Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

By

Iowa City Press-Citizen. May 31, 2014.

New funding formula wrong for Iowa schools

The members of the Iowa state Board of Regents can't really be planning to vote on their new, controversial, proposed funding formula during the board's June meeting.

Can they?

After all, even with unanimous board approval, the regents' funding recommendations really can't move forward without the concurrence of the Iowa Legislature and the governor. And the next General Assembly won't begin until two months after the Nov. 4 general election.

And so far, the reaction to the recommendations has been anything but unanimous — even among the task force charged with presenting the recommendations to the board. (To read the majority and minority reports of the Performance-Based Revenue Model Task Force, visit http://bit.ly/1k66jOI.)

Under the new formula, the regents would base the lion's share of funding on the percentage of in-state students at an institution and would flatten the allocation provided for each student — whether that student is an undergraduate majoring in philosophy, a graduate student studying biochemistry or an M.D./Ph.D. student participating in the most cutting-edge research while simultaneously receiving the highest quality clinical training.

Those recommendations make it seem that the regent leadership is trying to punish the University of Iowa and Iowa State University for being more research-focused and more attractive to out-of-state students than the University of Northern Iowa. If approved as written, UI faces having its annual budget slashed by up to $60 million.

The recommendations not only undervalue the role of research at UI and in the Iowa economy, but they flatly ignore how health sciences programs have higher costs than those in liberal arts and sciences. They also fail to acknowledge how the higher tuition costs for graduate and professional programs don't come anywhere near the actual educational costs borne by the university. (And if UI were to ratchet up tuition even further to make up for the decrease of state money, then even more newly graduated doctors, lawyers and dentists would be forced to leave the state to find jobs with salaries large enough to pay off their loans.)

So, given all the concerns over the unintended consequences of these recommendations, what's the rush?

If the regent leadership is determined to change the funding formula that has served the regents for the past 60 years, then they should take their time to make sure it's done correctly rather than just done quickly.

Even putting off a vote on the recommendations for a few more months would allow university personnel to present their already strong case for why the recommendations don't serve the best interests of higher education in Iowa. And with a little more time, maybe the full board would come to understand the full range of instructional costs attached to the different programs at different universities.

We aren't opposed to the regents developing more of a performance-based funding model, and we agree that the current funding formula needs to be tweaked to better provide for UNI. But the answer is not to try to make Iowa's three universities into cookie-cutter images of each other.

The regents say they want the universities to differentiate themselves, and the regents' efficiency consultants say they want to enhance the different academic culture of each university. But the recommended funding formula not only would incent all three universities to become more alike, it also would trigger an arms race as each of the three schools ramps up its efforts to recruit from among a finite number of college-bound Iowa graduates.

When this new funding proposal is presented during Wednesday's regent meeting, we hope it's the beginning of a months-long discussion ... and not just a chance for the proposal to receive a quick rubber stamp.

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Quad-City Times. May 29, 2014.

Q-C will test vastly different medical marijuana laws

Don't even think about a slippery slope for medical marijuana in Iowa.

Iowa's new medical marijuana bill that Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law creates no growers, distributors or dispensaries like Illinois five-month-old law. There are no prescriptions to be filled.

Unlike Illinois' medicinal marijuana law, Iowa's new law focuses on one cannabis extract product for one specific medical condition. Now, a handful of Iowans will be allowed to possess a cannabis oil derivative that cannot cause intoxication in any dosage.

The law contains ample restrictions assuring it cannot create a slippery slope toward legalization, decriminalization or even further medical use. Iowans who have been seeing a neurologist for at least six months for intractable epilepsy may ask their doctor to apply for a one-year card to possess cannabidol oil, an extract available online and over the counter in other states. The law expires in 2017, requiring legislative authorization to continue. In the meantime, the University of Iowa medical school will issue a report in a year on the efficacy of cannabidol treatment.

There are no fees and little bureaucracy. Patients' names will remain confidential, except to police who can check if they encounter anyone carrying the tiny bottle.

In Iowa, the Department of Public Health will issue the cannabidol registration cards.

Illinois law creates a dispensary network organized by State Police district, not the health department. The Illinois law is packed with fees, beginning with $100 for a patient to get a registration card. Growers are charged a $25,000 non-refundable application fee. Dispensaries are charged a $5,000 non-refundable application fee. Growers must prove at least $500,000 in liquid assets. Dispensary applicants must have $400,000 on hand.

