Branstad budget increases Regents funding by $8 million, well below requested $20 million

ISU President Steven Leath delivers a speech during the 2015 Ag Summit on in Des Moines on March 7.

Alex Hanson

Gov. Terry Branstad’s budget released on Tuesday provides an increase of just less than $8 million for Iowa regent schools, well below the $20 million requested across the board for the state’s three public universities.

Listed on page 672 of his budget, which was released while he delivered his annual Condition of the State, the budget allocates $7,934,042 for “FY 17 Regents Increase.”

The Iowa Board of Regents is the governing body that oversees the state’s three public universities — Iowa State University, The University of Iowa and The University of Northern Iowa.

The allocation in Branstad’s budget is well below what was requested during the Sept. 9 meeting of the regents, where the board unanimously approved a motion asking the state for a $20.3 million increase in general university support.

The $7,934,042 does not even total what Iowa State University alone was requesting in general support. ISU asked the regents for $8,190,000 to “maintain educational excellence, promote student success and keep tuition affordable.”

The University of Iowa was asking for a $4,500,000 increase, while the University of Northern Iowa asked for a $7,650,000 increase in general university funding.

President Steven Leath told the Daily in an interview Monday that while he understands it will be a tight budget year, the $8 million increase was necessary based on enrollment and the need to keep offering a quality education.

“The legislature needs to know if they give us money, we will use it wisely,” Leath said. “We won’t waste it. They need to know there is a lot of Iowa kids here so it makes sense for Iowa tax money to come here. And they need to know we care about the state.”

The budget allocation comes after a year of tense negotiations back and forth over education funding for both K-12 schools and higher education in the state. The legislature approved one-time funding that was vetoed by Branstad after he called the practice “unsustainable.”

Branstad’s Condition of the State address did not include a mention of his funding levels at the university level at all, instead just mentioning that he is looking forward to working with regent universities and community colleges to close the “skills gap.”

A spokesperson for Branstad said Wednesday that a tight budget is behind the low-ball number, but the governor looks forward to working with legislatures.

“As Gov. Branstad outlined in his speech [Tuesday], the avian influenza, lower commodity prices and an ever-increasing world economy have given us a very tight budget to work with,” Ben Hammes said. “Gov. Branstad is pleased to be able to put together once again a stable, predictable budget for Iowans and looks forward to many conversations with legislators in the weeks ahead.”

Regents President Bruce Rastetter said in a statement after Branstad’s address that he “appreciates” the governor’s support for public universities and said his address shows that “keeping higher education accessible and affordable is a priority.”

“We will continue to be good stewards with the money that is appropriated to us,” Rastetter said. “We will also continue to strive to find ways to be more efficient and effective with our funds. The board is committed to working with the governor and General Assembly in the 2016 legislative session to secure the level of funding that will ensure the highest quality education for our students.”

State Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said last week that adequately funding schools would be a priority this legislative session, but budget projections are lower than expected. 

“I think we’re going to do as well as we can for education,” Quirmbach said. “My priority is funding education because I think it’s the principle investment we make in our future.”