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Tuition freeze hits bump in road

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS AND REBECCA MORIN | APRIL 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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A little more than $4 million may stand in the way of another in-state tuition freeze.

The Legislature has reached an impasse as House Republicans and Senate Democrats disagree on how much funding should be directed to the University of Iowa.

Their dispute will now head to a conference committee, a bipartisan group tasked with crafting a compromise. It will begin meeting as early as this morning.

These disputes are not uncommon, said Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington.

“This is what the process is all about — I don’t get all of what I want, he doesn’t get all of what he wants, and then we go home,” he said.

Schoenjahn said the disagreement is an “outstanding issue” and has been apparent for quite some time.

In September the state Board of Regents indicated tuition could be frozen again at the three regent schools if the Legislature appropriated 4 percent to each school.

Gov. Terry Branstad backed the renewal during his State-of-the-State address in January and has featured it prominently in his re-election campaign.

The disagreement centers on just how much money the UI can spare and whether a freeze can still be accomplished with changes to a regent proposal.

House Republicans contend that the UI has extra money in the bank, which they say is in contrast to how much Iowa State University and Northern Iowa have saved up.

“[Lowering the increase] was the decision, because the University of Iowa can stand less of an increase the way appropriations have been,” said Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R- Mount Ayr.

Republicans slate the saved money for a specialized program at Iowa State as well as a statewide education network, known as area education agencies, which assists local school districts.

Dolecheck said the network has been through cuts the last couple of years.

However, University of Iowa officials hope the House and Senate will come to a compromise similar to Branstad’s original proposal.

“The university supports Gov. Branstad’s budget proposal, which is 4 percent for each regent university and an extra $4 million to the UNI,” said Joseph Brennan, the UI vice president for Strategic Communication. “The perception we have a vastly larger balance is not accurate.”

Doug True, the UI treasurer and senior vice president of Finance and Operations, said the three regent university’s budget should not be compared because of the different factors that contribute to the UI.

“We’re unique and have the medical center, all of which is consolidated into our financial report,” True said. “That is a huge factor … and there is no medical center in Northern Iowa and Iowa State.”

True said the several influences affect the university’s financial report also includes payroll and investments for the University of Northern Iowa through the UI.

The university’s overall budget is nearly $3.4 billion. UIHC contributes to more than $1 billion of the operating budget, and payroll is approximately $154 million of the budget.

One concern officials have with the report is the time the university is evaluated, because they are evaluated on the last day of the month.

True said the university does not distribute payroll until the first of every month, whereas the other two regent universities distribute payroll on the last day of the month. This contributes to the balance left in the budget.

Another weight accounted for is UNI. Northern Iowa directly invests through the UI, True said, and through the process, UNI gains commodities of scale.

Dolecheck said the regents should not give universities a “broad brush” treatment in how they approach funding. He said this current approach has advantaged the UI over other schools.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the regents are reviewing the funding structure and any decision made now is premature.

The regents are conducting a financial allocation study, Regent Larry McKibben said. The study will allow officials to evaluate where the spending is going.

“I would rather the Legislature wait and let the regents decide on how the allocations should be made rather than micromanage at a legislative standpoint,” McKibben said.

Schoenjahn, the top Democrat for education appropriations, said his party will not waver when it comes to the 4 percent mark, meaning a deal would have to come elsewhere.


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