Republicans seeking to eliminate Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture

Republican lawmakers are seeking to eliminate the two main sources of funding for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. The Iowa legislature created the center 30 years ago as part of the Groundwater Protection Act, one of the landmark environmental laws in this state’s history. Its threefold mission:

(1) identify the negative environmental and socioeconomic impacts of existing agricultural practices, (2) research and assist the development of alternative, more sustainable agricultural practices, and (3) inform the agricultural community and general public of the Center’s findings.

The center’s director, Dr. Mark Rasmussen, told Bleeding Heartland today that roughly $1.5 million of the Leopold Center’s approximately $2 million annual budget comes from receiving 35 percent of revenues from a fee on nitrogen fertilizer sales and pesticide registrations. The modest fee of 75 cents per ton of anhydrous ammonia (now selling for approximately $550 per ton) hasn’t changed since the Groundwater Protection Act set up this funding stream in 1987. Citing legislative sources, Rasmussen said Republicans are apparently planning to redirect nitrogen tax revenues. To my knowledge, no bill spelling out the new recipients has been published yet. UPDATE: I have seen the draft appropriations bill for agriculture and natural resources and can confirm it redirects these revenues to a new “Iowa Nutrient Research Fund.” (The Leopold Center’s research addresses a broader range of farming practices.) That appropriations bill calls for the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to take over any incomplete work by the Leopold Center after July 1, 2017.

The second-largest source of funding for the center is a line item in the Iowa Board of Regents budget, which used to be about $425,000 per year. Actual state funding during the current fiscal year totaled $397,417, and Governor Terry Branstad proposed keeping the center’s funding at that level for fiscal year 2018. But the Republican plan negotiated behind closed doors and revealed this afternoon at an Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing zeroes out the Leopold Center line item.

The center also receives a “small amount of foundation earnings” from donations to an endowment managed by the ISU Foundation, Rasmussen said, but those funds are “wholly inadequate to keep the center functioning at any level of reasonableness.”

I enclose below an e-mail Rasmussen sent to Leopold Center Advisory Board members today. He noted that the center has been involved with than 600 projects “on topics spanning water quality, manure management, livestock grazing, cover crops, alternative conservation practices, biomass production, soil health and local food systems development in Iowa.” The center’s grants have facilitated “thriving local foods networks,” and research supported by the center informed practices that are now part of Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy for addressing the state’s major water pollution problems.

It’s not hard to guess why statehouse Republicans want to ax one of the country’s leading institutions in the sustainable agriculture field. Corporate interests associated with conventional farming practices have long been hostile to research supported by the center, such as efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus runoff that causes the Gulf of Mexico “Dead Zone.” Pressure from Big Ag was believed to have influenced Wendy Wintersteen, endowed dean of the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, when she chose not to offer the job of Leopold Center director to the search committee’s top choice in 2009. (Rasmussen was hired in 2012.)

The GOP education budget would also eliminate state funding for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa. Advocates for solid research on sustainable agriculture and flood patterns need to contact Republican members of the Education Appropriations Subcommittee: State Senators Tim Kraayenbrink (chair), Craig Johnson (vice chair), and Jason Schultz, and State Representatives Cecil Dolecheck (chair), Tom Moore (vice chair), Dean Fisher, Gary Mohr, and Walt Rogers.

UPDATE: Dolecheck told reporters on April 11 that there was no need for further work by the Leopold Center: ““Most people would tell you that farmers have been educated to that point, the research has been put in place whether it’s cover crops, waterways, those type of things.”

I’ve added below two messages ISU sent to supporters on April 12, seeking to generate constituent contacts to state lawmakers. At Iowa Informer, Gavin Aronsen posted a “set of talking points prepared yesterday for President Steven Leath’s office,” which covers similar ground.

SECOND UPDATE: Democrats requested a public hearing on the state budget, which will take place Monday, April 17, from 10 am to noon. Iowans can sign up here to speak or leave a comment. Although time constraints won’t allow everyone to speak, it’s worth making your voice heard. In addition to eliminating the Leopold Center’s main funding sources, the Republican education and natural resources budgets repeal language establishing the center from the Iowa Code.

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Republican budget would eliminate Iowa Flood Center

UPDATE: The House Appropriations Committee restored about $1.2 million of this funding on April 12. Added more details below.

The Republican education budget proposal would eliminate $1.5 million in state funding for the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa. According to an e-mail from Professors Witold Krajewski and Larry J. Weber, enclosed in full below, the cut “will have a devastating impact on the Flood Center’s ability to continue to provide flood prevention and real-time flood support to communities, businesses, emergency managers, public works professionals and citizens.”

