Hawkeye Caucus makes second-annual trip to Des Moines

BY BETH BRATSOS | MARCH 28, 2012 6:30 AM

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Des Moines — Iowa policymakers mingled with University of Iowa students at the Capitol Tuesday as students pitched the importance of their programs' impact at the state level.

At the UI's second Hawkeye Caucus Day, 38 divisions and colleges from the UI sought to garner more appropriations for the university through educating legislators about the university's programs.

Rising tuition costs and state funding for regent universities formed the main topics of discussion among legislators and students — namely a House Appropriation Committee bill to freeze tuition for the upcoming school year.

"That's not going to happen," Gov. Terry Branstad told The Daily Iowan. "I'm very keenly aware of financial problems students have. I want to maintain some of the programs to keep the quality of education up."

He said he's hopeful his proposed $23 million increase to regent university funding will pass. The Senate's proposal would increase funding by $34 million. In addition to the freeze, the House has proposed a $31 million cut in funding for the state's regent universities.

Regent universities received more than $580 million in state appropriations for fiscal 2012.

More students showed up to lobby for additional funding. Peter Matthes of UI Governmental Relations said turnout for the day more than doubled over last year's figure. Matthes first organized the group in January 2011 to show Iowa politicians what kind of effect the university has on the state.

"Our goal is to bring our campus to them [and to] demonstrate UI has impact from river to river and border to border," he said.

But some legislators said the House's proposed budget cut could further hurt the universities if coupled with a tuition freeze — that alone would reduce the university's income by $30 million — and could negatively affect programs and staffing at the regent schools.

Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, said the House is using the tuition freeze to cover up its massive budget cut, but the two proposals actually work together to create a larger loss of income for the university.

"There is a lot of political pushback. That budget will actually increase tuition," he said. "That bill is not even worth the paper it's written on."

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said he supports the Appropriation Committee's decision to a certain extent.

"I like the tuition freeze," he said. "As long as we're funding the universities."

He said the $31 million cut proposed by the House will partly fund tax relief.

"What they're doing is saying that's the priority now instead of education," he said.

UI State Relations Officer Keith Saunders said the 3.7 percent increase in UI tuition the state Board of Regents proposed for next year is the university's second-lowest tuition increase in 30 years.

Elliot Higgins, the president of the UI Student Government, said he supports the governor's budget and the budget coming out of the Senate.

"I think they will maintain the quality of education at the University of Iowa," he said. "Considering the past few years we have primarily seen cuts, it is reassuring to see that two of the budgets propose increase in the appropriations to regent institutions."

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