I recently had my first lobbying experience in Olympia. Although I went to lobby for higher education, there are a few universal tips I would like to give anyone who treks to the Capitol for a cause:
- Always have a plan.
- Just because you have a meeting scheduled doesn’t mean they’ll show up.
- Don’t stray too far from the script.
- Convincing people to do something is hard. Convincing legislators is harder.
- Ask directly for what you want.
- Lobbying is chaos.
I have four part-time jobs, on top of being a graduate student. Even though I hold resident status, I will be $40,000 in debt by the time I complete a two-year program. Higher education clearly is a priority for me, so I decided to focus on two bills which would put up temporary roadblocks in tuition increases while institutions figure out other sustainable funding mechanisms.
I had meetings set up to discuss these bills with three legislators from the 24th District: Senator James Hargrove, Rep. Steve Tharinger, and Rep. Kevin Van De Wege.
I showed up to the first meeting with Sen. Hargrove, only to find that I would actually be meeting with his Deputy Chief of Staff. No worries, I was ready for that. He was very friendly and welcoming, and asked me about what I was studying and where I was from and what brought me here and…
NO. STICK TO THE SCRIPT.
The University of Washington’s state funding has been cut in half since 2009; to help make up for these budget cuts, tuition has been raised from $6,802 to $12,282 since 2008. At $12,282 a year, UW’s tuition rate is actually reasonable compared to other universities; the problem is that a freshman entering school in 2008 could not have predicted that they would be paying over 80% more per year upon graduation. It could make the difference of finishing a college degree or not.
House Bill 1624 would cap resident undergraduate tuition increases to the rate of inflation through the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, and Senate Bill 5420 would freeze resident undergraduate tuition for two years if the state appropriates an additional $225 million in funding.
These bills will prevent current and soon-to-be students from experiencing tuition hikes after they have accepted admittance or are already enrolled to a multi-year program. By putting an immediate cap on tuition increases in the near future while planning for a long term strategy, schools will not be able to rely on increasing revenue through higher tuition, which in turn affects the quality of students and faculty.
However, as it stands these bills only cover resident undergraduate tuition; I propose that both of these bills include graduate and professional students. The draft language I am proposing is on the fact sheet (see below).
Me: “Will you support undergraduate and graduate programs by supporting these bills?”
Hargrove’s Deputy Chief: Well it sounds worthy and interesting. Where is that $225 million coming from?
Me: Well, you might take a look at SB538, which would institute a 5% excise tax on capital gains to be distributed among four year institutions of higher education.
HDC: We will not be looking into new revenue sources. (Pause). But I’ll give it a read over and pass it on to Hargrove.
Rep. Steve Tharinger: This sounds really good you guys, but I’ll have to look into it more. Thanks for your time.
Rep. Kevin Van De Wege’s legislative aide: Tuition has really gone up that much? We’ll definitely take a look at these. Thank you two so much for coming in. I’m sorry Kevin couldn’t be here.
Lobbying for higher education funding is an interesting experience: no legislator is willing to be directly opposed to these bills, but few are willing to support a raise in taxes or appropriating funds from another cause. At the end of a long and stressful day, I felt like a model citizen and an active participant in the democratic process, but I did not feel as though my words had really sunk in, or mattered much at all. While it is reassuring that ordinary citizens have access to our legislators, it makes you wonder how much effect you can really have. There are so many factors at play that it can be hard to sort out the chaotic web of who supports who and where the best place is to apply leverage.
I do plan to follow up via email, but will probably not be turning up at the Capitol anytime soon.
George, your nose is so shiny!
Final note: For those of you interested, the proposed draft language would change the text in HB 1624 to read as follows:
(3)(a) Beginning with the 2011-2012 academic year and through the end of the 2018-19 academic year, the governing boards…may reduce or increase full-time tuition fees for all students…as long as increases each year and for each resident undergraduate, graduate, and professional student program do not exceed the rate of inflation…
Likewise, I proposed revisions for Senate Bill 5420:
(3)(b) For the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 academic years, if…sum of two hundred twenty-five million dollars is appropriated from the general fund to be divided among the state universities…each institution’s full-time tuition fees for resident undergraduates, graduates, and professional students shall not exceed its 2012-13 academic year resident tuition levels.