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Spotlight: State Government Relations

The staff at UC’s State Government Relations office speak at least three languages: “Capitol speak,” “state bureaucratese” and “UC speak,” according to Associate Director Vince Stewart. How else could they represent UC’s interests in the indecipherable world of Sacramento politics?

This year promises to be an especially busy one for SGR, as it helps spearhead UC’s efforts to secure the funding necessary to preserve access and quality. Link recently caught up with Stewart to talk about SGR’s role at UC and its priorities for 2010.

What is the biggest challenge UC faces in Sacramento right now?

Our fundamental problem is the disinvestment in UC by the state. Since 1990, the State’s expenditure for the cost of educating each UC student has fallen by more than 50 percent, adjusted for inflation. We lost 20 percent of our total state-funded operating budget in 2009-10 alone.

Talk to us about the Governor’s proposed spending plan for 2010-11, and where UC fits in.

The Governor’s spending plan proposes restoring $371 million for UC. That includes $51.3 million to fund enrollments — an important step, given that UC now enrolls more than 15,000 students unsupported by state funds. His plan also includes funding for the Cal Grant program to cover student fee increases and enable us to continue to provide financial aid to students who need it the most. Cal Grants remain a high priority for UC, and we will work to ensure that funding for them is in the state budget.

President Yudof has made public statements about the governor’s plan still not being enough for UC. Tell us about the shortfall.

We deeply appreciate the Governor’s actions and his clear recognition of the vital contributions public higher education makes to California, but his plan still falls short of what UC needs to preserve access and quality. We are seeking a $913 million restoration of state funds in 2010-11 in order to sustain our commitments to our students and all Californians. The $371 million the governor has proposed is only 40 percent of our request.

What would it mean if UC got the full $913 million requested?

The $913 million restoration would bring UC funding back to the level it had in 2007-2008 and also address critical funding gaps for enrollment and the UC Retirement Plan, though it still wouldn’t meet the University’s full funding needs.

On March 1, President Yudof, Regents, and chancellors participated in a joint advocacy day in Sacramento with the UC Student Association on behalf of UC and public higher education. What was your involvement with that?

SGR, with the aid of colleagues from External Relations and Student Affairs,  worked with the UC Student Association (UCSA) to develop a common message in support of the Governor’s proposed 2010-11 state budget, reaffirming the state’s commitment to the Master Plan for Higher Education, and full state funding for the Cal Grant program.  SGR scheduled meetings for UC and UCSA leadership with the Governor and legislative leaders from the State Senate and Assembly.  In addition, UC leadership met with the director of the State Department of Finance to discuss UC’s funding needs and to be briefed on the most recent developments in state budget negotiations.

Besides focusing on budget-related matters, what other key issues is SGR focusing on this year?

This year, SGR is managing a legislative portfolio of six UC-sponsored bills.  These bills address a wide spectrum of issues that reflect the depth and breadth of UC’s tri-partite mission and complexity as a multi-billion dollar public institution.  Specifically, these proposals deal with sustainable agriculture research and education, alumni affinity programs, building standards, historical structures, Medi-Cal payments, and public contracts. In addition, we have determined so far that 32 “big bills” require close monitoring and representation as they include assaults on UC’s constitutional autonomy and on our role as expressed in the Master Plan for Public Education.  As the thousands of new bills begin to move through the legislature, we expect that many will be amended to also have major potential to impact UC and require our focus.

What’s a typical week like for staff in the SGR office?

As UCOP’s outpost on the frontier, our lives are ruled by electronic communication.  We spend an average of twenty hours a week on conference calls with OP and campuses.  When not on conference calls (and sometimes during!), much of our work communicating with legislative staff and others is done via email –frequently several hundred per day per staff person. The remaining time is spent running across the street to testify at hearings, attend briefings and negotiating sessions, deliver key UC communications and messaging, shepherd OP and campus VIPs to meetings, and, of course, ensure that lawmakers and their staff  know that real people are behind the phone calls and emails (aka establishing and maintaining relationships).   One of the talents that all staff share is the ability to communicate and simultaneously translate in three languages:  “Capitol speak,” “state bureaucratese” and “UC speak.”

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