2010 state education budget passes: Effect on UI becomes clearer

BY SHAWN GUDE | APRIL 27, 2009 7:28 AM

Students will likely see a tuition increase akin to last year’s 4.2 percent hike, Regent Robert Downer said Sunday night.

“I am not excited about going back to the days of double-digit percentage tuition increases such as we had at the beginning of this decade,” he said. “My general feeling is that we’re about maxed out on tuition.”

His comments were in reaction to the fiscal 2010 state education budget, which the Iowa Legislature completed early Sunday morning.

In a budget year with few winners, college students have made out relatively well.

While various departments and programs across the state are being forced to work with thousands — or millions — of fewer funding dollars, the state Board of Regents won’t see a significant slash to its budget.

Federal stimulus money, plugged in by state legislators early Sunday morning, will offset the vast majority of the roughly 12 percent cut the regents would have been forced to absorb sans the cash influx.

The regents must now go through their own budget process, culminating in the release of their final budget set to come out in June. While not yet complete, the state funding allocated to the board provides a good indicator of the eventual shape of the regents’ budget.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, lauded the final version of the education budget.

“I think on balance, people feel we did a very strong job funding education in the midst of a very difficult budget,” he said. “Of all the areas, I think education probably did the best.”

All area legislators voted for the education budget, which passed down party lines in both chambers.
Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, voted against the bill, taking issue with cuts to private schools, among other things — though he said he was largely content with the allocations to the regents.

“I think there were some good decisions there,” he said.

He maintained the multimillion dollar state bonding proposal that passed over the weekend — which is intended to create jobs and repair the state post-flood — will siphon off money that could be used for education funding in the future.

“Where does it come from?” Feenstra asked, referring to the money needed to pay of the future debt on the bonds. “It comes from education.”

Lawmakers also passed a bill over the weekend giving regents the power to issue $100 million in bonds. Regents will use the essentially borrowed money to help clean up the UI’s campus from flood damage.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is supplying the majority of funding needed to rebuild damaged buildings on campus, and the university has raised more than $100 million of its own mitigation funding through private fundraising, among other sources. In addition, the UI’s insurance has covered about $80 million of the price.

The bonding money will be used as the final piece, matching the funding FEMA is providing.

Some legislators expressed reservations about the act — the bill including the measure passed the House by 10 votes and the Senate by 12 votes.

In contrast Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, a paladin of the bonding plan, called it a “no-brainer.”

Finally, the UI received a little more than $1 million for a flood center in a separate bill.

The center, Bolkcom said, will “provide us the scientific expertise to be able to tell us, when we have significant rainfall, the impact of the rainfall on people downstream and communities downstream.”

Bolkcom hopes the center will help avert last year’s pre-flood problems, in which knowledge-based prescience was absent.

“What we lacked in 2008 was the ability to predict, based on the conditions in early June on what additional rainfall amounts would mean to cities such as Iowa City and Cedar Rapids,” he said.
Gov. Chet Culver is expected to sign the bills in the coming days.

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