Government

Branstad axes more than $60 million for education

He takes issue with deal for one-time funding for schools, universities

Gov. Terry Branstad (from left) waits backstage as Bruce Rastetter, host of the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit, talks during the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit at the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Saturday, Mar. 7, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Gov. Terry Branstad (from left) waits backstage as Bruce Rastetter, host of the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit, talks during the 2015 Iowa Ag Summit at the Elwell Family Food Center on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines on Saturday, Mar. 7, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Citing principle and discipline, Gov. Terry Branstad on Thursday struck down more than $60 million this budget year for Iowa’s public schools and universities and faulted lawmakers who worked overtime on the deals for not thinking longer term.

Using his line-item veto authority, the Republican governor nixed one-time funding dedicated by lawmakers to K-12 public schools and the state’s three public universities.

“When I took office in 2011, I proposed a two-year budget with a five year projection. My budgets have been fiscally sound, predictable and sustainable for the long term,” Branstad wrote in his veto message. “The budgets I proposed are budgets that hardworking Iowa taxpayers can depend on. Long-term budgeting is not easy and requires very difficult decisions to align projected spending with revenue.”

A Democratic lawmaker called the vetoes “ridiculous.” Another said they smacked of a “vendetta.”

K-12 SCHOOLS

Branstad vetoed a $55.7 million allocation to the state’s 338 public K-12 school districts.

Districts still will receive a 1.25 percent increase over the previous year, but not the one-time allocation. The extra money would have brought in nearly $1.9 million for Cedar Rapids schools and nearly $1.5 million for Iowa City schools, among others.

The average increase between fiscal years 2000 and 2009 was 5.1 percent; it was 1.6 percent between 2010 and 2013.

The extra $55.7 million was a compromise between Republicans who wanted to stick to a 1.25 percent increase and Democrats who said schools needed more.

Branstad chided lawmakers for not agreeing to school funding for the 2016-2017 as well.

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“By using one-time money and not providing supplemental state aid for the second fiscal year, the legislature compounded the uncertainty that school districts faced this entire legislative session,” he wrote.

While Branstad defended his administration’s overall investment in education, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, called the governor’s veto “ridiculous.”

“The Legislature worked together in a bipartisan way, and we were actually below the governor’s (budget) number on total spending,” Gronstal said Thursday. “His efforts to improve student achievement, it’s hollow. It’s just campaign rhetoric. Everything he’s proposed to do has been at the expense of existing funding streams for local schools.”

When asked if lawmakers will push for a special session in an attempt to override the veto, Gronstal said he’ll keep options open.

Any override would require the cooperation of some Republicans in both the Senate and House. Gronstal said he plans to have discussions with Republican leaders.

Iowa State Education Association President Tammy Wawro also expressed disappointment.

“While this compromise was inadequate, we recognize it would have provided a small degree of relief to some school districts and community colleges,” Wawro said in a statement. “That the governor could not even provide this is a further illustration of his lack of commitment to public education.”

HIGHER EDUCATION

The University of Iowa will get no increase in state appropriations this budget year after Branstad vetoed one-time allocations included in a hotly-debated spending bill for the Board of Regents institutions.

He did approve in its entirety a bill that boosted University of Northern Iowa’s base appropriations by $5.1 million and Iowa State University’s base funding by $1.2 million.

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That bill kept UI funding at status quo levels, leaving the institution’s only chance for more money up to any one-time funds.

Those funds would have added $2.3 million to ISU’s base bump, $1.1 million to UNI’s increase and $2.9 million to the UI.

The budget approved Thursday could jeopardize a tuition freeze for resident undergraduate students next spring.

In June, regents President Bruce Rastetter committed to freezing tuition this fall to give students and parents “visibility and certainty on what the cost of education would be.”

But, he said at the time, appropriations might not be sufficient to support a year’s worth of frozen tuition for a third straight year.

Rastetter in a statement Thursday reiterated that the board will maintain a freeze for the fall semester, but examine it in the spring.

“We understand the governor’s rationale for vetoing the one-time money. One-time money is not what the governor nor the board had proposed and is not sustainable in the long term,” Rastetter said. “We look forward to working with the governor and the General Assembly going forward to secure the level of funding that will ensure the highest quality education for our students.”

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said the vetoes are “highly disappointing.” If the tuition freeze ends, he said, “that’s on the governor.”

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“We worked for months with the House to come up with some of this funding, and then he made vetoes of this magnitude that is off the charts. It’s not working with the Legislature at all. It’s some sort of vendetta,” Dvorsky said.

Vanessa Miller of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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