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Focus on education funding, foreign trade

We’ve hit our stride at the end of week three of the 2013 legislative session.  Committee work, bill drafting, issue briefings, and constituent visits keep me and my fellow legislators busy during the session start-up.

Our first order of business this year should be to set the rate for school funding.  Called allowable growth, the Legislature is mandated by code to set the rate 30 days after the Governor releases the budget.  This gives schools about 18 months advance notice concerning what state funds they will receive.  Then local school boards begin to set their budgets. 

Last session, we should have set the allowable growth rate for the school year that will begin in August 2013.  While the Senate passed a bill, the house majority and Governor Branstad refused to bring it up.   Without cooperation this year, local schools face even greater challenges.  

How is the situation developing this year?  The good news is that Senate Democrats took quick action and sent a bill to the house this week.  It sets allowable growth at 4% and provides extra state resources to school districts so they can hold the line on property taxes.  The bad news is Governor Branstad has put up an unnecessary roadblock.  In the opening week of session, he issued an ultimatum to the legislature; no discussion of school funding until his education reform package is passed.   His budget also assumes zero allowable growth for the next two years.

So what does this mean for our schools?  A recent survey of Iowa school superintendents revealed that if the house majority and the Governor do nothing on school funding again this year, or insist on zero growth, this will lead to larger class sizes, delays in upgrading materials, layoff of teachers and classroom associates.

Iowa’s kids can’t afford inaction from the house majority and the Governor.  We can’t ask schools to do more when they can’t keep up with the basics like rising health care, transportation, and energy costs.   It is irresponsible to use state aid for our schools as a bargaining chip for education reform.

This session, I return to familiar assignments; Environmental Protection, and Agriculture.  Minority House Leader Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines, once again, selected me as Ranking Member of the Administration and Regulations Budget Committee.

I’ve also been given two new committee assignments; Ways and Means and International Relations.   Prior to the start of the session, I worked to get up-to-speed on my new committees.  Serving on the International Relations Committee  has already been a tremendous experience.  I travelled to Manitoba, Canada for a Legislative Exchange trip last December.  The trip was supported by a grant to the Midwestern Legislative Conference from the Government of Canada.   Kansas Senator Carolyn McGinn, Minnesota Representative Carolyn Laine, and I served as bi-partisan, mid-western states ambassadors to the Manitoba Legislative Assembly.   We met with government ministers responsible for the areas of energy, health, finance, agriculture, and children and youth.  Our host was Manitoba Speaker of the House, Daryl Reid.

Manitoba is the Canadian province which borders Minnesota.  They are our neighbors to the north.  This was a great opportunity to develop relationships with our Canadian counterparts.

These relationships are critical to enhance international trade.  Canada is the largest trading partner for every state in the Midwest.  For Iowa, two-way trade had a value of $7.4 billion, according to the economic data available from 2011. Iowa is a net exporter to Canada as the state exported $4.1 billion to Canada, while importing $3.3 billion.

I was particularly interested to learn more about clean-energy trade between mid-western states and Canada.  Manitoba is a world leader is producing hydro-power.  Much of this power is transferred and consumed in our northern mid-western states, such as Minnesota.  As Iowa begins to consider becoming an exporter of wind-energy we can learn much from the Manitoba hydro-power model.   Also, Canada is making considerable investments in wind-energy.   Many of the wind-blades manufactured at TPI are purchased for installation in Canada.  I left this experience with new friends in Manitoba, relationships which will prove helpful in my future work in international relations, trade and clean energy.

I’m proud to represent Newton, Colfax, Baxter, Mingo, Kellogg, Prairie City, Lambs Grove, Ira, and Valeria.  Feel free to contact me anytime at 641-521-9260 or dan.kelley@legis.state.ia.us.  Visit my website at www.electkelley.com and ‘friend’ me on facebook.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

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