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Our analysis of the last year

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MAY 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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The 2010 elections and the first four months of Branstad’s newest term

With the exception of the mediocre Rep. Dave Loebsack and Attorney Gen. Tom Miller, none of the candidates we endorsed were elected to office, and Republicans made significant gains on the state and national levels. While the election wasn’t the mandate for change many on the right claimed, it has had an immediate impact on Iowa politics.

In Gov. Terry Branstad’s inaugural speech, he told the state that Iowa’s problems could be solved with less government. Still, we were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. We surmised that Iowa’s large budget surplus and a statewide economy that was relatively strong would prevent the governor from doing too much damage. We were disappointed.

Branstad immediately made it clear that he would make businesses his top priority — and that his pro-business agenda would come at the expense of education, unions, green economy development, and basic services for Iowans.

Despite Branstad’s earlier record as a staunch education advocate, he has delivered one cut to education after another. He proposed cutting Iowa’s free preschool program for 4-year olds and chose to halt the implementation of Iowa’s Core Curriculum — a set of education standards following Iowa’s public-school students from kindergarten to 12th grade. He also cut funding for free- and reduced-price lunch programs. The governor also delivered a huge blow to school-district finances with his proposal to provide zero allowable funding growth in Iowa’s school districts, which will lead to a fewer class options, larger class sizes, and the loss of numerous teaching jobs.

Branstad also crusaded against Iowa’s unions. He issued an executive order banning project-labor agreements in state contracts, which removes benefits for firms using union workers and breaks down a safeguard that kept jobs in Iowa. He also advocated a plan to curtail unions’ collective-bargaining power and reduce the amount of state assistance union employees receive on their health-care payments.

We knew that some changes in Iowa’s budget would be necessary given the financial climate, but Branstad has sunk below our expectations, throwing his weight behind a 40 percent cut to commercial property taxes — which places the tax burden on the backs of everyday Iowa families.

Iowa higher education: increased student costs, decreased quality

The Iowa House of Representatives voted to cut funding for the state Board of Regents by $25 million over the next two years. The regents responded, despite student protests and lobbying efforts, by raising tuition and room and board 5 percent at the University of Iowa. We inveighed against the hikes, because they place an undue burden on students who are facing record levels of debt and mental health problems.

Instead, regents should look at cost-cutting measures — be they examinations of budget waste, such as extravagant travel spending or large administrative salaries. (But not selling Jackson Pollock’s Mural, a proposition withdrawn after national outcry.)

As we stated throughout the year, the UI has a reputation as a top-notch public university — and it increases the state’s economic clout. This reputation is bolstered by state funding. As that funding declines, contributing the lowest percentage to the regents’ funds in history this year, officials will try to cut costs by eliminating programs and research-boosting sabbaticals. And even increasing tuition can’t compensate for declining appropriations. The future of Iowa’s higher-education system looks bleak: less affordable education with fewer opportunities.

We hope, for everyone’s sake, that Branstad fulfills his promises to fund education fully after the immediate budget crunch. The Iowa quarter’s slogan, “foundation in education,” may not hold true for long.

Changes to student culture, tailgating

University of Iowa officials cracked down on campus drinking and tailgating this year in a concerted effort to change the face of university events. Between the upholding of the 21-ordinance, the Think Before you Drink campaign, and the dustup over Melrose Avenue vendors, Iowa students found their tailgating and bar-going traditions under fire. While the DI Editorial Board was of two minds on the 21-ordinance, we slammed the possibility of eliminating Melrose vendors and worried about the two-hour limit on tailgating. We also worried about the improved house-party patrol, concerned it might lead to an overzealous policing of student activities. Our hesitance to wholly condemn the 21-ordinance aside, these regulations together paint a disturbing picture: a city and university willing to curtail student traditions to burnish their image.

Throughout the semester, we encouraged Iowa’s students to become involved on the national, state, local, and university levels. Students were unhappy about such issues as tuition increases and the 21-ordinance, but turnout in local elections and involvement in campus activities were still lower than they should be.

We hope that students next semester will realize the importance of working to advocate for themselves and the causes they care about.


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