State Sen. Mark Segebart
State Sen. Mark Segebart
February 3, 2014

State Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, says Iowa shouldn't have three state universities. The population just doesn't justify it, says the lawmaker-farmer who represents a vast swath of western Iowa.

"We probably have, for 3 million people, having three huge universities, and all the infrastructure and employees that go with that, it's probably too many for just 3 million people when you think about it," Segebart, a graduate of Iowa State University, said Saturday morning during a legislative forum at New Hope Village in Carroll.

If there were fewer universities, Segebart said, Iowa lawmakers could provide more funds to K-12 education.

In an interview after the forum, Segebart declined to say which state school - or schools - he thinks should be closed.

"You're not going to change it now," Segebart said. "You can't cut any of them at this point. Looking back on it, we never should have had three."

He added, "Two would probably be enough in Iowa in a perfect world."

Segebart suggested it may be time to rein in certain capital spending at the state's universities.

"We keep building and building and building at our three universities," Segebart said. "The infrastructure is basically there, but we're never satisfied with that."

The schools should just stop constructing many of the new facilities, Segebart said.

"I would vote 'no' on most of those capital improvements," he said.

Carroll attorney Art Neu, a former lieutenant governor and member of the Board of Regents, said in an interview that Segebart's comments are "irresponsible."

Neu noted that Nebraska, with a population of 1.9 million people, has more state schools than Iowa - University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Kearney and Omaha, and Chadron State College, Peru State College and Wayne State College.

Neu said Iowa lawmakers and education leaders considered a fourth university but moved to a community college system instead.

"Perhaps Segebart thinks there are too many community college campuses, too," Neu said.

A former legislator from Charter Oak, Republican Clarence Hoffman, who served about a decade ago, advocated language directing the Iowa Board of Regents to study the possibility of developing a state-funded graduate school in western Iowa.

And a 2006 Democratic candidate for governor suggested taking that further.

"I think we should have a university in western Iowa," Gregg Connell, a Shenandoah civic leader, said in a 2005 interview with the Daily Times Herald. "I think it would be more than well-received, and I think that that's the right track we need to take and not forget that Iowa doesn't end outside the city limits of Des Moines."

He said all communities in western Iowa should have the opportunity to promote themselves as the home of "The University of Western Iowa" or whatever such an institution would be named.

"Regardless of what the name is, it's what it would mean to western Iowa, it's the message it would send to western Iowa," Connell said. "I think you would be astonished at the popularity of that. I think you would also attract a lot of people across the river in Nebraska or in Missouri."

According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, in the 2012 budget year, state money accounted for 36 percent of the general university funding for the three universities compared with 64 percent in the 2001 budget year. Student tuition, conversely, made up 59 percent of the general university funding in 2012, up from 31 percent in 2001.

Iowa has been funding its three public universities the same way for decades, dating back to at least 1945, by distributing money on a 40-40-20 split UI, ISU and UNI, in that order, The Gazette reported.

In other issues at the legislative forum, State Rep. Dan Muhlbauer, D-Manilla, said he wanted to see more tax breaks for the middle class. Although he would reluctantly support an increase to the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, Muhlbauer said a wiser course is making changes to the tax system that benefit the middle class.

Segebart said he is "not totally opposed" to raising the minimum wage. But he sees the workforce issue in Iowa as one of developing employees with the skills actually needed to open positions.

"We have a lot of young people without the proper skills," Segebart said.

Muhlbauer joined other lawmakers in drafting a bill to provide emergency home-heating assistance for low-income propane users in the wake of wild price swings. He said many people having to choose between eating and heating their homes.

"It's devastating to a lot of people out here in the community," Muhlbauer said.

On mental-health reform, Segebart said he strongly supported allowing counties to maintain their own reserves as they join regions.

Segebart also is hopeful for legislation he authored that would provide tax credits for buyers who repurpose abandoned school buildings and other public properties.

Muhlbauer noted that a House subcommittee has moved a proposal to increase the gas tax by 10 cents a gallon over three years (3 cents, 3 cents and 4 cents).

Overall, Muhlbauer said, the state is in solid shape with low unemployment rates in western Iowa.

"Iowa is working," Muhlbauer said. "We're getting people put to work."