Bolkcom: Governor's proposed higher ed cuts 'disaster for college kids'

Lawmakers in university districts expect to see more tuition increases

(File Photo) Sen. Joe Bolkom (D-Iowa City) speaks during a Medicaid oversight hearing at the State Capitol in Des Moines on Monday, August 29, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
(File Photo) Sen. Joe Bolkom (D-Iowa City) speaks during a Medicaid oversight hearing at the State Capitol in Des Moines on Monday, August 29, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Of the areas Gov. Terry Branstad wants to reduce in the current budget year to make up for lower-than-projected tax collections, higher education faces the biggest-dollar hit with a suggested $34.3 million cut.

Branstad laid out his proposal Tuesday to trim $110 million from the budget by June 30, and his suggestions include taking back $25.6 million from regent institutions and $8.7 million from community colleges.

Several lawmakers bashed the proposal, berating the governor for placing the brunt of the shortfall on the institutions responsible for meeting what Branstad asserts as a top priority — “growing our state’s talent pipeline.”

“It’s a disaster for public university students and community college students who are going to see their tuition go up as a result of this mismanagement,” said state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City.

After seeing two consecutive years of less-than-requested state funding, the Board of Regents in December approved a third straight tuition hike for resident undergraduates. The 2 percent increase for the 2017-2018 school year pushes resident undergrad rates to $7,270 at the University of Iowa and $7,240 at Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

Collectively, the increases were projected to generate $28.8 million for the 2018 budget year. If approved, Branstad’s proposal to cut $25.6 million from the universities’ base funding would nearly wipe out that new tuition revenue.

Although Branstad laid out a two-year spending plan Tuesday calling for a 2 percent increase in higher education funding both years — amounting to $15.7 million more in 2018 and 2019 — state appropriations would come in under the regents’ requests because of this year’s hit.


Even after two years, said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, state support for the universities’ general education budgets would be less than current levels.

“What the regents said was they needed a 2 percent increase,” he said. “Not take with one hand and give back with the other — an honest 2 percent increase.”

Instead of $236.9 million for UI general education in the 2018 budget year, for example, the governor is proposing the state appropriate $227 million. ISU’s request for $188.1 million in the next year would be met with $180.3 million.

And for UNI, facing a particularly difficult budget situation with a majority of in-state students who pay below the cost of their education, the request for $101.5 million would be met with $94.9 million under Branstad’s suggestion.

Branstad stressed his proposed budget reductions don’t include “across-the-board cuts” as they would hold harmless some things including property tax credits.

“What needs to be on the table is the part of the budget that’s been the fastest growing, and that’s all these tax giveaways to large businesses,” Bolkcom said, adding he wouldn’t support Branstad’s plan.

Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said the proposed cuts come to more than $300 per student. “That’s the wrong direction if you want to grow our economy,” he said.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said he believes students almost certainly would pay more if Branstad’s proposal goes through, which he said is likely.


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“It’s probably a pretty good chance because Republicans have control of the House and the Senate and the governor,” Dvorsky said.

Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, said he’s particularly concerned about the institution in his district — UNI. Regents had requested an additional $2.5 million for UNI, above the 2 percent bump it asked for all its institutions.

“I say let the University of Iowa and ISU absorb those cuts more than UNI, because they can’t,” Rogers said.

It’s unclear how the Board of Regents would split the proposed cuts among its universities. In a statement, board President Bruce Rastetter said regents “will work with our institutions to make the required reductions in a way that has the least effect on students.”

In November, when Rastetter and the university presidents presented their funding requests directly to Branstad, UI President Bruce Harreld called the additional state support “vital to our success.” He declined comment Tuesday.

Also in November. ISU President Steven Leath said that without the additional support, his campus would struggle under a student population that swelled 40 percent since 2007. He also declined comment.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, said he thinks the regents should fight the governor’s proposal.

“It’s like a farmer eating his seed corn,” Danielson said. “You shouldn’t do it.”

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