In addition to ending the Iowa Flood Information System, zeroing out the flood center’s budget would “jeopardize Iowa’s $96 million dollar federal Iowa Watershed Approach HUD [Housing and Urban Development] grant and the Center’s ability to continue to implement projects in nine Iowa watersheds.”

Republican lawmakers have been negotiating behind closed doors on appropriations bills that will likely be approved in quick succession during the next two weeks.

Although the education appropriations bill has not been published, to my knowledge, the Education Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to meet today at 2:00 pm to discuss (and probably approve) the GOP-agreed budget numbers. Iowans should urgently contact Republicans who serve on that subcommittee: State Senators Tim Kraayenbrink (chair), Craig Johnson (vice chair), and Jason Schultz, and State Representatives Cecil Dolecheck (chair), Tom Moore (vice chair), Dean Fisher, Gary Mohr, and Walt Rogers. UPDATE: Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press published photos of the proposed education budget: page 1, page 2, and page 3.

Iowa lawmakers created the country’s “first academic center devoted to the study of floods” in 2009, following the previous year’s devastating natural disaster.

The IFC is now actively engaged in flood projects in several Iowa communities and employs several graduate and undergraduate students participating in flood-related research. IFC researchers have designed a cost-efficient sensor network to better monitor stream flow in the state; have developed a library of flood-inundation maps for several Iowa communities; and are working on a large project to develop new floodplain map for 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

UPDATE: A number of readers have speculated that Republicans may want to shut down the flood center to disrupt a major watersheds project, which might influence public discourse on land-use policies or climate-change impacts in Iowa.

Also, I learned this morning that Democratic State Senator Joe Bolkcom is the outreach and community education director for the flood center, as well as doing the same work for the University of Iowa’s Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research. Bolkcom is the ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Committee and has been a relentless critic of GOP budget policies this year.

SECOND UPDATE: GOP State Representative David Maxwell copied me on his e-mail to Professor Larry Weber, saying, “Not all of us are in favor of defunding the Iowa Flood Center. I will not have the final say, but I will make my thoughts known to someone who will have an effect on the bill.” Keep contacting House and Senate Republicans. A reader told me that bringing up the threat to Iowa’s $96 million dollar federal HUD grant may be a particularly effective talking point.

THIRD UPDATE: O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,

During an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Dolecheck said if the University of Iowa wants to keep the Iowa Flood Center open, administrators can shift funds from elsewhere in the university’s operating budget.

Larry Weber of the Iowa Flood Center said the center provided invaluable projections for Iowans who were bracing for flooding last year. “We shut down a Google Map server because the traffic to the Iowa Flood Center was so intense during the run-up of the crest of the flood coming to Cedar Rapids,” he said, “so many people using that data wanting to see what the extent of the inundated would be, what the water depth on their property would be.”

FOURTH UPDATE: Brianne Pfannenstiel reported for the Des Moines Register, “The House Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment Wednesday that would restore $1.2 million for the program by transferring $250,000 away from a National Guard educational assistance program and transferring another $950,000 out of general aid to the University of Iowa. […] Dolecheck, who is co-chair of the subcommittee that oversees the education budget proposal, said the Senate already is on board with the amendment and plans to adopt it.”

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Absurd reasoning in action as Iowa Senate approves voter ID bill

Matt Chapman covers yesterday’s Iowa Senate debate on the voter suppression bill. John Deeth explained the key points of a Republican amendment changing that bill in several important ways. -promoted by desmoinesdem

On Thursday the Senate passed along party lines the controversial voter ID bill, House File 516, and sent it to the House for approval.

Forget about Democratic amendments to accept other forms of ID such as Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare cards. Republicans voted that down.

Forget about the amendment that would restore the early voting window to the current 40 days instead of 29 days. Republicans voted that down.

Forget about the amendment that would remove the need for signatures to be examined by poll workers, which will reduce access to the polls by creating long lines and the potential for biased decision making by poll workers.

And forget about the provision that would allow two persons in the booth, since we only print ballots in English, and non-native speakers may need help understanding the ballot.

And forget about the claim that provisional ballots will be provided if you have no ID. You will have 48 hours to show up at your auditor’s office with a photo ID anyway.

And forget about the fact that the education and contacting of eligible voters is woefully underfunded.

But don’t forget about Senator Nate Boulton’s comments during closing arguments, or those of other senators disgusted by social injustice. (You should go to the archived footage and watch.)

