Worthan: 'The devil is in the details'
It is a new year and the 2008 session of the 82nd General Assembly has begun. After opening ceremonies and speeches from House leaders on Monday, the first order of business was the Condition of the State address by Governor Culver on Tuesday morning.
Governor Culver proposed a long list of priorities, some that are achievable in 2008 and some that will take a long-term strategic plan to accomplish.
I agree with the Governor's initiative to make it easier and cheaper for small businesses to cooperate to pool their employees into groups that are large enough to be able to buy health insurance at competitive rates. Small business and industry supplies the majority of job growth in our state and anything that we can do that will help these businesses provide their employees with good benefits will help our economy.
Health care was also near the top of the Governor's list. Iowa needs to find ways for more citizens to participate in wellness programs and chronic disease management programs. Studies have proven that health care costs can be reduced significantly through health checks and early screening programs that catch problems in the beginning when they are much easier and cheaper to cure. Starting early in life is also important for life-long good health, so the Governor has proposed studying our public school hot lunch programs, what is available in the vending machines in our schools, and reinstating a PE or physical activity requirement for all elementary and secondary students. Another health care concern on his list was the shortage of nurses in Iowa. Iowa is currently ranked 49th in the nation for nurses' pay so recruiting is problematic. Iowa's low reimbursement rates for both Medicare and Medicaid also contribute to the situation.
I was very pleased that Governor Culver has proposed $20 million for upgrades and new construction at the Veteran's Home in Marshalltown. While the VA has done an excellent job in maintaining the facilities, improvements are desperately needed. We always seem to struggle to find money for veterans' programs in Iowa. This is a good step in maintaining our commitment to our veterans.
Making college affordable is another area where I agree with the Governor. His proposal to increase funding for the All Iowa Opportunity Scholarship is a good step, but it does not go far enough. Only students who attend regents' schools or community colleges are eligible for Opportunity Scholarships. Funding for Iowa Tuition Grants should be increased by a like amount so that students attending private institutions like Buena Vista have an equal chance to achieve their education goals.
The Governor is on the right path with many of his policy initiatives - the devil is in the details. After looking at the Governor's proposed budget, it is immediately apparent that there is a substantial shortfall in the revenue needed to cover expenses and that there have been some unique methods used to backfill the shortage. More on that next week.
*Reach Worthan by email at Gary.Worthan@legis.state.ia.us or call him at 515-281-3221 in Des Moines, or 712-732-6340 at home.