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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Republican members of the Senate Appropriations Committee approved fiscal 2022 budget bills Tuesday that would boost funding to community colleges by $6.5 million, restore $8 million in past cuts to regent universities and boost salaries for Iowa judges by 3 percent.
Majority GOP senators also approved a nearly status-quo budget proposal for agricultural and natural resources programs that did not include any new money for water-quality improvement projects that have been an ongoing funding need much to the chagrin of minority Democrats.
Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, co-chair of the education subcommittee, said the $8.2 million increase to the state Board of Regents to use as it sees fit included in the overall $976 million spending plan would “backfill” a cut made for the current fiscal year and was more than the funding freeze proposed by House Republicans one day earlier. The board has sought a $15 million funding increase for next fiscal year.
“I suspect that’s going to be part of the negotiations with the House to bring that number up because I would like to make sure that they are adequately funded,” Cournoyer told Senate committee members, who voted 11-8 to send the bill to the full Senate.
Overall, she said Senate Study Bill 1263 proposes a $30.8 million funding increase that fulfills the $6.5 million increase requested by Iowa’s 15 community colleges, boosts funding for scholarships, tuition grants, workforce development, special schools, early childhood and reading research programs, and directs $2.6 million to implement the therapeutic classroom initiative the Legislature created last year.
Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City, the committee’s ranking member, said she had not had time to analyze the proposal but expressed concern the regents’ share was “just not good” and could equate into future tuition increases for university students and their parents.
“There’s nothing new for this year. What happens is the tuitions go up, so I think we have to be careful about working families and how much they can actually pay to go to college,” Smith said. “I don’t know why we’re not supporting them more. I don’t understand it. Basically, they’ve had a two-year freeze.”
On Monday, House Republicans advanced a $970 million education budget plan that would freeze funding for regents universities, saying the University of Iowa, Iowa State University or University of Northern Iowa would have “plenty of money” because of infusions from federal COVID-19 relief and stimulus programs.
On a separate bill, committee members in a voice vote approved Senate Study Bill 1262, a $190.9 million proposal that would boost funding for Iowa’s court system by $6.3 million for fiscal 2022.
Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, co-chair of the justice systems subcommittee, said $1.4 million would go to increasing salaries for judges and magistrates and $1.1 million to boost salaries of non-judicial officers. Another $3.8 million would be available for Judicial Branch officials “to use as the courts see fit to carry out their duties,” he added. The bill also adds $500,000 to the jury and witness revolving fund and includes policy language allowing a county to hire a non-attorney as a magistrate if they do not receive an application from a qualified attorney.
Also, the committee voted 11-8 to approve a $42.7 million appropriation for agricultural and natural resources programs supported by state general funds. Senate Study Bill 1261 would be a $513,000 decline from current funding, according to Sen. Craig Williams, R-Manning, subcommittee co-chair.
Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, expressed concern there was no new money for natural resources needed at a time when state parks are experiencing extra use due to the COVID-19 pandemic; many communities had their tree canopies ravaged by the Aug. 10 derecho and the quality of water in Iowa’s waterways continues to be a concern.
“We just need to get real serious about water quality,” said Mathis. “We have to be more serious than we are now.”
The bills that now go to the full Senate for consideration are part of an overall $8 billion state budget blueprint that Republicans, who hold a 32-18 majority, unveiled recently. Majority House Republicans have not issued their fiscal 2022 spending target while Gov. Kim Reynolds offered an $8.1 billion state budget proposal in January, a 3.7 percent increase that would fund priorities in broadband expansion, K-12 and higher education and mental health programs.
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