iowa residents.
He proposed using part of a budget surplus to reform the property tax system to make it more competitive.
"We plan to provide $400 million in actual property tax relief to Iowa's hard working taxpayers," Gov. Branstad said.
The property tax relief would encompass all classes of property and be permanent. It would reduce commercial and industrial property tax values by 5 percent each year for four years, and give local governments direct funding to replace the property tax revenue, he said.
Gov. Branstad said it's unacceptable to hear high-paying skilled jobs are available in Iowa, but employers can't find workers to fill the positions. He said the state created programs for unemployed and displaced workers, as well as youth, to prepare them for skilled jobs.
Lt. Gov. Reynolds said Iowa students are falling behind students in other states.
"Teachers are not the problem," she said. "Iowa is extremely fortunate to have dedicated educators who are working extremely hard.
"Unfortunately, our teachers are stuck in a system designed for the 20th century and we must work together to transform Iowa's schools for the 21st century."
Iowa will revitalize schools with a new teacher leadership and compensation structure that will establish new career paths, with a goal of keeping outstanding educators in Iowa's classrooms, she said.
The Teach Iowa Initiative will be launched to recruit top students to become teachers, Lt. Gov. Reynolds said.
Gov. Branstad said lower property taxes, a more skilled workforce and additional economic development efforts offer an opportunity to stimulate Iowa's economy and provide citizens with the highly skilled careers they deserve.
"I believe this is our opportunity," he said. "This is our Iowa."