On Dec. 5, American Legion's Veterans Employment & Education Division Director Joe Sharpe and Deputy Director Mark Walker met with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in Washington to discuss an ambitious plan to lure veterans to the Hawkeye State.
While meeting with the Legion representatives, Branstad, a 42-year member of the Legion, a former post commander and a longtime friend of Past National Commander David Rehbein, spoke highly of his state's new, veteran-friendly "Home Base Iowa" program.
"We want to do everything we can to make Iowa a lead state and as friendly a place for veterans as possible," he said. "We want to offer in-state tuition to all veterans, no matter where they're from, at our state universities and community colleges. We want to eliminate the state income tax on veterans' pensions. We already have a $5,000 tax credit for veterans (who) buy homes in Iowa. We are also going to honor and recognize communities and businesses that make (a) commitment to hire veterans."
Addressing a leading Legion cause, the streamlining of state licensing and credentialing for appropriately trained and experienced former servicemembers, Branstad said, "We are also looking at things we can do to help people in licensed professions or whatever where they have a military MOS, but it doesn't always match up with what the state licensing agencies have."
He too addressed that steps will be taken to honor licenses and credentials issued to military spouses from elsewhere.
Branstad explained that veterans are especially wanted in Iowa for their well-known personal and professional qualities and also to fill a void in the state's workforce. According to Branstad, Iowa boasts a 4.6 percent jobless rate statewide with some areas experiencing "an essentially zero" rate of unemployment, with many employment opportunities in manufacturing, information technology and agribusiness sectors, among others. "Frankly, businesses tell me all the time, ‘We have jobs, we just can't find people with the right skill set.' We think this is a great opportunity to match up veterans who have the discipline and have the skills and are coming out of the service with job opportunities in Iowa," he said.
As to implementation of the Home Base Iowa initiative, Branstad said, "Some of these things we can do on our own and we are moving forward with them." He used the allowance of in-state tuition for formerly out-of-state student veterans as an example, since the state's board of regents can enact that rule. "Some of these things require legislative action, like eliminating the state income tax on military retirement."
Branstad expressed faith in his state legislature's spirit of bipartisanship to accomplish those. "I'm very optimistic," he said. "We do have a split legislature – Democratic Senate and Republican House – but last year we got great things accomplished with them and I think... (with) this effort we'll have a great bipartisan coalition."
He lauded the co-chairs of the program, former Congressman Leonard Boswell and Casey's General Stores CEO Bob Myers for their abilities to build such a coalition.
Branstad said the state is launching a multi-million dollar Home Base Iowa marketing campaign to convince veterans of the benefits of working, studying and living in his state. The plan, he said, has met with widespread business community and chamber of commerce support. "We think this could be a very great thing for Iowa and for the veterans," Branstad said.