Iowa GOP senators propose cutting $52M from state budget

Plan includes reductions to higher education.

Posted: Jan 26, 2018 6:18 AM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Senate Republicans on Thursday proposed about $52 million in mid-year cuts to Iowa's $7.2 billion state budget, including reductions to higher education and the courts that administrators overseeing those systems warned would have detrimental effects.

The plan, which goes beyond the nearly $30 million spending reductions proposed by GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds earlier this month, is for the budget year that runs through June. It is preliminary and will require additional votes. The full Senate is expected to do so next week, while House Republicans say they're still finalizing their own proposal for spending cuts.

It's still unclear how aligned the Republican-controlled chambers will be at first, but they'll ultimately have to reach agreement before they can turn to the next state budget that begins in July.

The Senate GOP plan included $19.3 million in reductions to Iowa's three public universities — the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. The Board of Regents, which oversees the schools, indicated it would fight to lessen the proposed reductions.

"As the state of Iowa is focusing on high-demand jobs, degree attainment, and the biosciences economy, cutting the public universities to this degree goes in the opposite direction of achieving these goals. The public universities are key drivers in all three of these areas and are critical to the future economic success of our state," said Regents Executive Director Mark Braun in a statement.

Jacob Simpson, student government president at the University of Iowa studying economics, said the cuts will be a factor in decisions on tuition and could make higher education more difficult to afford.

"With a mid-year cut, they're going to respond by needing to increase tuition," he said. "We already know students struggle to pay for school."

Sen. Charles Schneider, a West Des Moines Republican who chairs a key Senate budget committee, said the additional cuts ensure GOP lawmakers can help avoid more mid-year reductions. Budget experts are expected to release their latest projections on the current spending year in March, and lower-than-expected state revenue could force more cuts or tapping emergency funds.

Schneider provided the $52 million reduction estimate though preliminary data broke down a $50 million cut. He said the goal was to make cuts "in a way that's fiscally responsible and that reflects the priorities that we as Iowans all hold most dear." That includes no direct cuts to K-12 education spending.

The Senate plan was announced on the same day students from several community colleges visited the state Capitol as part of a lobbying day. Lawmakers in both chambers highlighted the visit by giving students standing ovations in the chambers. A short time later, the Senate GOP spending plan revealed a $5.4 million cut to community colleges.

Reynolds told reporters at her weekly press conference she would be open to proposals from legislators. Her budget plan included a cut of $5.1 million to the regents and $1.8 million to community colleges.

The plan announced Thursday would also include $4.8 million in cuts to the Judicial Branch, which is part of Iowa's court system. That's more than the $1.6 million reduction proposed by Reynolds. State Court Administrator Todd Nuccio said 30 county courthouses across Iowa would close. Those closures would be determined by caseload.

Reductions were expected to some degree. A budget panel predicted in December that while Iowa is still experiencing revenue growth, it's at a lower than expected rate. Similar predictions led to a mid-year spending cut last session and ultimately about $144 million in borrowing from reserve funds. That money is expected to be paid back.

Iowa's budget constraints come at a time when the state's unemployment rate has dropped to 2.8 percent. Reynolds and Republicans have said cutting taxes will be a priority this session, in an effort to spur more economic growth. Few specifics have been released on those assertions.

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