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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 24, 2014

Views from across Iowa

Sep 20, 2013

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Sept. 15

Freeze tuition — at least

 

For the past several years it has been preached in high schools and middle schools, to parents and to editorial boards, that higher education is increasingly necessary to compete adequately in today’s ultra-competitive global marketplace.

There’s good reason for that. It’s true.

At the same time, the cost of higher education has priced many out of that opportunity. For some, it is postponed. For others, it may never happen.

With that in mind, a plan approved recently by the Iowa Board of Regents would freeze tuition for a second straight year. That could be a reprieve of sorts on its face. However, for many a freeze may not be enough.

Our universities have made some strides toward recovery since the extremely deep cuts in state appropriations that began hitting them at the beginning of the new century. That probably can’t be said for a lot of prospective students. Tuition went up. Way up. And it stayed up.

In Iowa, tuition rose by almost 60 percent between 2001 and 2005, punctuated by the years of 2002 and 2003 that saw extremely painful increases of 18.5 percent and 17.6 percent, respectively.

Students and parents began picking up an ever-increasing percentage of the higher education tab. Former University of Northern Iowa President Robert Koob called it the “privatization of public education.”

In the meantime, those fortunate enough to get that education are increasingly saddled with debt loads that place them in a deep financial hole that takes many years to dig out from. Traditional life steps, such as marriage, home purchases, etc., are often put on hold as they work to alleviate massive debt.

The prospective tuition freeze, approved by the regents at their meeting in Cedar Falls, is contingent upon legislature approval. UNI also hopes legislators make $10 million in one-time funding for UNI a permanent annual allocation, making the current state funding formula for public universities more equitable.

“It’s just a base budget dollar amount that will allow us to have a little more confidence and stability in moving forward as we plan and continue to grow our enrollment,” said UNI President Bill Ruud

Board President Bruce Rastetter said the regents are forming a committee to address whether the current state funding formula for public universities is equitable.

“I think the reality is that the regents have not looked at that (formula) over the past 30 years since it’s been put in place,” he said.

It is our hope that lawmakers and the regents can come to terms that will help put the “public” back in public education.

Soon, citizens and the Legislature of this state — and the citizens of this nation — are going to have to reassess the importance of our public higher education institutions and the access to them in relation to the need for preparing for satisfactory jobs.

Many of our state and national lawmakers thrived under the affordable umbrella of public higher education. It is imperative that they help search for ways to keep these opportunities within reach of most qualified Americans.

We are simply failing this next generation, and future generations, if their cost of education is too high for them to participate.

– – –

Sioux City Journal, Sept. 15

What in the world were they thinking?

 

It’s hard to know where to begin in discussing comments made by U.S. House members Steve King, Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert during a trip to Egypt earlier this month.

If we boiled our reaction down to one question, it probably would be something like this: What in the world were they thinking?

Let’s begin here: To say Egypt is turbulent and its future uncertain is to understate the obvious. Earlier this summer, the Egyptian army overthrew Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, who in 2012 succeeded Hosni Mubarak, who himself was forced from office by revolution in 2011.

What will happen next week? Next month? Next year?

Tomorrow?

Who knows?

Have no fear, though. King, Bachmann and Gohmert appear already to have decided all of this for the rest of us.

While in Cairo with a larger group of House members, the trio praised the military for its ouster of Morsi and proclaimed support from the American people. (We might add the overthrow of Morsi was followed by a crackdown on protesters in which hundreds of Egyptians were killed.)

Gohmert compared Egyptian Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the ouster of Morsi, to George Washington. Bachmann implied the Muslim Brotherhood political movement, to which Morsi is a member, was to blame for 9-11.

Hold everything.

First, it’s premature at this point to make a judgment with any degree of certainty about who and what is good for Egypt and who and what isn’t good for Egypt or what the future will be in Egypt because the evolving situation there remains too fluid. It’s unclear today what America’s foreign-policy position toward Egypt is, will be or should be in the wake of continuing instability, unrest and violence. Will time prove the overthrow of Morsi by the military was good for Egypt and Egypt-U.S. relations? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Second, King, Bachmann and Gohmert don’t speak for American foreign policy or for Americans; they speak only for themselves.

While the Obama administration waits for the dust to settle and the picture to clear in Egypt, it doesn’t need or want this kind of “help” from a trio of freelance U.S. House “diplomats.” This is true for any president at a time of crisis overseas.

