Editorial Roundup: Iowa

Des Moines Register. July 11, 2021.

Editorial: Another snub by lawmakers, another increase in tuition at Iowa’s public universities

Iowa’s three public universities have two major sources of revenue: state appropriations and tuition.

When the first goes down, the second goes up. And the first has gone down significantly in recent decades.

The Iowa Legislature appropriated $63 million less to regents institutions in 2021 than it did in 2001. Forget about adjusting for inflation. This is a drop in dollars. As the cost of everything from energy to health care increased, more students enrolled in college and the total state budget doubled over two decades, lawmakers actually reduced the amount of money going to our public universities.

The starving continues today.

Last legislative session, the Board of Regents requested a mere $18 million increase in state appropriations for fiscal year 2022 and a restoration of $8 million that had been cut in fiscal year 2021.

The GOP-controlled Legislature responded by passing a bill that froze state appropriations.

Translation: We don’t care about public higher education or Iowa families who seek it as a path to a better future.

Which brings us to tuition, the second major source of revenue for schools.

The Board of Regents is proposing another increase in tuition — about $280 at the University of Iowa and Iowa State and $115 at the University of Northern Iowa.

A few hundred dollars, again and again, adds up to bigger tuition bills that students are responsible for paying. Many have no choice but to borrow money. Average student loan debt for graduates of Iowa’s colleges and universities was $30,259 in 2019, according to The Institute for College Access & Success.

Graduates begin their post-college life paying (or defaulting on) student loans. So do young people who borrowed money and dropped out of school. The bills also come due for parents and grandparents who borrowed or co-signed education loans for loved ones.

Iowa must break this painful cycle of increasingly unaffordable public education that discourages people from attending school and saddles those who do with debt.

The cycle can be broken if Iowans demand it.

Voters should pressure state lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds to dramatically increase funding to our public universities. By dramatically, we mean $100 million or more annually in additional support. An investment in our public schools is an investment in innovation, life-saving research, economic development and future generations of Iowans.

Lawmakers should fund financial aid designated solely to students attending regents institutions. The vast majority of state-funded, need-based aid — nearly 80% — goes to students attending private schools. Iowa ranks last among all states in the percentage of this aid provided to students attending public schools.

State leaders should reexamine the role of tax-exempt university foundations, which raise money on behalf of schools. While universities beg at the statehouse for 26 million bucks, the fundraising organizations at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University have nearly $3 billion in assets.

That’s billion with a b.

The president of the UI foundation is paid more than $500,000 annually. Expenditures on the tax forms of the nonprofit entities reflect millions of dollars spent each year on staff development, mail solicitations, magazine printing, professional fundraising fees, and travel.

Somehow, more of the money raised by foundations should be used to subsidize tuition for more students and hold down the cost of attending college. While these nonprofits must abide by federal rules related to lobbying, they can do more to educate lawmakers about how reduced state support harms our public schools and residents.

Iowa needs to change course. It needs to get back to its roots — to the days when we recognized college wasn’t just about helping individuals get better jobs. It was about creating a more educated population, which benefits all of us.

Tax forms provide foundation salaries, expenditures

University foundations are tax-exempt, nonprofit organizations required to file a Form 990 annually with the Internal Revenue Service. Some organizations make these documents available on their websites. The public can also use third-party entities like Guidestar to view the forms. A 990 provides information about top salaries, expenditures, investment income and assets. The editorial board used documents from the tax year beginning in 2018 because that was available for all three university foundations.

The State University of Iowa Foundation, formerly known as the University of Iowa Foundation, reported $1.52 billion in assets. Its annual expenses included $883,355 on professional fundraising services and $804,394 on advertising and promotion. Reportable compensation for President Lynette Marshall was $537,600.

The Iowa State University Foundation reports $1.22 billion in assets. Its annual expenses included $600,687 on conferences, conventions and meetings and $748,678 on travel. Total compensation for President and CEO for Larissa Holtmyer Jones was $410,752.

The University of Northern Iowa Foundation reports $1.56 million in assets. Its annual expenses included $399,335 for professional fundraising services and $625,491 for travel. Reportable compensation for former President Lisa Baronio (through December 2018) was $240,624.

___

Quad-City Times. July 11, 2021.

Editorial: Vaccine lottery is worth a try

On Thursday, the state of Illinois announced the first winners of the COVID-19 vaccine lottery. The lucky $1 million winner was from Chicago, with three $150,000 scholarship winners coming from Chicago, suburban Cook County and DeKalb County.

We’re sorry to see there were no Quad-Citians among the winners, but frankly all Illinoisans will benefit from the state’s decision to offer financial incentives to people who get vaccinated for the coronavirus if leads to higher vaccination rates.

The state says it is offering $7 million in cash prizes and another $3 million in scholarships.

The rest of the winners will be announced through August. Federal coronavirus aid is being used for the prize money.

Some might object to the idea of offering prizes to try to nudge people to get a shot. We already know some have ethical questions, while others have said the lottery won’t, excuse the expression, move the needle much.

Still, we like the creativity. Should this be the only method of trying to convince the hesitant? Of course not. But it’s worth trying, and it’s just one approach the state is taking.

Illinoisans don’t even have to do anything to enter – anybody who’s gotten at least one shot is eligible and the winners are drawn from state records.

