- Associated Press - Monday, May 26, 2014

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. May 23, 2014.

Remember the ‘purpose of public funding’

The Iowa Board of Regents is considering a formula aimed at better equalizing how funding is distributed to the three regent universities.

It would tie 60 percent of state dollars allocated for public universities to Iowa resident students. That could mean about $31 million more annually for the University of Northern Iowa.

“From our point of view, it makes sense to tie Iowa tax dollars to higher education for Iowa students,” said Scott Ketelsen, director of university relations for UNI.

Under such a formula, the University of Iowa, with just 54 percent resident students, could lose up to $60 million in annual funding.

“The proposed ‘one-size-fits-all’ budget model creates an altogether needless ‘family feud’ that can only minimize differences among the three schools, differences that are critical to strength and vitality of each,” said Ed Wasserman, a psychology professor and former president of the UI faculty senate.

As long as this particular proposal remains viable, we expect to hear further cries of “foul” from any institution that would be impacted in a negative way. Frankly, however, those cries will be coming from those who have been dining on the meaty end of the drumstick for a long time.

We have long been aware UNI gets short shrift in the current funding formula. UNI depends on revenues from in-state tuition more than the other two universities. Back-to-back in-state tuition freezes have hit UNI harder. Nearly 90 percent of UNI’s enrollment comes from within Iowa’s borders. It’s time to seek a long-term solution, instead of depending on one-time Legislature-approved influxes, then facing the same problem down the road.

The regents had previously established a task force to study the issue. The argument is UNI traditionally receives about 20 percent of the state appropriation and ISU and UI got 40 percent each.

That’s even though UNI serves a much higher percentage of students from within the state of Iowa, who pay lower tuition rates than out-of-state students.

We would have to agree with a statement earlier this month from former regent David Miles, who is chairman of the task force.

“The purpose of public funding is so resident students don’t have to pay (the) entire cost of tuition if they go to a public university,” Miles had said. “We think there should be a closer tie to changing enrollment patterns.”

Somewhere along the line, that “purpose of public funding” has been lost, and UNI has suffered the most.

Allocating a larger percentage of state taxpayer dollars to Iowa state institutions, based on the amount of Iowa resident students.

There’s absolutely nothing outlandish about that idea.


Iowa City Press-Citizen. May 23, 2014.

Fix license plate law to not be a general warrant

“For the thousands of Iowans who have a frame that promotes a sports team, or an auto dealer, or have a nice (or not so nice) slogan, beware!”

That’s part of the dissenting opinion from Iowa Supreme Court Justice Brent Appel, who was one of two Iowa justices who didn’t sign on to a written opinion earlier this month that ruled Davenport police officers were acting lawfully in 2009 when they pulled over a car they suspected of containing drugs simply because its license plate holder obscured the county name on the plate.

As much as we support license plate holders for their utility in trumpeting sports teams and school pride, we agree with Appel’s dissent and worry about how the majority opinion may encourage future violations of Iowans’ civil liberties.

First, some background: According the ruling, the officers said they suspected that the driver, Craig Harrison, was dealing drugs before the stop because of a description of the vehicle from a confidential informant. Harrison appealed his eventual conviction for the crime on the basis that the officers did not have lawful cause to stop his vehicle.

An appeals court upheld the conviction on the grounds that the confidential informant gave the officers enough reason to stop the vehicle. The appeals court judge, however, ruled that the license plate should not have provided cause for a stop because the main numbers and digits on the plate were visible. This decision was appealed to the state supreme court.

Writing for the five-justice majority, Justice Thomas Waterman vacated part of the appeals court’s ruling, saying that the partially obscured plate was cause enough for the vehicle to be pulled over. Waterman wrote that a “clear and unambiguous” reading of Iowa Code requires motorists to have “full view of all numerals and letters printed on the registration plate.”

In his dissent, Appel wrote that this interpretation could be used as cause for police pulling over any of thousands of vehicles driven by Iowans each year. He, instead, held that the confidential informant’s description of the vehicle was vital to the arrest.

“If the license plate frame happens to obscure the county name on the plate,” Appel wrote, “the State will take the position that police may stop the vehicle anywhere and at any time, whether one is dropping the kids off at school, returning home from the football game, or on the way to work, without any further sign of criminal wrongdoing. The State will likely take the position that the decision to stop a vehicle will rest in the unreviewable discretion of the police regardless of pretext. Sounds a bit like a general warrant, doesn’t it?”

Yes, it does.

There have been some suggestions of a legislative fix for the original 1984 law - including calls to not require county names on license plates at all. But such a change would do little to help fix the problem for the thousands of drivers now on the road with license plates obscured by the holders.

Rather than talk about removing county names from license plates, it would be just to clarify the intent of the law to refer to the letters and numerals contained within the actual license plate number. That would provide protection for all motorists, present and future. In the meantime, police need to make sure not to abuse this ruling. Some fans have suffered enough without being pulled over for it.


Sioux City Journal. May 25, 2014.

From any perspective, Home Base Iowa is a winner

In our view, the signature accomplishment of this year’s Iowa legislative session was a package of measures designed to make our state more attractive to veterans as they transition from military service to civilian life.

Lawmakers passed incentives related to taxes, fees, education, the purchase of homes, training for jobs and occupational licensing.

