Deafening silence from Kim Reynolds as GOP prepares to gut higher education

Governor Kim Reynolds found time to show off her support for education during the past two days. She honored five schools that closed “achievement gaps,” touted “extremely important” community colleges, and praised dual enrollment on January 25. She attended a luncheon to honor “Outstanding Iowa Teachers” the following day.

Somehow, the unfailingly “optimistic” governor never got around to denouncing the huge higher education cuts Iowa Senate Republicans rolled out toward the end of the week.

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Iowa scientists warn humidity rising due to climate change

“Uncomfortable humidity, water‐logged spring soils, extreme rain events, mold, and mosquitoes are all expected to become more prevalent in Iowa due to a rarely discussed impact of climate change: increased humidity,” 190 scientists at academic institutions warned last week. In the sixth annual Iowa Climate Statement, science faculty and researchers from 39 colleges and universities noted that “Increases in humidity have been measured across the Midwest and in Iowa across all seasons and at all long‐term monitoring stations.”

High levels of humidity create hazardous conditions for Iowa workers and sensitive populations through the danger of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Allergic rhinitis and asthma are worsened by heightened exposures to mold and dust mite allergens in humid environments. There also is evidence for increased aggression and societal violence associated with hot, humid weather.

For Iowa agriculture, increased warm‐season humidity leads to increased rainfall, extreme rain events, water‐logged soils during planting season, soil erosion, and runoff of chemicals to waterways. Rising humidity also leads to longer dew periods and higher moisture conditions that elevate costs of drying grain and increase populations of many pests and pathogens harmful to both growing plants and stored grain. Increased nighttime temperatures coupled with humidity causes stress to crops, livestock and pets and, in extreme cases, heat stress can cause loss of life.

I enclose below the full text of this year’s Iowa Climate Statement, with references, along with the news release highlighting key findings. You can view the names and academic affiliations all who signed here.

P.S.-The Center for Global & Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa, which has coordinated the release of the Climate Impact Statement, is set to lose much of its funding in 2022. This spring, Republican legislators approved and Governor Terry Branstad signed into law a bill eliminating a small tax on investor-owned utilities, which has supported the CGRER and the Iowa Energy Center at Iowa State University for 25 years.

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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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Michael Bousselot for Congress in IA-02? I really don't think so.

Pat Rynard speculated yesterday about four possible GOP challengers to Representative Dave Loebsack in Iowa’s second Congressional district. Republicans spent very little money trying to unseat Loebsack last year but have signaled they plan to contest this race in 2018. House Democrats added Loebsack to their program for vulnerable incumbents.

Rynard didn’t mention Dr. Christopher Peters, who lost in IA-02 last year by less than 8 points despite getting in the race late and being outspent by a considerable margin. I expect Peters to run for Congress again in 2018.

For today, I want to focus on Governor Terry Branstad’s chief of staff Michael Bousselot, whom Rynard dubbed the “most interesting name to surface so far” as a possible challenger to Loebsack. “Were Branstad to put his political machine in to action for Bousselot […] the young staffer could quickly become the front-runner in a primary race where access to big donors is key,” he noted.

No doubt a lot of Republican money would get behind Bousselot if Branstad gave the word. But I can’t see this guy making a lot of headway against Loebsack.

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University of Iowa reinstates scholarships to undergraduates

The University of Iowa has decided to reinstate scholarships to undergraduates who were informed recently that they would lose promised funding. I enclose below an e-mail many students received this morning from President Bruce Harreld.

Two students had already filed class-action lawsuits over the university’s decision to terminate five scholarships in order to save some $4.3 million. A trial pitting the university against children of alumni would be a public relations nightmare. In addition, Harreld would have had to explain under oath why university officials wrongly claimed last week to have warned current scholarship holders that awards were contingent on state funding levels.

In today’s message to students, Harreld noted,

Over the past few days we heard from many families who were unaware this was a renewable scholarship reliant on state support. While this was not a need-based award, we also heard from families who budgeted for college based on the scholarships and feared financial hardship with the programs’ elimination.

The University of Iowa takes its relationship with students and alumni very seriously and, therefore, will honor the awards previously made to those currently receiving this scholarship. […]

Moving forward we must continue to place a priority on need-based and merit-based awards, which is why the Iowa Heritage Award will no longer be offered to new students who start at the university in 2018.

I also enclose below a statement released by the university.

UPDATE: Added comments from James Larew, the attorney representing plaintiff Jenna Pokorny.

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