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Volume 68, Issue 99, Wednesday, February 19, 2003 


UH advocates visit Texas capitol

Budget crisis may overshadow Austin effort, lawmakers say

By Nikie Johnson
Senior Staff Writer

AUSTIN -- UH advocates visiting the state capitol Tuesday had their work cut out for them.

In a year when Texas is facing an unprecedented budget shortfall, the Cougar Advocates for Texas headed to the state Legislature to attempt to secure UHis funding -- an undertaking made even more difficult because Gov. Rick Perry has said publicly that he wants to cut many of the state universitiesi special projects.

Although UH officials maintained a positive attitude throughout the day, many legislators were less than optimistic about UHis chances.

"I tried to impress on (the UH visitors) the severity of the stateis budget crisis," Rep. Rick Noriega said.

Noriega, a UH graduate who represents Houston, said that although he fully supports higher education and UHis efforts, he thinks it will be "very difficult" for UH to come out ahead in this legislative session.

Two years ago, UH went to the Legislature asking for more funding, which would help it attain Tier I research status. Instead of creating one fund that would be a counterpart to the endowment that funds the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, two funds were created (see graphic for more details).

This year, the motto of the campaign is "One goal -- one research excellence fund." UH advocates continually stressed that the initiative isnit asking the Legislature to allocate more money; itis just asking it to combine the funds and allocate the money differently, in a way they say will be more fair.

Many legislators expressed doubt that such an initiative would make it through, considering the extensive budget cutting planned for this year.

At the moment, the Legislature controls state tuition. UT and A&M are supporting a measure this year that would allow public universities to set their own tuition. Gov. Rick Perry has publicly expressed support for this idea. Since his platform this year is to cut spending to cope with the shortfall, not increase revenue, he has told many state agencies that they will have to come up with their own funding.

"The onus will be on tuition (and) fees to raise money the state (may) cut," Noriega said.

Many other legislators gave similar warnings to CATS.

UH officials, however, said they got a very good feeling from meeting with lawmakers.

"We all know money is tight, but weire not asking for more money," said Elizabeth Ghrist, the chairwoman for CATSi advocacy committee.

She said she got a good response from all the lawmakers she visited, and she thinks all the CATS made a good impression.

UH Vice President for Governmental Relations Grover Campbell echoed Ghristis sentiments, saying he has not heard of any opposition to the bill in his dealings with the Legislature.

In the last session, support for UHis original initiative was high until right before the bill was passed, he said. At the very last minute, lawmakers decided to change the plan and split the fund into two parts. Although A&M was "very supportive" of the bill, Campbell said, UT officials wanted some of the money for their schools.

This time around, he said, UH is not aware of any opposition from those schools, which are focused on the tuition deregulation issue.

However, many lawmakers said they donit believe the other universities will leave the issue alone this year.

At least one representative, Kenny Marchant, whose district includes UT-Dallas, told CATS that he wasnit interested in the measure if it wouldnit help people in his district.

Noriega said he thinks UT and A&M will feel threatened and may intervene again.

"Boy, those Aggies and T-Sips are going to scream bloody murder," he said.

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