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Lobbyists urge students to voice opposition to cuts

By Jeff Sklar
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday February 20, 2003

Nick Green is fed up. He's watched the Arizona Legislature cut tens of millions of dollars from the UA's budget in less than two years. And now, with key legislators calling for state universities to cut a combined $37 million more while significantly raising tuition, he's asking them to stop.

"Show me the money," he's saying. "And don't take it back."

Green and his fellow UA student lobbyists are joining in a statewide campaign asking legislators to stop cutting university budgets and recognize the need for higher education.


· Students interested in contacting student lobbyists can visit the ASUA office on the third floor of the Student Union Memorial Center, directly above the bookstore, or call 621-2782.

"We're doing what we can to let the Legislature know we're not going to let them raise our tuition and not give us our money back," Green said.

The Arizona Students' Association, a statewide student lobbying group, has said that if legislators cut university budgets and the Arizona Board of Regents significantly raises tuition, it would be tantamount to a tax on students.

At UA, student lobbyists have already proposed a $900 in-state tuition hike, saying the university needs it to start reversing a trend of funding cuts. But they are vehemently opposed to the proposed cuts.

The Republican chairmen of the legislative appropriations committees have called the proposed cuts necessary to balance the $1 billion state budget shortfall.

Green and other student lobbyists are encouraging students to write to legislators, asking them to recognize the need for higher education and vote down the proposed cuts.

"It's about time that Arizona starts to recognize how essential education is to move into the new economy," said Maceo Brown, ASA's executive director.

But the lobbyists might have a problem mustering student enthusiasm for the campaign. Apathy has been an obstacle for similar campaigns in the past, and in one rally against budget cuts at the state Capitol last year, fewer than 10 UA students showed up.

"It's really hard to get students to stop thinking about their test tomorrow and start thinking about their tuition next year," Green said.

Legislators traditionally have paid little attention to student concerns, largely because so few students voice concerns over university issues, said Student Body President Doug Hartz.

"If students were to flood their e-mail accounts with comments about losing their teachers, people would start to worry," Hartz said.

For Green, interesting students in legislative processes has been a matter of educating them. Once they understand that budget cuts could directly damage their university, he said, many of them are willing to write letters or get involved.

Erika Hernandez has seen and heard about the budget cuts, and said she's willing to write a letter. The microbiology sophomore supports a large tuition increase, and said that cutting the universities' budgets could do serious harm.

"It's something that affects me directly," Hernandez said. "I think students have to be part of the decision making."

Student lobbyists will be at the Legislature on Tuesday, asking lawmakers to protect university budgets. They're encouraging all students to join them, and Green said 35 people have already filled out forms expressing interest in going.

However, some legislators are already listening, Green said. He e-mailed Rep. Phil Lopes, a Democrat who represents much of west Tucson, and got two responses.

In the first, Lopes told Green he was also concerned about potential budget cuts, and was planning to meet with President Pete Likins. In the second, he told Green about the meeting, and reaffirmed the need to fund universities.

Green has not heard from Sen. Bob Burns or Rep. Russell Pearce, the Republican chairmen of the two appropriation committees, and the two architects of the plan to cut millions from the universities' budgets this year.

Lobbyists are offering free shirts to people who send their comments to legislators. The shirts illustrate the campaign with a drawing of Mr. Monopoly, the plutocratic cartoon spokesman for the board game Monopoly. On the back, it outlines areas where lobbyists say students want tuition money to go class availability, student life programs, faculty retention and campus safety.

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