You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Iowa lawmakers warn regents could face more cuts

Leaders at Iowa’s public universities spent the summer devising five-year tuition plans that envision increasing rates as high as 7 percent a year if lawmakers don’t come through with enough state funding.

But amid grim budget projections, some lawmakers say even status quo state funding is a long shot. In fact, some expect the Legislature to claw back some of the money it already committed this fiscal year to the public universities.

That takeback would compound the de-appropriations lawmakers leveled against the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa in the last session when they rescinded a combined $30-plus million of general education support for the 2017 and 2018 budget years.

“Based on what the (Revenue Estimating Conference) did, it appears to me that Iowans will see a de-appropriations bill soon,” Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, said in December.

Leaders of Iowa’s public universities declined to speculate whether they’d push for even higher tuition increases if there are deeper budget cuts made in the session that begins Monday.

“It would be inappropriate to comment before the Board of Regents makes a formal tuition request and before the Legislature has convened or adopted a single budget bill,” said UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck.

State budget cuts will be among the first issues lawmakers tackle when they reconvene, based on new forecasts showing $7.2 billion in revenue for the current budget year — below projections set when the Legislature crafted its 2018 budget last spring.

The forecast could force lawmakers to find $45 to $90 million in reductions, and regents institutions are a likely target as they were also last year, some said.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, voiced opposition to steep cuts.

“We’ve already gone through the seven worst years for funding for public education,” he said. “We’re seeing Iowa families having to foot more of the bill for the UNI, ISU, UI. We’re seeing the highest tuitions, I think in the United States, for community colleges. More of that burden falls on Iowa’s working families than ever before.”

Board of Regents President Mike Richards said he expects to take up tuition rates for the 2018-19 academic year in February. The board postponed its discussion from the fall, when it typically occurs, because it’s committed to set rates only once this year and wants to see what lawmakers will do.

“One of the key messages we heard is that students and families do not want multiple tuition increases during the year,” he said in October.

In hopes of creating a tuition-setting system involving lawmakers and allowing students and families to plan, the regents convened a task force asking university presidents to submit five-year tuition plans.

It was through those plans that the UI and ISU requested 7-percent annual hikes for resident undergraduates if state support doesn’t improve.

UNI President Mark Nook proposed an annualized 5 percent increase with flat state funding, and was the only of the three to prepare a five-year model for the chance of a state funding cut — pitching a tuition spike of nearly 12 percent in the next academic year if appropriations drop 3.2 percent for 2019.

Because too few lawmakers responded to a task force invitation, the group canceled its legislature-specific meeting. And many criticized plans the universities put forward, saying the rates are too high.

Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said she wants to keep higher ed affordable “and that’s where I come from any time we’re talking about increasing costs to Iowans that are attending our colleges and universities.”

She touted state efforts to make education affordable — reducing the need for remediation in math and science by better preparing high schoolers for postsecondary education, and growing the number of Iowans leaving high school with one or more years of college completed.

“And so I just challenge the regents,” Reynolds said. “I think they can continue to find efficiencies just like our state agencies have, and I would hope that they could do a better job. And so that should be the first place that they look before we take a look at raising tuition is to really do a self-assessment and make sure that there’s not some efficiencies and some reductions in cost that they could find within.”

Iowa’s regents in 2014 launched a sweeping efficiency review of their three campuses that cost nearly $6 million and is expected to save many millions more than that.

According to reports from the campuses this year, ISU has saved nearly $22.7 million; UNI has saved more than $16.4 million; and the UI reported saving $16.6 million, with $11 to $12 million in savings expected to continue annually.

Nationally, reports have emerged of universities raising tuition while still holding millions of tuition revenue in reserve. Iowa’s public universities are allowed to carry forward “unspent tuition revenue” according to regents spokesman Josh Lehman — though not all do now.

At the end of the 2017 budget year in June, the UI had no such balances. UNI had about a half-million and ISU had $2.6 million, according to data provided by Lehman.

ISU in 2017 reduced its pool of unspent tuition revenue sharply from $31.2 million in the 2016 budget year after the Legislature changed timelines for capital appropriations for two large projects, said ISU spokesman John McCarroll. Due to changes in the state funding schedule for ISU’s bioscience facilities, he said, “We utilized all but $2.6 million of the funds.”

The last time the UI held over any tuition revenue was in the 2013 budget year, when it reported a $1.7 million carry-over, according to the regents data. UI spokeswoman Beck said the institution doesn’t retain general fund reserves and instead chooses to make “strategic investments in people, programs, and/or capital projects,” like deferred maintenance work.

UNI’s tuition balances at year end have been declining since 2013. UNI spokesman Scott Ketelsen said his institution uses any unspent tuition revenue the following budget year on one-time projects or maintenance.

breaking featured
John Stone legacy: Giving voice to those needing help in North Iowa

MASON CITY | John Stone is being remembered today as a loyal, hard-working Democrat whose goal in life was to try to help others.

Stone, 71, Cerro Gordo County Democratic chairman, died Thursday at the Muse-Norris Hospice In-Patient Unit.

