Governor to Iowa Board of Regents: Be careful with 'the level of spending'

Warning comes amid board salary discussion

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DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday urged the Board of Regents to “live within our means” when it comes to staff salaries, especially in light of recent tuition increases that have University of Iowa resident undergraduates paying $450 more this fall than last.

“I would caution that the regents need to be very cognizant of the budget limitations that we have in state government,” Branstad said during his weekly news conference in response to a reporter’s question.

Last month, The Gazette reported that regents Executive Director Robert Donley earned $338,466 in salary, bonuses and deferred compensation in the 2015 budget year — more than twice the $154,300 capped salary set by lawmakers.

The $184,166 overage included a $5,000 bonus approved in 2014 and $179,166 in payouts from two deferred compensation plans approved in 2012 and 2013. At the board’s July meeting, following report, regents President Bruce Rastetter announced Donley would get a previously-approved $8,000 performance incentive for the 2016 budget year, but no annual compensation increase at this time.

Instead, the board in January will consider compensation for Donley and the heads of its public universities. UI President Bruce Harreld and Iowa State University President Steven Leath requested no pay raises this year, Rastetter said.

Moments later, the board approved the second resident undergraduate tuition hike in as many years. Before those increases — which regents tied to lagging state support — the board had kept undergraduate tuition rates for Iowa residents frozen for three straight years.

“We’ve got to be very careful in terms of the level of spending, and the universities need to recognize that they’re part of state government as well, even though they’re separately governed,” Branstad said. “They need to be cognizant of the need to try to keep the costs as reasonable as possible.”

He acknowledged that, at the university level, institution heads might want to increase faculty and administrative salaries to remain competitive and retain “their best people.” Harreld repeatedly has said he plans to do that.

Branstad pointed to “significant progress” over the last five years in addressing the rising cost of higher education.

“I would contrast to the (former Gov. Tom) Vilsack years when we had double-digit increases, sometimes as high as 17 to 18 percent,” he said. “I don’t want to see us go back to those bad old days.”

According to the regents’ 2017 budgets, the board plans to spend nearly $400,000 more this year than in the 2016 budget year.

To keep up with the expected spending increase — and to offset a $300,000 decline in state support — the board is taking an additional $833,435 in “institutional reimbursements,” bringing the total it takes from the universities it oversees to $3.645 million for the 2017 budget year.

Rod Boshart of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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