BLOG : Iowa
Higher education funding at issue in Iowa
Higher education is currently at the center of Iowa's budget debates, as the goal of avoiding last year's legislative budget impasse (which stretched out for 173 days before the legislature desperately resolved its spending differences on the last day of the state's fiscal year) has to overcome the hurdle of a $65 million difference in higher education dollars between the conflicting parties.
Iowa has a history of higher education funding cuts--in the last decade, state funding for Iowa public universities has decreased by 40% after adjustments for inflation. State Senate Democrats, citing tuition increases and the controversial plans to cut almost 60 academic programs at the University of Northern Iowa, have proposed an additional $34 million in funding for the three state schools. House Republicans are currently advocating the exact opposite: $31 million of additional cuts to the higher education budget.
The harsh reality facing Iowa is one that more and more states will have to deal with in their upcoming budget debates--the money just isn't there. While education is still a big priority, according to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Scott Raecker, it's not the only issue on the table. With an Iowa budget gap of $200-300 million to close before next month's adjournment, the cuts have to come from somewhere and "several large dollar differences" still need to be resolved.
Raecker noted that state funding for both Medicaid and property tax credits still needs to be determined by the legislature. Unfortunately, both of those big budget items have fallen prey to shifty budget gimmicks (such as the additional $113 million that the Iowa Senate put into the Health Care Trust Fund without reducing their general fund spending accordingly).
Before it can address spending priorities like education, Iowa needs to get a handle on its budget games problem. Last month, State Auditor Dave Vaudt called out both Republicans and Democrats on their vague and shifting budget proposals, claiming that their statements "distort reality" and lack specific proof for their optimism. Citing some technical accuracy but lamenting a lack of real honesty and transparency, Vaudt called for both parties to "stop these techniques of trying to camouflage what's really happening."
Until states stop playing budget games and obfuscating the issues, priorities such as education will continue to fall victim to unavoidable cuts. More and more governors and legislators are looking to their state university budgets to help close the gaps between spending and revenue, and Iowa looks like it could be following in the footsteps of states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The Iowa legislature has a hard task before them for the next few weeks--keep checking back at SBS for the results and implications of the state budget debate.