Dean Genth, county Democratic vice chairman, said "What I will carry with me that I learned from John is that he always gave voice to those who needed help. That drove his political philosophy — meeting the needs of the most number of people.

"He knew that election results didn't always go the way he wanted them to, but he approached them like he approached life. He would always say, 'onward and upward,'" said Genth.

Randy Black, a fellow Democrat who worked with Stone on many Democratic Wing Ding fundraising events over the years, said, "He was a guy who told you straightforward what he thought. But he was a lot fun too. His mind was a file cabinet of trivia. He could tell you dates, he could tell you times, he could tell you places about political events from years ago.

"He truly cared about people and he was loved and liked by everyone because he wanted what was right for everyone."

Dr. Gary Swenson also reflected on Stone's thoughtfulness.  "I think that John will always be remembered for the fact that his driving concern in this life was to better the lives of others," he said.

State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, reflected on Stone's dedication to party politics.

"For years, John took responsibility for running and planning county caucuses and he made sure our monthly meetings were focused and efficient," she said.

"During campaign season he was always looking for ways to get out the vote. I really appreciated his steadfast, strong support. John was a true patriot and a proud Democrat. He will be missed," said Steckman.

State Sen. Amanda Ragan said, "John was a good friend.  He was dedicated to the Democratic Party for many years.  He strongly supported the issues he believed in.  His passion and advocacy will be missed."

Cerro Gordo County Treasurer Pat Wright said Stone was her representative on the County Compensation Board as he had been for her predecessor, Michael Grandon.

She said she and Grandon also worked closely with Stone in many county Democratic party functions. "He worked diligently to advance the Democratic Party in Cerro Gordo County and the state of Iowa," she said.

Jay Urdahl, former Cerro Gordo County supervisor, said, "John was a real foot soldier for the Democratic Party. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for a candidate or the party. His loyalty set him apart from other people."

Urdahl said Stone worked so hard for Sen. John Kerry when Kerry ran for president in 2004 that many thought Stone might get a job in his administration had Kerry won.

A memorial service for Stone will be at 1:30 p.m. Monday at Hogan-Bremer Memorial Chapel.


Sessions terminates US policy that let legal pot flourish (copy)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration threw the burgeoning movement to legalize marijuana into uncertainty Thursday as it lifted an Obama-era policy that kept federal authorities from cracking down on the pot trade in states where the drug is legal. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will now leave it up to federal prosecutors to decide what to do when state rules collide with federal drug law.

Sessions' action, just three days after a legalization law went into effect in California, threatened the future of the young industry, created confusion in states where the drug is legal and outraged both marijuana advocates and some members of Congress, including Sessions' fellow Republicans. Many conservatives are wary of what they see as federal intrusion in areas they believe must be left to the states.

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who represents Colorado, one of eight states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, said the change contradicts a pledge Sessions made to him before being confirmed as attorney general. Gardner promised to push legislation to protect marijuana sales, saying he was prepared "to take all steps necessary" to fight the change, including holding up the confirmation of Justice Department nominees. Another Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, called the announcement "disruptive" and "regrettable."

Colorado's U.S. attorney, Bob Troyer, said his office won't change its approach to prosecution, despite Sessions' guidance. Prosecutors there always have focused on marijuana crimes that "create the greatest safety threats" and will continue to be guided by that, Troyer said.

The largely hands-off approach to marijuana enforcement set forth by Barack Obama's Justice Department allowed the pot business to flourish into a sophisticated, multimillion-dollar industry that helps fund some state government programs. What happens now is in doubt.

"In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department's finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions," considering the seriousness of a crime and its impact on the community, Sessions told prosecutors in a one-page memo.

While Sessions, a longtime marijuana foe, has been carrying out a Justice Department agenda that follows Trump's top priorities on such issues as immigration and opioids, this change reflects his own concerns. He railed against marijuana as an Alabama senator and has assailed it as comparable to heroin.

Trump, as a candidate, said pot should be left up to the states, but his personal views on marijuana remain largely unknown.

It is not clear how the change might affect states where marijuana is legal for medical purposes. A congressional amendment blocks the Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana programs in states where it is allowed. Justice officials said they would follow the law, but would not preclude the possibility of medical-marijuana related prosecutions.

Officials wouldn't say whether federal prosecutors would target marijuana shops and legal growers, nor would they speculate on whether pot prosecutions would increase.

They denied the timing was connected to the opening of California sales, which are projected to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue within several years. And, the officials said, Thursday's action might not be the only step toward greater marijuana enforcement. The department has the authority to sue states on the grounds that state laws regulating pot are unconstitutional, pre-empted by federal law.

Asked about the change, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said only that Trump's top priority is enforcing federal law "and that is regardless of what the topic is, whether it's marijuana or whether it's immigration."

The Obama administration in 2013 announced it would not stand in the way of states that legalize marijuana, so long as officials acted to keep it from migrating to places where it remained outlawed and keep it out of the hands of criminal gangs and children. That memo, written by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, had cleared up some of the uncertainty about how the federal government would respond as states began allowing sales for recreational and medical purposes.

