Senate panel approves several fiscal 2015 budget pieces

Senate Appropriations Committee voted to approve a $986 million education budget for FY 2015

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Monday to approve a $986 million education budget for fiscal 2015 that would cover a tuition freeze at state universities, fund K-12 education reforms with $47.9 million and boost operating money for community colleges by $8 million.

“It’s a good budget,” said Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, co-chair of the joint House-Senate higher education budget subcommittee, noting that negotiators have resolved 90 percent of their differences with funding for anti-bullying programs and the University of Northern Iowa as the main sticking points.

Committee members voted 13-7 along party lines to send the education measure to the full Senate with a request to boost current spending for regent universities, community colleges, the state education and blind departments, and the College Aid Commission by $87 million beginning July 1.

Senate Study Bill 3213 would boost state university operations by 4 percent and provide an extra $4.4 million for the University of Northern Iowa to acknowledge it has a higher percentage of in-state students as lawmakers and Gov. Terry Branstad agree to freeze resident tuition for a second time next fiscal year.

Schoenjahn said the House approach does not have the extra UNI funding or $1 million in anti-bullying money that includes $700,000 in grants for local districts to devise their own approaches to combat harassment or bullying at schools or off campus and online. He said both chambers have money for Iowa State University’s ag research center but at different levels.

Sen. Jake Chapman, R-Adel, ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said minority Republicans were voting against budget bills being passed by Senate Democrats because the 7.5 percent increase agreed to jointly by the Senate majority and Republicans who run the Iowa House is too high given that household incomes are rising by 3.8 percent.

“I don’t believe it is right for us to be growing government at a faster rate than household budgets,” Chapman said.

Also Monday, the Senate panel approved a fiscal 2015 spending plan for the state’s judicial branch that would boost spending by about $6 million, or 3.5 percent, to nearly $174.6 million in fiscal 2015.

The panel’s subcommittee on transportation, infrastructure and capitals got its first look at the Rebuild Iowa infrastructure Fund (RIIF) measure that earmarked $87.4 million for various building projects, $28.7 million for technology reinvestments and $8 million for major maintenance for state facilities.

The bill, which won initial 3-2 approval on a party-line vote, de-appropriated general fund commitments to three regent capitol projects with an expectation they would be funded by one-time money from the state’s ending balance, said subcommittee co-chairman Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines. He noted the bill was a starting point and not one that had bipartisan agreement with House Republicans.

The RIIF spreadsheet included $29.7 million for tuition replacement at state universities, $10.1 million for recreational trails, $9.6 million for the state’s lake restoration and water quality program, and a number of other projects.

Included in the measure were $1 million for the Linn County Public Health Facility project, about $3 million for recreational trail connections for a roughly 28-mile stretch through Johnson, Linn and Black Hawk counties, and $150,000 for a creative corridor transit study along the I-380 route from Coralville to Cedar Rapids.

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