Iowa Taxpayers First Act passes House

Paige Godden

The Iowa Taxpayers First Act, or HF45, passed through the Iowa House with a vote of 60-40 and was sent to the Senate on Wednesday night.

ISU President Gregory Geoffroy said he believes the bill, as it was written when it passed Wednesday night, is the worst case scenario for state funding to the regents institutions. Geoffroy said when building the university budget, it is important to remember that as bills go through the House, Senate and eventually to the governor, it can be changed in a number of ways.

“We start building scenarios … worst case scenarios, best case scenarios, and we try and find the something in between,” Geoffroy said.

Warren Madden, vice president for business and finance, said it is too early to tell what will happen with HF45.

“We are taking it seriously, but we have not worked out exactly where the reductions would have to occur,” Madden said.

Geoffroy said if it gets to a point where classes need to be removed, the most vulnerable are the courses with relatively low enrollments.

“Ultimately, so much of that depends on each college and each department … I hope we’re really sort of beyond those discussions,” Geoffroy said. “I tend to be optimistic. I am still optimistic we will come out of this legislative budget alright … I’ve been wrong in the past, too, though.”

One section of HF45 “directs the education appropriations subcommittee to implement provisions to consolidate administrative functions of the state Board of Regents and its institutions and the community colleges for [fiscal year] 2012.”

Madden said this doesn’t provide details on how that would be done, but it would have an impact on the governance structure of the Regents if there was a combining of the institutions and community colleges.

“It says the joint appropriations committee should implement provisions, but it doesn’t define what those provisions are,” Madden said. “It certainly would have an impact, but it’s difficult to know if you don’t know how they propose to do this.”

HF45 also proposes the reduction of ISU fiscal year 2011 budget by $3.7 million, along with a $6 million cut in fiscal year 2012, freezing sabbaticals through fiscal year 2012 and putting a 4 percent cap on tuition increases.

Other things the university could potentially do to eliminate spending range from “layoffs through early retirement programs, … leaving positions vacant when they naturally arise and eliminating services and programs all across the campus,” Geoffroy said.

Geoffroy said one of the biggest challenges the university has been facing is in the science laboratories.

Night labs have been added and schedules have been adjusted in order to make sure the space is being used appropriately, Geoffroy said.

“The worst case scenario has already been presented in House File 45. Other bills may be introduced as we go along that we’ll have to deal with. The best case scenario may be flat budgets, with no cuts at all,” Geoffroy said.

“I have pages here of the cuts they have made in order for efficiencies to be made,” State Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said during debate on HF45. “They have been doing what all Iowans have been doing: cutting back during a time of recession.”

“We need to let young people know they are important to us or they will continue to leave,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

She said the supporters of the bill were apparently not listening to the fact that this will have long-term effects on the state.

“We will be paying more for preschool … we will be paying more for the effects of smoking … we will be paying for the losses to our universities as the quality decreases. There is a high price Iowans will pay if this bill becomes law,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

“It’s an awful bill,” said Senator Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, associate professor of economics. “It’s an attack on education at all different levels. It has terrible ideas on other areas as well.”

Quirmbach said it would be hard to imagine a worse bill for higher education. He said there is no way the university could come up with the $3.7 million to give back in fiscal year 2011.

“How are you going to come up with $3.7 million two-thirds of the way into the semester … it’s basically a cut of almost $1 million a month after classes have already been established,” Quirmbach said. “There’s only one path from here: It’s the decline in education. It’s bigger than bigger classes and fewer class offerings, it’s closing down degree programs and closing down whole departments. It’s a recipe for disaster from people who don’t know or don’t care about higher education.”

Quirmbach said the people who are voting for HF45 aren’t just taking aim at higher education, but preschools and core curricula as well.

“I think this is dead on arrival in the Senate,” Quirmbach said.

“[The bill is] very disappointing from the perspective public universities have been cut by $40 million and they have taken more than their fair share of cuts during the last few years,” Wessel-Kroeschell said after HF45 passed.

Wessel-Kroeschell said she was opposed to cutting education on all levels and Republicans have promised a reform on preschools, but she isn’t sure what that will be.

“We lost 800 jobs with just that one piece,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

She said she thinks the rest of the House session will reflect what happened Wednesday night.

“I’m not anticipating it will be much different than what we saw last night,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “I think we will be fighting these battles all along. We might win a few, but I’m guessing we lose a lot more than we win.”

Upon being passed by the House, HF45 was sent to the Senate where senators will vote whether or not they want to debate it.