Bipartisan efforts lead to legislative successes for CU

Just-ended session saw several threats to higher education thwarted

The arrival of a new governor and a Legislature consisting of roughly one-third new members brought an unusually high level of uncertainty to the 2011 Colorado General Assembly, which concluded its four-month session last week.

"It was a unique session," said Kirsten Schuchman, University of Colorado director of state relations. After the November 2010 elections, control of the House shifted from Democrats to Republicans, who held a one-seat edge. "We had to make sure we were able to work with both sides of the aisle equally to pass bills that had bipartisan support."

Pre-session efforts by CU President Bruce Benson and the campus leaders to reach out to new and returning lawmakers paid dividends, Schuchman said. Benson and his wife, Marcy, invited lawmakers to their home for several informal gatherings.

In the state budget, cuts to higher education funding were not as deep as CU leaders had feared.

"This was the most difficult budget I've seen in the past 21 years I've been down at the Capitol, in terms of getting it completed," said Tanya Kelly-Bowry, vice president for state and federal government relations. She noted that the budget-balancing package didn't pass until the session's last day; when the Long Bill did pass, it had 21 additional pieces of legislation attached, which is unusual.

Higher education sustained a cut of $36 million when Gov. John Hickenlooper revised down former Gov. Bill Ritter's recommendation. When factoring in the loss of federal stimulation (ARRA) funding, higher education's total cut for the upcoming fiscal year is $125 million; CU's share of that total is $47 million.

"We had five new members of the Joint Budget Committee, new leadership in the House of Representatives and a new governor," Kelly-Bowry said. "All of those factors contributed to it being a very complex budget year. In spite of that, higher education did as well as we could."

Lawmakers also approved efficiency legislation sponsored by CU, which further reduces burdensome bureaucracy and redundant reporting requirements for higher education institutions throughout the state. House Bill 11-1301 now awaits Hickenlooper's signature.

Also expected to receive the governor's signature is Senate Bill 11-052, which would make some money for higher education dependent on performance. Such performance-based funding only would apply to 25 percent of budgets and would not be triggered until state support of higher ed reaches $706 million. The 2011-12 budget contains state support at $519 million. Earlier in the session, CU's government relations team worked to make sure the a trigger was in place and that the Department of Higher Education's role would remain consistent with its current involvement. By Dec. 1, 2013, the department must develop a plan that includes performance funding, though it's unlikely the funding trigger will be reached by then. Performance contract agreements between the department and higher education institutions will have been updated by Dec. 1, 2012.

Other noteworthy developments from the session:

House Bill 11-1164 clarifies the composition of the University of Colorado Hospital's board, which previously had been chaired by the chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver. M. Roy Wilson had served as chancellor; after he stepped down, Jerry Wartgow was named chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver, while Lilly Marks was named vice president for health affairs and executive vice chancellor for the Anschutz Medical Campus. Marks now will chair the hospital board.

Benson restructured leadership last year as a way of addressing distinct challenges at each campus. The bill allows the current and future CU presidents to appoint the executive of the medical campus, regardless of future changes to leadership titles.

House Bill 11-1169 eliminates barriers in information sharing between campus police and administrators pertaining to student safety at higher education institutions. The bill ensures that student privacy is maintained while optimizing the use of safety resources.

Senate Bill 11-204 clarifies the role and mission of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs by adding "specialized graduate research."

Senate Bill 11-272 continues the placement of an income tax checkoff benefiting the adult Stem Cells Cure Fund; had it lapsed, the CU Cord Blood Center at the Anschutz Medical Campus would have faced reduced funding.

With the work of Kelly-Bowry, Senate Bill 11-184, the tax amnesty bill, reinstated funding for the School of Medicine's family medicine residencies program. The program had sustained a $175,000 cut during the state budget process.

For details on these and other bills, see the Office of Government Relations website.

Unknowns for next year's lawmaking session already are stirring: Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, this week announced his formal proposal for a five-year, $3 billion tax increase to boost education funding. He wants the measure put before voters this fall.