Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad insisted on Wednesday the state Legislature can pass a comprehensive education reform plan early in the session, arguing that getting bogged down in an argument over how much basic state aid should go to local school districts could imperil the proposal.

The governor met with a large audience at the Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf sponsored by the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce. While there, he praised the state’s economic condition since he took office and laid out his priorities for the 2013 legislative session there.

Later, he met with the Quad-City Times editorial board.

Branstad made clear he is putting his effort into reducing commercial property taxes by 20 percent over four years and getting an education reform package passed, much of which changes how teachers are compensated.

He also has proposed revising the structure of basic state aid for school districts. The aid is referred to as allowable growth for how much it permits school districts to spend per student. A combination of state aid and local property taxes pay for the bulk of school budgets.

Branstad told the editorial board that lawmakers can pass his reform package before it deals with allowable growth, calling it a pared-back version of what he proposed last year.

“Especially with a split Legislature, having a big fight over allowable growth, I think, can prevent us from getting education reform,” he said.

Some lawmakers have balked at the idea of acting too quickly on the 64-page proposal. A House committee took up the proposal Tuesday. Branstad and Reynolds also say the topic isn’t new and lawmakers have had the chance to sit in on meetings held across the state to discuss reform.

In front of the chamber group, Branstad said his priority is devoting state surplus funds to education reform and lowering commercial property taxes, but he added: “Over and above that, we can look at reducing the tax rates further.”

Some Republican lawmakers want to lower income tax rates. Branstad said afterward he did not see that happening this year because of resistance in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. He said it might be possible in the future.

The governor also had some encouraging, although non-committal, words about a longstanding priority of the chamber’s: passenger rail service.

At the chamber event, Branstad said a study is ongoing about the potential for pushing passenger rail service across the state.

Already, a connection is in the works to link Chicago and the Quad-Cities. The federal government approved money for a connection from Chicago to Iowa City two years ago, but the money for the Iowa portion has been set aside while the state studies a possible extension.

Branstad has previously opposed an annual operating subsidy to help pay for the extension, but he indicated Wednesday there might be some room to maneuver.

“We’re looking at what we might be able to do on that,” he told the audience. “My biggest concern: I don’t want us to get into a long-term subsidy situation, but we do want to make sure that as many options as possible are available.”

Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba said afterward he is encouraged by the governor’s remarks, although he added, “I wish he’d be more affirmative on rail.” He said he has had discussions with Branstad about the issue and he remains optimistic.


EARLIER STORY

Ed Tibbetts at 10:10 a.m.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad brought his view of the state’s condition to the Quad-Cities on Wednesday, saying his priority for the state’s surplus is to fund commercial property tax reduction and education reform. But he also opened the door to other tax cuts.

The governor met with a large audience at the Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf, praising the state’s economic condition since he’s taken office and laying out his priorities for the 2013 legislative session.

For the most part, it was a summary of the Condition of the State address he gave to the Legislature last week. But the governor and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds also took questions from the audience at the event, which was sponsored by the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce.

At one point, the governor was asked how he goes about deciding how much of the state’s surplus to use. Branstad said his priorities were paying for education reform and restoring money to local governments that will stem from any reduction in commercial property taxes.

“We need to have enough to meet those obligations,” he said. “Over and above that, we can look at reducing the tax rates further.”

Some legislative Republicans have argued the state should look at reducing income taxes.

The governor also had some encouraging, although non-committal, words about a longstanding priority of the chamber’s — passenger rail service.

The governor noted a study is ongoing about the potential for pushing passenger rail service across Iowa. Already, a connection is in the works to link Chicago and the Quad-Cities. However, there are doubts about it going across Iowa, even though the federal government approved funding for a link to Iowa City.

Branstad has previously opposed an annual operating subsidy to help pay for the link, but he indicated Wednesday there might be some room to maneuver.

“We’re looking at what we might be able to do on that,” he told the audience. “My biggest concern: I don’t want us to get into a long-term subsidy situation, but we do want to make sure that as many options as possible are available.”

Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba said afterward he is encouraged by the governor’s remarks, although he added, “I wish he’d be more affirmative on rail.”

Branstad also said he wants to reduce taxes across the board. He has proposed capping local property tax increases and tying the different property classes together, so one doesn’t rise faster than the other.

He also was asked about infrastructure and said an increase in the motor fuel tax will get looked at. But he added that lowering property taxes is his priority.

“To me the key is going to get the property tax reductions approved first, because I want to be able to say to Iowans your taxes are going to go down, not up,” he said.

As he often does, the governor pointed to Illinois’ fiscal condition while praising the steps his administration has taken to improve the state’s fiscal management, noting some of Illinois’ governors have gone to prison. He also lamented the fiscal state of the federal government.

The governor also is meeting with area media today, and Reynolds is scheduled to tour St. Ambrose University this afternoon and attend a teacher conference tonight at Bettendorf High School.