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Government

Iowa Democrats focus on higher education in November governor, statehouse elections

Iowa Democratic chair Troy Price (center) is flanked by University of Iowa students and Iowa House candidate Jodi Clemens as he speaks on the state's budget cuts to higher ed and increasing tuition during a press conference at the Iowa City Public Library on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. University of Iowa students James Pierce (far left), Joseph Feldmann (second from right) and Austin Wu also spoke about their concerns for higher education funding and student loan debt. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa Democratic chair Troy Price (center) is flanked by University of Iowa students and Iowa House candidate Jodi Clemens as he speaks on the state's budget cuts to higher ed and increasing tuition during a press conference at the Iowa City Public Library on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. University of Iowa students James Pierce (far left), Joseph Feldmann (second from right) and Austin Wu also spoke about their concerns for higher education funding and student loan debt. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

ANKENY — Iowa needs more funding for post-high school public education, Iowa Democrats say.

The Iowa Democratic Party held events on three college campuses Wednesday to highlight what leaders said has been insufficient funding for public universities and community colleges over the past eight years under Republican governors and state lawmakers.

Troy Price, state Democratic Party chairman, during a press event on the Des Moines Area Community College campus, said Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and GOP state lawmakers have prioritized tax cuts for large businesses over public education funding.

Reynolds, who took over as governor in 2017, is running against Democrat Fred Hubbell and Libertarian Jake Porter in the Nov. 6 gubernatorial election.

“We hear constantly about how we don’t have any money,” Price said. “Yet we are still giving Apple $20 million to create 50 jobs in Waukee. Think about what that $20 million could have done to help prop up community colleges, to help make sure that there weren’t any tuition increases at community colleges or regents institutions.

“It really is about priorities. And quite simply put, Gov. Reynolds and the Republicans have the wrong priorities.”

Price highlighted mid-year budget cuts to the state’s three public universities and its community college system in the past two fiscal years. The cuts were part of a broader package of cuts made necessary after state revenues fell short of projections.

Price said the result has been higher tuition and increasing student loan debt.

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“Iowa is a state that has always prided itself on its education system,” Price said. “But now we are at a point after eight years of Republican rule and after what this administration has done, that we are short-changing a whole generation of Iowans.”

A Reynolds campaign spokesman noted Democrats in control of state government in 2010 cut education spending when the state budget required adjustment due to the recession and defended Reynolds’ management of the state budget.

“Under Gov. Reynolds’ leadership, taxes are low, the state budget has a surplus and there’s more money for job-training programs, scholarships and apprenticeships,” Reynolds campaign spokesman Pat Garrett said in an email.

Garrett suggested Hubbell wants to raise taxes; Hubbell has said he would have vetoed tax cuts passed this year by Reynolds and statehouse Republicans that included tax cuts for businesses and individuals, and that he would consider repealing some of the cuts.

Amber Gustafson, a Democratic central Iowa candidate for the Iowa Senate, said at Wednesday’s press event that the tax cuts may sound good, but lose their luster in light of other state budget decisions made by Republicans.

“A small increase in your paycheck really doesn’t offset tuition increases when you have kids in college, the cost of your health insurance going up, property taxes being increased to cover the deficits that K-12 schools have,” Gustafson said. “So it’s really robbing Peter to pay Paul, which seems to be the major playbook for the GOP in this state.”

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