UT coalition lobbies for higher education at Capitol

Allie Kolechta

A student coalition met with four Texas senators and two Texas House representatives on Monday to raise the Longhorn voice at the Capitol.

Students from groups such as Student Government, the Senate of College Councils and the Graduate Student Assembly formed the Invest in Texas coalition, a group that will lobby for higher education issues such as opposing budget cuts to higher education, supporting competitive insurance benefits and gun control on campus.

Chelsea Adler, Senate of College Councils president, said she and students Jimmy Talarico and Daniel Spikes met with senators and representatives on Monday to talk about the coalition’s platform and gauge their responsiveness.
“The meetings today have gone really well. Everyone has been really receptive to our ideas,” said Alder, a government and social work senior.

The group’s main priority is to keep budget cuts to higher education proportionate to the total amount spent on higher education, she said. Gov. Rick Perry’s $182.3 billion two-year budget plan, which will last from Sept. 1, 2009 until Aug. 31, 2011, allots 12 percent of all spending to higher education, but in the last fiscal year higher education made up almost 42 percent of all budget cuts with a $75.5 billion deficit, she said. This session, the Legislative Budget Board, an agency that recommends potential cuts to state agencies, suggested a $93.2 million cut to UT, said University Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty.

The group will also lobby for competitive insurance benefits and work with other universities to gain the ability for public schools to choose their own individual safety policies, including the ability to choose to outlaw guns on campus, she said.

“This is such a pivotal time for our University, and we need as many students as we can to get involved with lobbying for these issues,” Adler said. “There’s lots of ways to get involved and make an impact, and the easiest one is lobbying.”

The coalition’s first lobbying day will be in March at the Capitol, she said.

Eventually, the group wants to work with other Texas schools and the rest of the UT System to gain the same benefits for all schools in the state, said Talarico, SG executive director and government senior.

“Students have seen the effects of budget cuts on our campus already with things like increased class sizes, entire programs cut, reduced facility hours and fees at the doctor’s office,” he said. “If we want to prevent that from happening again, students must become involved in the legislative process. These lawmakers are deciding the future of our campus.”

One of the group’s plans is to have members of its organizations send postcards to their hometown’s representatives explaining the Invest in Texas platform, Talarico said. Getting home districts on the side of the students is a good to reach out to the Capitol, said Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, who met with Adler, Talarico and Spikes.

“The Capitol has to hear your voice from all over the state before you really have an impact on these issues,” said Spikes, the legislative director of the Graduate Student Assembly and an educational administration graduate student.