Lawmaker to student lobbyists: “Leave the circus to us”

BY LUKE VOELZ | JUNE 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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A Republican lawmaker told University of Iowa students they were part of a “political circus” while the students lobbied for more education funding at the statehouse on Monday.

“You just put forth the effort to be part of political propaganda in a political circus,” Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon, said during a hearing at the Statehouse. “I do not like it when students actually come here and lobby for funds; that’s just my opinion. I wish you guys the best … but this political theater — leave the circus to us.”

Those comments came as students from the three state Board of Regents’ universities fought for increased regent spending at a legislative hearing on a Republican-sponsored budget bill Monday.

UI law student Michael Appel said at the hearing that diminished funding would drive up tuition, forcing him and other high-debt students to find high-paying jobs out of state.

“My colleagues and I in the College of Law will have more than $130,000 in debt when we graduate,” he said. “Those who want to open practice in rural Iowa can no longer do so, or those who want to open up public service can no longer do so as well.”

Five students spoke against the house omnibus budget bill, which aims to divide the $6 billion that Gov. Terry Branstad set for state spending in fiscal 2012 and 2013. The bill, on which debate will begin on the House floor today, would decrease the regents’ funding by approximately $38 million in fiscal 2012 and twice that amount in the next fiscal year.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said Hamerlinck’s comments “political propoganda” allegations were “insulting.”

“What we heard from Sen. Hamerlinck today definitely revealed the true face of Republican legislators toward higher education,” he said.

Quirmbach said he supported increasing funds to regent universities because of an economic upturn that would place $1 billion in reserve funds and extra funds in the general budget.

“We have made painful cuts to the regents the last two years because of the recession and the fall in state revenue,” he said. “We didn’t have a whole lot of choice. This year, our finances are in good shape, and there is no reason to justify any further cuts to the regents.”

Regent President David Miles, who also spoke at the hearing, emphasized the relation between university funding and the state’s economy. He said that each dollar invested in the universities returns $15.81 to the state itself. However, he said, state appropriations increased 28 percent in the last decade, while regents appropriations decreased 24 percent.

“The regent institutions have borne a disproportionately large share of state budget cuts,” Miles told the senators. “This pattern of multiyear disinvestment is more than shared sacrifice during difficult times. It reflects judgments that place a lower value on funding public higher education than other priorities.”

Appel said decreasing regent support may come from constituents uninterested in state universities.

“Some people in the northwest, southeast, etc., may not feel a direct impact from the universities,” he said. “I feel the opposite is true. Lawyers who practice there were most likely from the College of Law, doctors who are sought out were trained at the Carver College of Medicine. The impact regent universities have across the state is enormous.”

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