IOWA CITY – Equity budgeting in the past likely put the University of Northern Iowa at a disadvantage in terms of maintaining financial stability, one Eastern Iowa lawmaker said Tuesday, adding he’s glad the state Board of Regents has addressed it in next year’s state funding request.
State Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, said the 2012-13 budget proposal from the regents asks for an additional $12 million in state funding over the next three years specifically to help UNI. Danielson is a member of the Legislative Fiscal Committee, which met Tuesday at the University of Iowa.
“I want to thank the Board of Regents for leading with a proposal that encourages additional investment in UNI,” he said. “I think the University of Northern Iowa is going to continue to struggle. I would hope that it’s not just a temporary focus on the way we give state appropriations to our regent universities.”
The request from the regents for additional state funding to UNI of $4 million annually for the next three years would be added to the university’s permanent budget base, officials said. UNI in the current year, Fiscal 2012, is dealing with a $5 million budget shortfall due to state funding cuts. The University of Iowa and Iowa State University were able to manage their state funding losses this year without a shortfall, thanks to large increases in enrollment, mostly from out-of-state students. UNI’s student body is 92 percent resident students, which means it has a higher dependence on state appropriations and in-state tuition for its general fund budget.
UNI President Ben Allen said the current fiscal year “is not a pretty picture.” The additional state funding for the next three fiscal years would help UNI, but that doesn’t mean the university could avoid hard decisions about program cuts or consolidations, Allen said. Allen will host a campus forum Nov. 15 to have a frank discussion about the budget picture, he said.
“I would hope that would build confidence with state legislators and the governor that it’s not business as usual,” Allen said. “We need the money, but we also need to make some changes on campus.”
During the meeting Tuesday, the Legislative Fiscal Committee heard from presidents of UNI, the UI and ISU about budget plans for 2012-13, in preparation for the spring legislative session. The state Board of Regents in September approved the 2012-13 state funding request of $621.2 million for the three universities and two special schools.
A few committee members raised the question of more consolidation of business operations or academic units among the universities.
Officials said any broad discussion about academic program consolidation would be a longer-term effort that would be led by the regents.
Regents and university officials said they appreciated the chance Tuesday to meet face-to-face with legislators to talk about budget issues. More legislative involvement in the process also means that Iowa citizens better understand there is a formula, Regents President Craig Lang said, and substance and reasons behind the budget decisions.