Governor Branstad saves Iowa State Leopold Center with veto

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Answering calls to save Iowa State’s Leopold Center, which for 30 years has developed methods for farming profitably while conserving natural resources and reducing environmental harm, Gov. Terry Branstad on Friday vetoed legislative language to force its closure.

In a series of line-item vetoes in bills left to be signed, Branstad cut wording in a Republican-backed measure that would have repealed Iowa Code sections authorizing the existence of Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

“The veto of these particularly specified items will preserve the existence of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture while also maintaining the sections transferring funding to Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to continue valuable research into environmental and water quality issues,” Branstad wrote in his explanation of the veto.

The center last year received a line-item state appropriation of $397,417, along with an annual portion — about 35 percent — of the Agriculture Management Account, a pool of funds set up by the 1987 Iowa Groundwater Protection Act. That pool includes fees on nitrogen fertilizer sales and pesticide registration, and the Leopold portion amounted to about $1.5 million, according to ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences communications director Brian Meyer.

The proposed legislation cut the Leopold Center’s line-item appropriation and moved its Agriculture Management Account portion to the Iowa Nutrient Research Center. By cutting the research center’s $1.3 million in state support, lawmakers intended the former Leopold resources to become the nutrient center’s new funding source.

And the governor’s veto Friday — while allowing the Leopold Center to continue existing — did nothing to alter its funding cuts and redirections, which amount to nearly $1.9 million. So while the enterprise won’t be closed by mandate, it must find another funding source to stay afloat.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said that gives him hope for its future.

“If the authorizing language stays and the university wants to make an effort, there are ways they could keep some level of authorization going,” he said. “Losing the (1.9 million) is going to hurt. But the university would have a fair amount of discretion as to being able to move money around.”

Quirmbach said he spent the last few weeks making phone calls daily, urging constituents to reach out to the governor with demands he veto the legislative language eliminating the Iowa State center.

“If he were to do that so that the Leopold authorization stays in place, then if the university can find money to leave them afloat, and they live another year,” he said.

The university, according to Quirmbach, has some flexibility within its budget to find funding for the center. But Iowa State, like University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa, are grappling with severe cuts in state appropriations for their general education budgets — both in the current year and in the one upcoming.

Iowa State spokesman John McCarroll said his institution is “pleased that the governor’s action today allows us to retain the Leopold Center.”

“Although it will operate without the state appropriation,” he said. “We will look at options for the future of the center and opportunities for support through private philanthropy. The ability to retain the name of the center is meaningful to the university in that it continues the name recognition and reputation so important in recruiting prospective graduate students in sustainable agriculture.”

McCarroll on Friday told The Gazette that Iowa State had not taken any action to cut staff or sever projects — as it was waiting on the governor’s action. The center, according to Iowa State, has nine university employees — including three faculty and six staff members.

It provides about $60,000 annually to the graduate program in sustainable agriculture for the support of graduate students — through fellowships and assistantships, for example.

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