Iowa students could see a sharp spike in their tuition next semester if Senate Republicans successfully pass their de-appropriations bill for the current Fiscal Year 2018, which includes a $19.2 million cut for Iowa Board of Regents universities. That’s drastically higher than what Governor Kim Reynolds proposed two weeks ago – her de-appropriations proposal had $5.1 in cuts for the Board of Regents budget.
Senate Republicans’ bill would slash $8.7 million from the University of Iowa, $6.9 million from Iowa State University and $3.7 million from the University of Northern Iowa. It would also reduce funding for Iowa community colleges by $5.4 million. Reynolds’ proposal reduced it by $1.8 million. The Department of Education also take a significant hit, with the Senate plan cutting $1.7 million from them.
Those universities would need to make deeper mid-year cuts, following up on a $30 million decrease in funding last year – meaning students could feel the brunt of those costs as soon as next semester. The Board of Regents took an unusually harsh stance against the plan, warning that “these severe cuts for FY2018 would cause disruptions on our campuses.”
The de-appropriations bills were expected to take up much of the business at the start of this year’s legislative session, necessitated by continuing budget shortfalls and mismanagement. But Senate Republicans’ overall suggestion of cutting $52 million was a notable departure from the $29.6 million Reynolds proposed, and the bulk of the difference falls disproportionately on higher education.
“While Iowa’s economy has been growing, it hasn’t been growing as quickly as the REC (Revenue Estimating Committee) estimated that it would,” explained Senate Appropriations Chair Charles Schneider as to why Republicans wanted to add an extra cushion with more cuts. “As a result, the REC has lowered the revenue estimate projects that it will hit for this current fiscal year. The REC will meet again in March, at which point it could lower that estimate even more.”
But Democrats on the committee that met yesterday afternoon warned that the cuts would harm Iowa’s economy and future budgets down the road.
“When we have 17-year low in unemployment, we have to be concerned that we’re in a cycle of ongoing cuts and cuts and cuts,” Senate Nate Boulton said. “And some things we’re cutting here compromise our state’s future. We’re talking about cuts to our education system that is delivering our skilled workforce for tomorrow.”
Ranking Democratic member Senator Joe Bolkcom laid the blame solely at Republicans’ mismanagement of budget planning.
“Governor Reynolds and the Republican-controlled Legislature created this budget disaster because they failed to fulfill a campaign promise to Iowans to raise family incomes by 25% and create 200,000 new jobs,” Bolkcom said. “The governing thing is just not your thing … When you have a bunch of people that don’t like government running government, here’s what it looks like. It’s ugly.”
An interesting moment came when Republican Senator Julian Garrett tried to press Boulton on what he might propose the government cut instead. Committee hearings like these where all of the Iowa press corp is present have been obvious opportunities for Boulton to speak out on a topic and get in the news, boosting visibility for his gubernatorial run. Garrett seemed to intend to toss Boulton a “gotcha” question, though Boulton simply fired back that Republicans’ refusal to address huge tax credits and giveaways was causing revenue to be so low.
“Frankly, I don’t think we should be in this situation right now. We didn’t recognize the problem last year,” Boulton replied. “We continue to see more and more giveaways, more and more tax credits and exemptions that aren’t yielding job growth, aren’t raising incomes … This is a manufactured budget crisis. We should have the revenue here to not only cover these expenses, but get back to doing things we ought to be doing to increase the quality of life for Iowans … We don’t do that by cutting Iowa, Iowa State and UNI. We don’t do it by cutting our community colleges.”
House Republicans have yet to release their bill for proposed funding cuts, and Speaker Linda Upmeyer has signaled that she has problems with parts of Reynolds’ proposal. The final de-appropriations bill will get hashed out in conference committee.
by Pat Rynard