The Department of Agriculture and State Police oversee growers and the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation regulates dispensaries. Add in a 7 percent tax for growers and a one percent tax for patients.

Illinois law allows smoking, ingesting or topical marijuana treatment for more than two dozen conditions. It creates an advisory board that will consider additional ailments that qualify for medicinal marijuana.

Illinois 45-day comment period wraps up next week for pages and pages of rules covering usage, cultivation, distribution and taxation. Find a link to those rules with this editorial online at qctimes.com.

Illinois four-year pilot project creates a new business network rife with opportunities for marijuana entrepreneurs who have millions of dollars ready to invest. When the pilot project ends in 2018, Illinois will have a production and distribution network and millions in fee and tax revenue to consider.

Iowa's three-year pilot project simply eliminates the risk of arrest for 100 or so chronically ill epilepsy patients who choose to seek out their own cannabis oil extract. When the pilot ends in 2017, the state will have no infrastructure; only a small group of Iowans and research assessing the effectiveness of the treatment.

And once again, our stateline community will serve as the laboratory to see how these two vastly different state pilot projects progress side by side.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. May 31, 2014.

Let's keep Highway Trust Fund strong

No one in Congress wants to take the blame for higher gasoline taxes just weeks before a major election. That probably explains delays in addressing long-term problems with the Highway Trust Fund.

But unless something is done to provide an infusion of money for the fund, it will dry up within months. By August, payments to states for road construction and repair will have to be cut off.

State transportation officials understand the challenge. Many highway departments receive much of their funding through state taxes on vehicle fuel. The federal fund relies entirely on it.

More fuel-efficient vehicles and inflation in general have opened gaps between fuel-tax funding and highway needs. That is why the federal fund will run out of money later this year.

Senators already have passed a stopgap measure that would provide $265 billion for the fund during the next six years. That would allow states to receive money at current levels.

But President Barack Obama wants a $302 billion, four-year funding scheme. His idea is to provide much of the money through higher business taxes.

Simply adjusting the federal gasoline tax, now 18.4 cents a gallon, upward would resolve the problem. Again, no one wants to do that just before an election.

House of Representatives members should agree to the Senate bill — in order to prevent highway repairs throughout the nation from grinding to a halt in August. Then, a long-range plan can be tackled.

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Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. May 29, 2014.

Restricting sale of e-cigarettes is the right move

The e-cigarette business popped up relatively quickly. So did the use of the products among minors.

Much is still unknown about the potential long-range health effects of the devices. For that reason alone, the sale of e-cigarettes to minors needed to be banned.

We applaud the Iowa Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad for seeing that this was done this year in our state. The federal government has been slow in regulating the sale of e-cigarettes, which is prompting action by the individual states.

The e-cigarettes are battery operated products that heat liquid nicotine and produce a vapor users can inhale.

Some portray them as a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes. However, any decision to use either one of them should be left to adults.

Iowa lawmakers actually went a bit further and expanded the ban to include the sale of fruit-flavored, nicotine-free e-cigarettes to children.

First of all, nicotine is an addictive drug. It was a no-brainer to ban the sale of any item containing nicotine, because it follows that it could easily lead to harmful cigarette smoking.

The tougher decision came in banning the sale of the items that contain no nicotine.

However, they are packaged similar to cigarettes, used in a similar manner, and many see it as a clear attempt to market cigarettes to children.

In a survey of middle and high school students conducted by The American Cancer Society, it was found that the number who said they had used an e-cigarette in the past month doubled from 2011 to 2012. Many of the students also said they had smoked regular tobacco cigarettes.

Denying that these vapor inhalers could lead to harmful cigarette smoking, we believe, is wishful and dangerous thinking.

The bottom line is this new law will make it tougher for underage people to purchase these items. That was worth the time and effort.

"This piece of legislation I think some of the health proponents don't think it goes far enough," Branstad said last week. "But it does at least ban the sale to minors and so I think it is something that is in the interest of the health of the people of Iowa."

The Iowa Legislature did the right thing in restricting the sale of these items.

Federal efforts over the past few decades have gone a long way in preventing the use of tobacco by young people. It's an ongoing challenge.

Allowing the continuing sale of e-cigarettes to minors could go a long way in undoing much of that work.

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