Gov. Kim Reynolds gives her condition of the state speech

Gov. Kim Reynolds gives her condition of the state speech at the start of the 2019 legislative session Jan. 15. She discussed the “Empower Rural Iowa” plan, which would include establishing a center for rural revitalization in the Iowa Department of Economic Development, some funding for rural housing, $10 million for rural broadband and rural innovation grants.

DES MOINES — There was little mention of water quality but plenty of talk about rural economic development in Kim Reynolds’ condition of the state speech last week.

Reynolds, the Republican who rose from lieutenant governor to the top spot when Terry Branstad was named ambassador to China in 2017, was elected to a full four-year term in her own right last fall, edging Democrat Fred Hubbell in a close race.

The Jan. 15 address to the legislature marked her second condition of the state speech, but her first since being elected governor.

In her address, the governor talked about Republican successes of the last year but emphasized items to pursue in 2019, such as mental health care, a proposed state constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to convicted felons, worker training, educational funding, and rural economic development.

The rural plan, dubbed “Empower Rural Iowa,” would include establishing a center for rural revitalization in the Iowa Department of Economic Development, some funding for rural housing, $10 million for rural broadband and rural innovation grants.

“I think she did a wonderful job,” said Rep. Linda Upmeyer, a Republican who serves as Speaker of the House.

Upmeyer said the rural focus of the speech was especially interesting.

“I think it’s really exciting to look at rural Iowa. … Housing is absolutely an issue. Broadband is an issue as well,” she said.

Rep. Todd Pritchard, D-Charles City, serves as the minority leader. He said lawmakers from both parties would like to find a way to help rural communities, and Democrats will work with the governor on that issue. But he said one major problem for rural communities is that they have not been given the economic tools to deal with change.

“We’re all on board,” he said of the idea of working to help rural communities, but he said the proposals will need to include discussions of school funding and health care access and then provide enough funding to make a real difference.

While Reynolds has talked about the importance of the legislation passed in 2018 to provide a long-term funding stream for water quality efforts, she has said repeatedly that the 2018 bill is only a start and that more will be needed.

Reynolds didn’t propose any new legislation or funding streams in her speech or her proposed budget, which was also released last week, though she didn’t rule out supporting any legislation lawmakers may choose to pass.

Republican lawmakers have taken the same approach, not ruling out more legislation but not putting it on any priority list and not talking much about it.

That is something people in both parties will need to monitor, Pritchard said.

“If we look at that bill that we passed and say we have solved our water quality issue for years to come, we are mistaken,” he said.

The budget proposed by Reynolds last week is for about $7.6 billion in total general fund appropriations.

It includes about a 2.3 percent increase in per-pupil K-12 school funding, well above last year’s 1 percent increase. It also includes about $18 million in additional dollars for the three Regents institutions as well as money for job training and increased funding for Medicaid.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.