DES MOINES | Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday said he vetoed funding for large construction projects at state colleges last week because more people are getting educated online. He said state officials need to reconsider how money is spent.
“I think we need to recognize that changes are taking place in the way that people learn and rather than have a lot of building that are going to sit empty in future years, we need to really decide are these absolutely essential,” he said.
The proposed projects were at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa State University in Ames and the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Lawmakers approved the projects in the budget forwarded to the governor in May.
Branstad rejected $3 million for the planning and design of a UI Pharmacy Building, saying in a letter the project has an eventual expected cost of at least $67.6 million. In his veto message, the governor said it was inappropriate to spend taxpayer money designing and planning the project “until strategic plans and sustainable financing are secure.”
The Pharmacy Building is at the top of the university's deferred maintenance priority list, UI officials have said. They want to raze the old building and replace it with a new facility. UI spokesman Tom Moore noted said officials are disappointed but will work with the Board of Regents to make the case again next year for state funding.
Branstad also vetoed $2.5 million for the new ISU Biosciences Building and $1.5 million for the planning and design of UNI's Schindler Education Center renovation.
Branstad at a news conference Monday defended the cuts.
“Remember, you spend the money for planning and the next year it’s going to cost a whole lot more when you fund the cost of it or then borrow the money to build it, which is even worse in my opinion,” he said. “So consequently, I just think we need a very thoughtful approach. We need to look at the long-term needs and we need to look at how much of the learning that is going to take place on campus, how much of it may occur online and elsewhere.”
Branstad said that online institutions like the University of Phoenix increasingly are providing college credit options “without a lot of brick and mortar” and that trend likely will continue in the future.
“I’m not saying that’s what all of education is going to be in the future, but I’m expecting a significant share of it will occur in that manner,” he said.
“I just want to at least put out a cautionary flag that let’s just not say we’re going to charge forward and everybody that wants a new building is going to get a new building,” he said. “We need to carefully review and consider each of those on its own merits based on what the needs are. That’s something I’m very willing to work with the regents on as we go forward.”
The governor noted that he did sign $12 million for an ISU research park that he predicted would be a “great economic development tool,” and he pointed to more than $1 billion in planned UI projects to rebuild areas of the Iowa City campus damaged by the 2008 flood as examples that “big projects already are taking place” at regent universities.
“The answer is not to just keep building more huge, expensive buildings on our college campuses,” he said. “I think we need to recognize that changes are taking place in the way that people learn and rather than have a lot of building that are going to sit empty in future years, we need to really decide are these absolutely essential.”