Whether it’s King, Bachmann and Gohmert or someone else, it’s counterproductive to difficult, sensitive American relations in the volatile Middle East for individual members of Congress to meddle in this fashion.

It’s one thing to collect facts in Egypt to help in casting votes back home. It’s quite another to — as King, Bachmann and Gohmert did — speak at a news conference broadcast over a pro-government satellite network and reported on by Egyptian state news media.

Quite frankly, given a heaping plateful of unresolved domestic issues - such as the looming threat of a federal government shutdown - we would prefer our congressman stick to meeting the responsibilities and duties for which this district elected him ... and let the foreign-policy experts handle Egypt.

– – –

The Des Moines Register, Sept. 13

Miller disappoints on U of I settlement

 

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s staff has issued numerous “sunshine advisories” during his long career as the state’s top law enforcement officer. His message in an advisory issued in 2004 was straightforward: Settlements involving state and local government in Iowa are never secret.

Except, apparently, when Miller’s office does not want all that sunshine in the eyes of its clients. Of course, that is a problem, given the fact that those clients are part of state government.

Recently, Assistant Attorney General Jordan Esbrook urged District Judge Douglas Russell to ignore the 2004 sunshine advisory in evaluating a dispute over the University of Iowa delaying the release of such a settlement by about two years. The attorney general’s office is defending the university against legal action brought by The Associated Press.

The AP argues the university violated Iowa’s public records law in delaying access to a resignation agreement signed by a former U of I surgeon, John Chaloupka.

The school bent over backward, with the attorney general’s blessings, to keep from the public a document showing the doctor was stripped of key duties but allowed to keep his $380,000 salary for one year.

While the AP eventually obtained the resignation agreement, it is asking Judge Russell to rule the university violated the law and must pay the AP’s legal fees.

Miller should practice what he preaches on transparency. His office is acting as though it’s protecting state government rather than protecting the interests of the 3 million Iowans represented by that government.

We find Miller’s position to be very disappointing.

– – –

Telegraph Herald, Sept. 15

Legislature must show leadership on gas tax hike

 

The Iowa Legislature checked a big issue off its to-do list last session when it reached a bipartisan agreement on property taxes. Next, lawmakers should get their arms around another tax of statewide importance: The gas tax.

This one is sticky in a different way. Nobody likes tax increases. Lawmakers have a particular aversion to them in election years, and 2014 happens to be one of those even-numbered years.

While most Iowans would say they don’t like paying more taxes, they also would say maintaining the state’s roads and bridges is a high priority. A 2011 study found Iowa has a $215 million annual shortfall for meeting its most critical public roadway needs and a $1.6 billion shortfall for overall needs.

The state funding mechanism to fuel that account is the gas tax. The tax rate has remained virtually unchanged since 1989 at 21 cents per gallon.

Just how significant the funding need is in Dubuque County should become clearer this week when the county hosts a public informational meeting about the condition of its roads and the funding available to maintain them.

County personnel will be on hand to answer questions about the displays set up around the room. Here’s a prediction about the questions citizens will raise: How come the road/bridge near my house isn’t a higher priority? How are we going to pay for this?

The answers to both questions lead county officials to believe an increase in the user tax is vital to address infrastructure needs.

A per-gallon increase of 9 to 10 cents would net Dubuque County $850,000 to $950,000 in additional revenue each year. That would help the county be more aggressive in repair-project planning. Anyone who has driven our county roads can see the sorry shape of rural roads and bridges.

Gov. Terry Branstad said early this year that he would consider a modest increase in the state gas tax once the Legislature achieved property tax reform. Since then, the governor seems lukewarm to the idea, saying recently, “They’ve been talking about the gas tax for several years, and it goes nowhere.”

But lawmakers need to take the lead and make this discussion go somewhere. We can’t keep putting off road construction and repair. Legislators should consider a modest gas tax increase and at the same time consider expanding the funding model to address the increasing number of hybrid and electric vehicles on the road.

 

Cars that burn very little fossil fuel still contribute to wear and tear on roads and bridges just as their gas-guzzling brethren do. The more car manufacturers innovate, the more outdated the gas tax model becomes. The state must consider a more fair way to levy a road-use tax.

 

Iowans were proud of the work lawmakers did last session in moving several big initiatives forward. A great way to build on that momentum would be to find bipartisan support for a small increase in the gas tax and offer a plan for a new funding mechanism.

 

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