But the Sessions Justice Department believed the Cole memo created a "safe harbor" for marijuana by allowing states to flout federal law, Justice Department officials said. Sessions, in his memo, called the Obama guidance "unnecessary."

He and some law enforcement officials in states such as Colorado blame legalization for a number of problems, including drug traffickers who have taken advantage to illegally grow and ship the drug across state lines, where it can sell for much more.

Marijuana advocates argue those concerns are overblown and contend legalizing the drug reduces crime by eliminating the need for a black market. They quickly condemned Sessions' move as a return to outdated drug-war policies that unduly affected minorities.

Trump moves to vastly expand offshore drilling off US coasts (copy)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Thursday moved to vastly expand offshore drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic oceans with a plan that would open up federal waters off California for the first time in more than three decades.

The new five-year drilling plan could also open new areas of oil and gas exploration in areas off the East Coast from Florida to Maine, where drilling has been blocked for decades. While some lawmakers in those states support offshore drilling, the plan drew immediate opposition from governors up and down the East Coast, including Republican Govs. Rick Scott of Florida and Larry Hogan of Maryland, who pressed President Donald Trump to withdraw their states from consideration.

Democratic governors on both coasts blasted the plan. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it "another federal assault on our environment" while California Gov. Jerry Brown vowed to block "this reckless, short-sighted action."

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the plan Thursday, saying that responsible development of offshore energy resources would boost jobs and economic security while providing billions of dollars to fund conservation along U.S. coastlines.

The five-year plan would open 90 percent of the nation's offshore reserves to development by private companies, Zinke said, with 47 leases proposed off the nation's coastlines from 2019 to 2024. Nineteen sales would be off Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific, including six off California.

"This is a draft program," Zinke told reporters during a conference call. "Nothing is final yet, and our department is continuing to engage the American people to get to our final product."

Industry groups praised the announcement, which would be the most expansive offshore drilling proposal in decades. The proposal follows Trump's executive order in April encouraging more drilling rights in federal waters, part of the administration's strategy to help the U.S. achieve "energy dominance" in the global market.

"To kick off a national discussion, you need a national plan — something that has been lacking the past several years," said Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association. Former President Barack Obama blocked Atlantic and Pacific drilling under a five-year plan finalized in 2016.

A coalition of more than 60 environmental groups denounced the plan, saying it would impose "severe and unacceptable harm" to America's oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.

"These ocean waters are not President Trump's personal playground. They belong to all Americans and the public wants them preserved and protected, not sold off to multinational oil companies," read the coalition's statement, which was signed by leaders of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters and other environmental groups.

The proposal comes less than a week after the Trump administration proposed to rewrite or kill rules on offshore oil and gas drilling imposed after the 2010 rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The accident on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and triggered the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The Trump administration called the rules an unnecessary burden on industry and said rolling them back will encourage more energy production. Environmentalists said Trump was raising the risk of more deadly oil spills.

The Obama administration imposed tougher rules in response to the BP spill. The rules targeted blowout preventers, massive valve-like devices designed to prevent spills from wells on the ocean floor. The preventer used by BP failed. The rules require more frequent inspections of those and other devices and dictate that experts onshore monitor drilling of highly complex wells in real time.

The Gulf of Mexico still is recovering from the BP spill, said Diane Hoskins, campaign director for the marine conservation group Oceana.

"Americans have seen the devastation that comes from offshore drilling," she said. "Will we allow Florida's white beaches or the popular and pristine Outer Banks to share a similar fate? What about the scenic Pacific coast or even remote Arctic waters?"

"Americans have seen the devastation that comes from offshore drilling," she said. "Will we allow Florida's white beaches or the popular and pristine Outer Banks to share a similar fate? What about the scenic Pacific coast or even remote Arctic waters?"

Zinke's announcement "ignores widespread and bipartisan opposition to offshore drilling," including from more than 150 municipalities nationwide and 1,200 local, state and federal officials, Hoskins said.

Scott, the Florida governor, said he has asked for an immediate meeting with Zinke to discuss his concerns. "My top priority is to ensure that Florida's natural resources are protected," Scott said. Hogan, of Maryland, said he would oppose the plan "to the fullest extent that is legally possible."

California was the site of the first offshore drilling in the U.S. more than 120 years ago, but the region was tarnished by one of the worst spills in U.S. history in 1969, when more than 3 million gallons of oil poured into the ocean near Santa Barbara.

Thousands of sea birds were killed, along with dolphins, elephant seals and sea lions. Virtually all commercial fishing near Santa Barbara was halted, and tourism dropped dramatically.

Public outrage generated by the spill helped spark the modern environmental movement, and no federal leases have been granted off the California coast since 1984.

Democratic Govs. Jerry Brown of California, Kate Brown of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington issued a joint statement slamming the proposal, which they said ignored science and the devastation of past offshore spills.

"For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further federal drilling and we'll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action," they said.