UISG lobbies legislators for more funds


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Four University of Iowa Student Government officials climbed the icy stairs to the Statehouse in subzero temperatures Thursday with one thing in mind: state appropriations and fair tuition.

“How much did you pay for your education? How much did your children pay?” UISG President John Rigby asked Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, just outside the House Chambers.

Following Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposed higher-education cuts, the UI students hoped to communicate their concerns to legislators with a more personal approach.

“I think when you put it in that context it really paints a different picture,” Rigby said of asking legislators to reflect on how much tuition cost when they went to college.

Thursday, UISG members traveled to Des Moines in hopes of influencing legislators who are the alumni of the three state universities.

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The students were successful in contacting nine legislators, focusing primarily on the effect decreasing state appropriations has had on the UI, including larger class sizes and a possible cut for the university’s Living Learning Communities.

“I was impressed that they would drive all the way from Iowa City and take the chance of failing,” said Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, who attended the UI as an undergraduate student. “When we do get to the point of deciding what funds go where, I was glad to be able to see them, because then I have a face to think back about.”

Gaines said the students from UISG presented her with several positives she hadn’t considered, including the possibility that keeping tuition affordable could bring more out-of-state students into Iowa, drawing money into the state.

While legislators from both sides of the aisle expressed concern about students facing at least a 5 percent tuition hike, both sides agreed it will be difficult to split up the budget, and it’s too soon to predict just how money will be distributed.

“We haven’t had one presentation that hasn’t been worth funds,” Gaines said. “It’s going to be challenging to decide who’s going to get what, and how much — it’s going to be a tough decision.”

Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon, did not speak directly with UISG representatives Thursday, and he said he doesn’t expect the budget to be divvied up for at least two weeks.

“You have to decide how much is actually in the checking account before you can decide how much to spend,” he said. “Doing it the other way would create a hole.”

Lee Henely, the UISG government-relations liaison who makes weekly trips to Des Moines, said he wasn’t sure how much of an effect the trip made, but officials are hopeful and plan to send more UISG members to lobby over the coming weeks and months.

The group has also planned a grass-roots movement scheduled for Regents Day on March 7, Rigby said.

He said he believes it helps to not only write letters, but to have anyone involved — students, parents, alumni — show up in person to tell their stories.

“Obviously, it’s not going to stop today, but what I learned just from hearing from our own delegation … is that not only just this little minor incident helps, it’s also kind of when you gather in mass and get everyone involved,” Rigby said.

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