Wheels are turning to prevent a midyear funding cut

A $6.9 million midyear slash to the university's state operating appropriations would be devastating to Iowa State, president Wendy Wintersteen wrote in a memo to campus leaders last week. The Iowa Senate's Jan. 25 proposal, which as of Wednesday had yet to be voted on by the full Senate, would have harmful impacts, she wrote.

The proposal sparked a grassroots summons, coordinated by the Alliance for Iowa State, to alumni, partners, students and employees to contact legislators to encourage their opposition to a cut of that size. So far, more than 430 recipients responded to the call. It also compelled state Board of Regents leaders to ask the universities to prepare "impact" statements. Under the Senate proposal, the University of Iowa would face a midyear reduction of nearly $8.7 million, Northern Iowa $3.7 million.

Gov. Kim Reynolds' budget recommendation, if implemented, would result in a midyear cut to Iowa State of about $2.5 million. The Iowa House has not yet proposed FY18 deappropriations.

Any midyear cut further reduces state general fund support for Iowa State, which already was $13.4 million lighter on July 1, 2017, than it had been just one year earlier. In the last decade, state funding to the university has dropped $56 million.

Short timeline limits possibilities

A month into spring semester and with just five months to go in the current fiscal year, it's too late to make reductions in some areas -- spring course offerings or student financial aid disbursements, for example.

But with 60 percent of the university's operating budget committed to employee salaries and benefits and another 17 percent committed to student financial aid, interim chief financial officer Pam Cain said it would be challenging to absorb a cut of that magnitude, so late in the year, without impacts to those areas.

Wintersteen, Cain and other senior leaders prepared a list of possible impacts a $6.9 million cut might bring to Iowa State -- some of which might be necessary, Cain said. As the legislative process unfolds, Cain said the university community would be involved as decisions are made regarding any changes to appropriations.

The list of possibilities included:

  • Employee furloughs
  • Cancelled searches for open faculty and staff positions
  • Flat employee salaries
  • Fewer student employees
  • Reductions in student services
  • Reductions in financial aid to resident undergraduates
  • Fewer course offerings this summer and fall
  • Fee increases in units such as the state Veterinary Diagnostic Lab and veterinary field services
  • Delays to deferred maintenance corrections and facility renovations

"State appropriations are an investment, not only in our students, but in the economic vitality and future of our state," concludes the impact statement.