Government

Iowa Senate proposes millions more in cuts to regents, community colleges

Budget bill would quadruple governor recommendations

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

A senate bill introduced Thursday would nearly quadruple cuts Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed for Iowa’s public universities in the current budget year, and it would “cause disruptions on our campuses,” according to the Board of Regents.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday afternoon debated the budget adjustment bill that would take back a combined $19.2 million in already-committed general education fund appropriations for University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa. Reynolds had proposed taking back $5.1 million from the three universities in the current budget year in an effort to mitigate a budget shortfall.

“While the Board (of Regents) understands the state’s current fiscal situation, we are hopeful that the General Assembly and governor will continue to work with the board and public universities to significantly lessen these proposed reductions,” according to a statement from Board of Regents Executive Director Mark Braun. “As the second semester is already underway, these severe cuts for FY2018 would cause disruptions on our campuses. We will work to minimize the impact on students.”

The senate bill also takes a deeper dig at community colleges — proposing a $5.4 million takeback for the 2018 budget year, compared with the $1.8 million Reynolds proposed cutting.

“The GOP budget crisis will cause every Iowa college student and their families to pay higher tuition this fall,” Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, told The Gazette. “These midyear cuts are devastating to our public universities and community colleges’ efforts to attract new Iowans and educate our next generation of skilled, productive citizens.”

The regents cuts, according to the proposal, would take $8.7 million from UI, $6.9 million from Iowa State, and $3.7 million from UNI.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, whose district includes Cedar Falls and UNI, said the cuts would mean steeper tuition and less opportunity for Iowa families.

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“It will be devastating to UNI,” he said. “Think about it, a $3.7 million cut in the current year. They won’t be able to sustain that. They’ll have to think about layoffs, cutting classes.”

Braun said the board will continue to advocate for its 2019 appropriations request of $12 million, which would go entirely toward undergraduate financial aid.

“As the State of Iowa is focusing on high-demand jobs, degree attainment, and the biosciences economy, cutting the public universities to this degree goes in the opposite direction of achieving these goals,” according to Braun. “The public universities are key drivers in all three of these areas and are critical to the future economic success of our state.”

Total cuts laid out in the senate bill — including reductions to health and human services, economic development, agriculture and natural resources, and administration and regulation — amount to $52 million, with about half coming from education. The $52 million is nearly double the $27.2 million Reynolds proposed to make up for the shortfall.

John McGlothlen / The Gazette

If the senate proposal were to be approved, it would come close to the de-appropriation the Board of Regents received last year at this time, when lawmakers stripped $20.8 million from their 2017 budgets.

The Legislature last year further cut base appropriations for the regent universities’ 2018 budget by nearly $10 million, prompting tuition increases, no across-the-board faculty raises at Iowa State, delayed deferred maintenance, and elimination of some UI financial aid offerings.

UI and Iowa State presidents told regents over the summer that if lawmakers did not provide any increase in appropriations they would need to up resident undergraduate tuition by 7 percent annually for five years to fulfill their strategic missions. The universities did not craft tuition proposals for further cuts in state funding.

Regents have said publicly a 7-percent tuition increase is unlikely — as it’s too burdensome for students and families.

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But university heads have said waning state support is making it hard for them to compete nationally to recruit students and top faculty to teach and conduct research, potentially threatening UI and Iowa State’s status in the prestigious Association of American Universities.

Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, on Thursday said he doesn’t perceive the potential impact on the Board of Regents as “so significant.”

“When you look at the de-appropriation as a percent of their total budget, I mean it’s not so significant that we think that it should need to impact their decision on tuition,” he said.

Reynolds, in response to the senate bill, said, “This is part of the process. This is how it works.”

“I put my budget forward. We looked at everything. We thought this was the most fiscally responsible budget so we could still honor some of the commitments and fund some of the initiatives,” she said. “We felt it was very practical and reasonable. They have to work through that process.”

But Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, called the proposed cuts to higher education “unfathomable.”

“Because remember these midyear budget cuts are coming on top of major cuts that they’ve already experienced,” he said. “It’s just unbelievable that you could do this in middle of a budget year and when public higher education is so critical, not just for our families but for our economy.”

Rod Boshart, The Gazette, contributed to this report.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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