As Journal business editor Dave Dreeszen reported in a story about Home Base Iowa on May 11, the nation is in the midst of what will be, over the next several years, one of the largest drawdowns of active-duty forces in American history.

The idea of Home Base Iowa is to tap into the attributes and the diverse wealth of skills embodied by these men and women.

In his January Condition of the State message, Gov. Terry Branstad made Home Base Iowa a priority. Across the state, in the public and private sectors, the goal resonated. Legislative support was strong and bipartisan. Members of the Iowa Business Council - a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization made up of employers, state universities and the Iowa Bankers Association - committed to a goal of hiring 2,500 veterans over the next five years. (In a guest column in today’s Opinion section, Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham discusses how Home Base Iowa will help meet the state’s workforce needs.)

The Home Base Iowa Foundation, appointed by Branstad, will work to raise $6 million in private funds within the next five years to support a nationwide marketing effort. The foundation is chaired by former U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell and Casey’s General Store Inc. CEO Robert Myers.

In other words, in just a few months, Iowans within and outside government have joined to identify an opportunity, define a strategy, steward necessary legislation to passage, create a private fundraising vehicle and embark on a national information campaign.

Impressive, indeed.

On Memorial Day weekend, when we as Americans remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country, it seems appropriate to commend Branstad and his administration, Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature and private leaders in business and industry for embracing the commitment to make this state America’s most welcoming state for returning servicemen and women.

Home Base Iowa not only makes economic sense for the state, but the program speaks to the duty we as a nation have to do our best for those who have given their best while serving the country in uniform.

From any perspective, it’s a winner. In fact, its potential is dramatic.

Through the program, we look forward to the contributions transitioning veterans will make to the future of Iowa.


The Des Moines Register. May 25, 2014.

Road construction running out of gas?

Iowans on the road this Memorial Day weekend will likely encounter some traffic delays. It’s that time of the year when work gets underway on the state’s highways and bridges.

The Iowa Department of Transportation is already looking down the road to $2.7 billion in major highway construction projects beginning in 2015, including interstate improvements in Council Bluffs and Sioux City and a new bridge over the Mississippi River at Bettendorf. But beyond these projects, the DOT says it cannot predict what road improvements Iowans will see in the future.

That’s because revenue from state and federal sources is falling short of the cost of building and maintaining Iowa’s roads and bridges. The Iowa Legislature shut down three weeks ago after once again failing to raise the gas tax, and the Federal Highway Trust Fund is about to go bankrupt. Unless Congress acts, the DOT announced recently, new multi-year projects cannot be planned.

Indeed, Iowa has the distinction of having gone longer than all but three other states in raising its gas tax, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan tax and policy research group. It has been more than 25 years since Iowa raised its gas tax, and this state has the distinction of being one of 10 states whose gas tax rates are at an all-time low when adjusted for inflation, according to the institute’s analysis.

In 1925, when Iowa first began collecting the gas tax, the rate of 2 cents per gallon was the equivalent of 27.1 cents a gallon in today’s dollars. Over the past 89 years, the real cost of Iowa’s gas tax averaged 37.9 cents a gallon after adjusting for inflation. In other words, according to the institute’s calculations, the current gas tax of 19 cents a gallon has far less impact on the average consumer than at any time in the history of the tax.

Factoring in inflation not only puts the cost to consumers for roads into perspective but it explains why the revenue generated by the tax does not buy nearly as much cement, steel and asphalt as it did 89 years ago or even 25 years ago. The Iowa DOT has calculated that, in part due to the impact of inflation, it will fall more than $215 million a year short of meeting the most critical road and bridge construction needs.

Most Iowa legislators understand the need to raise the gas tax, but they fear being tarred by the anti-tax crowd. The Iowa Republican primary campaign illustrates the problem. Last week, when U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst was attacked for voting in favor of increasing the tax when it came up in the state Senate, she said: “I made a mistake.” Ernst’s disavowal of her earlier position was disappointing but, unfortunately, it’s a reflection of political reality.

State taxes pay for only part of the state’s road building. The federal government supplies half the cost of primary highways, but Congress has also failed to raise the federal gas tax to keep up with inflation and the growing demand for roads. Congress has made up the difference by dipping into the general tax revenues, but the current transportation authorization is expiring and the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money by August unless new spending is authorized.

It is unfortunate that spending on essential roads, bridges, navigable rivers, seaports and airports is held hostage to politics. As President Obama pointed out in a recent speech announcing executive order initiatives to speed up these building projects, infrastructure should not be a Republican or a Democratic issue. He pointed out that while some Republicans have blocked transportation bills, leaders of their party were responsible for some of the greatest infrastructure projects in American history, including Abraham Lincoln (the transcontinental railroad) and Dwight Eisenhower (the interstate highway system). Likewise, Democrats recall with pride the massive public works projects undertaken during the Depression under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The sad reality is that much of this nation’s basic infrastructure was built by previous generations, and this one owes it to future generations to invest in the foundation of a strong economy.

By the numbers

1925: The year Iowa first began collecting the gas tax.

19 cents: The current state gas tax per gallon.

1989: Last time Iowa raised the gas tax.

1993: When federal gas tax was raised to 18.4 cents a gallon.

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