I recently had the opportunity to give the commencement address at Indian Hills Community College. In my speech, I highlighted the coming retirement of Senate President Jack Kibbie. Senator Kibbie is the reason Iowa has community colleges that are the envy of the nation. In 1965, he authored and floor-managed the bill that created our community college system. At that time, a community college education was to be free or close to free.
Some people say it shouldn’t be free, that there should be some skin in the game. I can buy that. I think most Iowans want to make their lot in life and pay their fair share. I see kids and people working multiple jobs to put themselves through school. That is the very essence of what defines us as Iowans. Unfortunately, higher education is becoming unaffordable no matter how many jobs you work.
What’s astounding, the resources are there to support higher education without massive tuition increases. I’ve repeatedly said that the state of Iowa will have $600 million in our reserve funds and $300 million in our ending balance when the fiscal year comes to a close on June 30.
I argued that with so much money on hand—far more than most other states—there is no need to deeply cut our local schools, community colleges and universities.
That statement was partially in error, and I want to issue a correction.
It turns out Iowa’s economy is recovering even better than expected. Michael Fitzgerald, Iowa’s State Treasurer, reported this week that we’ll have an additional $100 million in our ending balance when this fiscal year comes to a close on June 30.
When the national recession hit Iowa, we made tough choices in the Legislature. We made cuts where necessary in order to balance the state budget without raising taxes. Now that Iowa’s economy is improving, it’s time to invest in our future.
Nothing is more important to Iowa’s future than quality education. The so-called “budget stalemate” at the Statehouse comes down to education. Not once in the budget negotiations has discussion of a “two-year budget” come up. It is all about education.
Senate Democrats want to support our local schools and preschools. We see the importance of supporting our community colleges, small colleges and regent universities. We believe these investments will pay dividends in a better-educated, more productive work force.
Unfortunately, the Governor doesn’t see it that way. He wants to gut education.
Last week, Governor Branstad told Iowans he is the “new sheriff in town.” I hope that rather than a Wild West sheriff preparing for a shootout, the Governor aims to follow the example of the sheriffs in the counties I represent.
Iowa’s sheriffs are local leaders, elected for their ability to lower tempers, bring people together and work through tough situations. If that’s what Governor Branstad has in mind, it’s just what we need!
After a month of stalled talks on schools, job creation initiatives and the state budget, legislators could really use a strong mediator at the Statehouse to help us find common ground and continue Iowa’s recovery from the national recession.
We certainly don’t want to jeopardize our state’s strong financial position, and there is absolutely no need to. Iowa’s finances are among the best in the nation. State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald has been telling us for more than a year that Iowa is fiscally sound.
I can’t think of a better time to invest in our schools and student achievement. Yet the Governor has repeatedly said he won’t compromise on his demands to freeze state support for local schools, and on a host of other issues.
I’m hopeful Sheriff Branstad won’t be a bully and gut our education system. With the June 30 end to the fiscal year fast approaching, we need a leader that can compromise and do what is in the best interest of all Iowans.
This is a legislative update from Senator Tom Rielly, representing Iowa, Poweshiek, and Keokuk counties, and portions of Mahaska and Tama counties. For newsletters, photos and further information, go to www.senate.iowa.gov/rielly
To contact Senator Rielly during the week, call the Senate Switchboard at 515-281-3371. Otherwise he can be reached at home at 641-673-5878. E-mail him at email@example.com.