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Welcome, Governor: Iowa's Branstad visits Sibley for town hall meeting (with video)

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news Worthington, 56187

Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

SIBLEY, Iowa -- Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds outlined their plan for improving Iowa through an "Our Opportunity, Our Iowa" town hall meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Sibley Public Library.

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The Branstad/Reynolds plan was originally presented in Branstad's 2013 Condition of the State Address, given Jan. 15. On Tuesday, people attended the meeting got to hear the plan in person, as well as comment on it.

"We wanted to take the State of the State on the road -- not just present it to the joint sessions of legislature, which is done every year, but to go out and present it to everyone in the state and answer your questions," Branstad said.

The governor and lieutenant governor visit all of Iowa's 99 counties each year.

"It's a great opportunity for us to talk about our vision and what's going on in the state and get feedback from you," Reynolds said.

Branstad and Reynolds highlighted three areas they believe are vital to Iowa's growth: providing property tax relief, making Iowa schools the best in the nation and improving the state's quality of life.

"We have a very focused plan of action to grow the Iowa economy," Branstad said.

To reform the Iowa property tax system, Branstad and Reynolds have proposed implementing permanent property tax relief, reducing property tax for all classes of property and not shifting the tax burden between classes of property.

Their plan, they claim, would provide nearly $400 million in actual property tax relief and permanently reduce commercial and industrial property tax values by 20 percent over four years.

"We are proposing a property tax system that would make Iowa more competitive," Branstad said.

Branstad's plan has three components and would fully fund the homestead tax credit and the elderly and disabled tax credit, permanently change the schooling formula and tie all classes of property together to stop any shift in the tax burden between classes of property.

To improve Iowa's education system, Reynolds explained they would implement a new teacher leadership and compensation structure, develop the Teach Iowa Initiative to recruit top students to become teachers and add a new college or career-ready seal that high school students may earn in addition to their diploma.

"One of our top priorities is restoring Iowa's leadership position in education," Reynolds said. "We need to make sure that our students graduate from high school either career- or college-ready."

Reynolds noted that Iowa has fallen behind in the national math ranking, but was quick to acknowledge the hard work that teachers do.

"We know how hard educators work day-in and day-out, but they are trapped in a 20th century model and we want to put in systemic, transformational, educational change and move this to a 21st century model," Reynolds said.

Lastly, Branstad addressed improving the medical services within the state.

"Our goal is to be the healthiest state in the nation," he said of Iowa, currently ranked ninth.

To achieve their goal, Branstad said he would support medical residency programs in Iowa, launch the Rural Physician Loan Repayment Program, and pass a certificate of merit law and a cap on non-economic damages.

"We train plenty of doctors, but we don't do a good job of keeping them here," he said.

Following their speeches, Branstad and Reynolds opened the floor to members of the audience and addressed their questions and concerns.

Troy Larson, executive director of the Lewis and Clark Rural Water System, brought the rural water project to the attention of the governor and outlined the financial challenges facing the project.

The city of Sibley is the last of 11 communities to be connected to the project, which is currently at a standstill because the "federal government is woefully lagging," Larson said.

Other questions were raised about the new medical care program regarding preexisting conditions and the implementation of the new federal health care plan frequently referred to as Obamacare.

Audience members also thanked Branstad for his work in addressing bullying within schools.

Prior to their stop in Sibley, Branstad and Reynolds visited Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn Middle School.

"They were at our 'Governor's Prevent Bullying' summit last fall. Branstad said. "Their video won first place in competition with high school kids. We promised we would come to their school and congratulate them."

Throughout the town hall meeting, Branstad and Reynolds remained positive about the future of Iowa and Iowa's standing in the nation.

"I believe we can write a new page in Iowa's history that will be a very bright and prosperous time for our state," Branstad said. "I believe this is our opportunity, and we want to make the most of it."

Branstad, however, also raised concerns about the national debt and the financial situation of the country.

"Our country is in trouble," Branstad said. "The state is in good shape, but how long the county can continue to go without addressing the financial mess we're in -- I'm concerned about it. I don't think we have that many years."

Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.

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