Senate File 2321 is the Education Appropriations bill, which was passed by the Senate last week and which we debated all afternoon in the House. The House majority party basically scrapped the Senate’s budget and replaced it with their own (Amendment H-8327) which reduced the funding for just about every line item in the budget to an unrealistically and unnecessarily low amount, including a 64.9 million cut to the Senate’s funding for our Regent institutions (U of IA, IA State, and Northern IA) and an approximately 40 million dollar cut to the Senate’s funding for our community colleges.
Representative Beth Wessel-Kroeschell proposed an amendment (H-8362) , that would have restored this funding to Iowa’s Regent and community colleges — that amendment was defeated, on party lines. As were pretty much all of the other amendments, most of which sought to increase funding to other important education services to a reasonable level. Despite the fact that there is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that had the House passed every one single one of the proposed amendments (or just passed the Senate’s proposed education budget, which would have amounted to the same thing), the resulting education budget would put no strain on Iowa’s general fund, which continues to increase at higher than anticipated rates.
And over and over again, while the majority party voted no on every single amendment, we kept hearing that hey, don’t worry, because the House’s education budget should be considered “a work in progress,” and we all know that it’s going to be sent to a conference committee, where a handful of leaders of both parties from the House and the Senate will work out a compromise, which compromise will fund education at a more reasonable level. I.e., they want to stay crazy low going into negotiations so they have more room to maneuver. Which I get, but as one of my colleagues pointed out, we have less than four weeks left before adjournment so maybe it’s time to get real, or at least get a little closer to reality than what we passed today.
I want to specifically mention one of the amendments, H-8355 (which for some reason I can’t link to), which takes away the right of Iowa’s community colleges to raise their 2012-2013 tuition (at all), and which everyone voted yes on but for me and one other legislator (Rep. Rick Olson, from Des Moines). I voted no NOT because I don’t care if Clinton Community College jacks up its tuition and inflicts all sorts of financial angst on those of my constituents who attend CCC (which I don’t think the CCC administration would do, if they could possibly avoid it). I voted no because if the House isn’t going to step up and fund community colleges at a level that allows them to do their job — if we’re going to cut their already tight budgets by over 40 million dollars — then how dare we turn around and take away their ability to make up at least a little of that lost funding with a reasonable tuition increase? We should be funding Iowa’s universities and colleges, not freezing them (that’s not as catchy as I would like, but it’s the best I can do at them moment).
It’s ridiculous, and financially irresponsible, and if, in fact, there was any chance that this obnoxious amendment was going to become law, I’m sure that few, if any, of the House legislators would have voted yes, since I assume most of them agree that the legislature shouldn’t be micromanaging the business affairs of the community colleges unless and until there’s some evidence that they are doing something wrong, which there isn’t. But, since we all know the education budget conference committee will strip this amendment out of the final budget bill, and since a no vote could and probably would be used by an opponent in the November election (Representative X doesn’t care about Iowa’s community college students!), most everyone voted yes.
But not to worry — I’m betting that in the end, most of the 40 million dollars cut from the community colleges’ budget will be restored (as will the hundreds of millions of dollars cut from other areas), and the amendment enjoining community colleges from raising tuition will be scrapped (as will the amendment enjoining the Regent institutions from raising tuition, which the House Appropriations committee stuck onto the Senate bill prior to voting it out of committee last week and which is also ridiculous). It’s just frustrating that we have to do all this messing around to get to where everyone pretty much knows we’re going to end up. But that’s politics, I guess.