All you need to know about the validity of the reasoning behind this bill is to listen, read or watch the closing arguments by the bill’s (I won’t say author because I think we all know who wrote this) floor manager, Senator Roby Smith.

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Everything you want to know about Iowa's horrible new collective bargaining law

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate voted today to dramatically reduce collective bargaining rights for some 180,000 public employees, following approximately 27 hours of debate in the Iowa Senate and fourteen and a half hours of debate in the Iowa House. GOP leaders moved House File 291 and Senate File 213 simultaneously through both chambers in order to speed up the process.

Democrats had offered dozens of amendments to the bills, which were published for the first time on February 7. Instead of allowing full discussion of every amendment, GOP leaders moved to cut off debate at a “time certain” today. That maneuver had never been used in the Iowa Senate and has been invoked only rarely in the Iowa House–including to end debate on the collective bargaining bill Republicans passed in March 2011. Debate ended in the Iowa House at noon, after which the majority quickly voted down all the remaining amendments with no discussion. Six Republicans joined all 41 Democrats to vote against the bill on final passage. Two of them, Tom Moore and Dave Heaton, are former teachers. Clel Baudler is a retired state trooper. Andy McKean and Shannon Lundgren were just elected from eastern Iowa swing districts, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans. McKean is also very familiar with Chapter 20 as a former county supervisor and longtime state lawmaker. I don’t know why Mary Ann Hanusa opposed the bill. UPDATE: Hanusa did not respond to my request for comment, but I learned from another source that she is also a former teacher who works in education administration.

Senators debated all night long Wednesday into Thursday morning, with Republicans voting down every Democratic amendment. Independent State Senator David Johnson voted with Democrats on all the amendments and joined them in giving several passionate speeches. Few Republicans in either chamber chose to speak in favor of the bills, aside from Senate Labor Committee Chair Jason Schultz, House Labor Committee Chair Dave Deyoe, and State Representative Steven Holt, who floor-managed the bill and distinguished himself as the legislature’s least convincing liar. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski summarized some of the important Democratic amendments. I didn’t stay up to watch the whole debate, so would welcome examples of some of the most absurd Republican comments, like State Senator Mark Chelgren accusing Democrats of “stalling” while his party had shown an “incredible amount of patience.” Nothing says “patient” like making sweeping changes to a 43-year-old law, affecting 180,000 Iowans, after only nine days in the legislature.

Senate leaders ended debate at 2 pm Thursday, after which Republicans voted down the remaining Democratic amendments, then substituted the text of the House bill for the Senate bill, to get the legislation to Governor Terry Branstad more quickly. Branstad’s chief of staff, Michael Bousselot, spent the final hours of debate in the Senate chamber. House File 291 eventually passed on a 29-21 Senate vote.

Iowa’s largest public-sector union, AFSCME Iowa Council 61, plans to file a lawsuit claiming the new law is unconstitutional, presumably because of the way it grants more bargaining rights to “public safety” workers than to others, many of whom do dangerous jobs. Video from a February 16 press conference by labor leaders is available here.

I enclose below statements about the bill by legislative leaders from both parties, as well as documents prepared by Iowa House Democratic and Republican staff, which discuss in more detail how House File 291 will affect collective bargaining rights for different types of public employees. Regarding substantive impacts, I also recommend the recent guest posts here by state employee Ruth Thompson, University of Northern Iowa Professor Chris Martin, and attorney James Larew, who predicted that today’s action “will be remembered as the most destructive blow to our ability to govern ourselves fairly and efficiently in nearly half a century.”

GOP spin notwithstanding, collective bargaining “reform” in Iowa was designed primarily with political goals in mind, like similar measures in other states. Republicans know that crippling public sector unions will make it harder for Democrats to win elections.

Although Republicans repeatedly claimed during the House and Senate debates that their bill would help local governments, Chapter 20 has worked so well that more than 140 school districts rushed to sign new contracts with the teachers union before the legislature acted. Boards of supervisors in several large counties passed resolutions condemning the proposal. Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson’s case against the bill is convincing.

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Republicans deliver worst month ever to Iowa students and educators

For all their talk about helping Iowa provide a “world class” and “globally competitive” education, Iowa Republicans are unwilling to provide the resources public schools need to keep up with rising costs.

And for all their talk about getting “better teachers in the classroom” and giving “hardworking teachers … all the tools necessary to succeed,” Iowa Republicans seem determined to discourage people from pursuing a teaching career in this state.

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