According to the New York Times, 72% of Illinois adults have received at least one dose and 47% of all residents are fully vaccinated. Which means the state could stand to boost its figures even further. The same could be said in Iowa, where just 64% of adults have received at least one dose, according to the Times database; 48% have been fully vaccinated.

Yet, in Iowa, we see little in the way of creativity by the state in trying to get people vaccinated. Gov. Kim Reynolds weeks ago rejected the idea of a lottery, even though a number of states, including those with Republican governors, are giving it a try. The fact is, we’ve seen little from the state to try to encourage Iowans to get vaccinated.

It’s true that case rates in Iowa and Illinois are low, but neighboring Missouri is seeing an uptick in infections caused by the Delta variant; in some counties, the rise is dramatic.

Experts have long said that this is a race. The sooner people get vaccinated, the sooner we truly rid ourselves of the threat. If that takes dishing out some money to create a buzz; and if in the process more people get vaccinated, then it’s worthwhile.

___

Sioux City Journal. July 10, 2021.

Editorial: Governors conference fosters tri-state cooperation

For more than 30 years, the governors from Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota have been meeting in metro Sioux City to discuss issues of mutual interest.

Over the years, they’ve tackled everything from education to transportation and found ways to work together to foster quality of life changes.

While the individuals participating have changed, the mission has not. The Tri-State Governors Conference, coordinated by the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, has served as a template for other elected officials to work together and find common ground.

On Monday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts will gather in South Sioux City to hear reports about economic growth, affordable housing, medical malpractice and the future of the 185th Air Refueling Wing.

While the discussions may not provide immediate results, they will plant seeds for the future, setting the stage for growth in Siouxland and fostering cooperation in the three states.

When the first conference was held in 1988, Govs. Terry Branstad of Iowa, Kay Orr of Nebraska and George Mickelson of South Dakota pledged to support and promote Siouxland projects and address differences.

The latter plank was particularly key when the governors didn’t represent a single political party.

During the 10th Tri-State Governors Conference, Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa and his Republican counterparts Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Dave Heineman of Nebraska focused on job losses, regional highway improvements and the need for a Tri-State Drug Task Force. Instead of becoming issues for a blame game, they became planks for a united approach to problem solving. The “crossing party lines” concept worked.

Other years – when there wasn’t a Democrat as a state leader – similar strides have been made. But what the conference has shown us most is the need for leaders to gather in nonpartisan settings and discuss issues of mutual concern.

Monday’s conference has the potential to point toward brighter days for all citizens, regardless of political affiliation. Hopefully, the talks will inspire other gatherings on a national level that will produce equally impressive results.

___

Dubuque Telegraph Herald. July 11, 2021.

Editorial: Make volunteering part of your new normal

A massive blaze ignited at an East Dubuque, Ill., salvage yard on Wednesday, the dark, billowing smoke visible for miles around.

East Dubuque firefighters quickly responded to the scene, and as time passed, so did more fire departments. There were crews from Apple River, Galena, Galena Territory/Scales Mound and Menominee-Dunleith fire departments in Illinois. From Wisconsin, came firefighters from the Jamestown and Hazel Green departments. Key West firefighters came from Iowa.

Eight area fire departments powered by volunteers — many of whom had to rush from their jobs — responded to a major blaze that started at about 3:30 p.m. on a Wednesday.

One need not look any further to be reminded of the awesome contributions to our local communities made by volunteers.

But examples abound.

On Monday, when many people were off work for the Independence Day holiday, a group of local volunteers picked up cans, bottles, fireworks debris and other trash on Finley’s Landing Beach, northeast of Sherrill, Iowa.

The Elihu B. Washburne House in Galena opened for public tours on Friday after being closed for more than one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guides? Volunteer docents from Galena Belles Questers No. 1304.

And each Sunday, the Telegraph Herald highlights a local “Person who makes a difference” via volunteer efforts. This week, it’s Dubuque resident Wayne Brown, a U.S. Air Force veteran who volunteers as commander at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9663 and who has been a regular blood donor for half a century.

The beauty about volunteering is that literally anybody can do it. The donation you are making is simply your time and effort, and opportunities are plentiful enough that it’s not hard to find something that sparks your interest.

Pre-pandemic, volunteers were visible and essential parts of local operations ranging from nonprofits to churches to schools to health care settings. Nationwide, more than 70 million people volunteered at least once in the prior year, according to the most-recent federal data.

Those totals come from before “COVID-19” entered our collective vocabulary.

Locally, the coronavirus prompted some volunteer activities — and some local volunteers — to pause. Many of our most active volunteers were in the age group most susceptible to serious health complications if they contracted the virus and understandably pulled back in the time before vaccines were available.

But many other volunteers and volunteer opportunities just recalibrated or shifted in response to the virus. And many of those senior volunteers, once fully vaccinated, have quickly returned to their volunteering ways.

With local vaccine rates continuing to climb, many organizations and operations are shifting back more toward “normal” while considering whether adjustments made in response to the virus are worth keeping in place.

We urge local residents to consider their volunteering efforts — or lack thereof — as their lives transition to their own new normal.

Chances are, an organization you already know and care about could use a helping hand — all you have to do is ask. Otherwise, it only takes a few minutes to hop online and find a local group in need of volunteers.

Take inspiration from the firefighters in East Dubuque and the many volunteers already making our local communities better and find a way to pitch in.

END