Legislative session brings new opportunities, challenges for CU

CU Government Relations, Budget teams look to support funding at state, federal levels
By Staff

The 70th Colorado General Assembly convened on Wednesday, the launch of a 120-day session that will see a new group of lawmakers consider budget requests and changes to laws that directly affect the University of Colorado and higher education across the state.

In the November election, Republicans regained a majority in the Senate, now holding a one-seat advantage over Democrats, 18-17. Though Democrats also lost seats in the House, they maintain a majority over Republicans, 34-31.

CU’s Government Relations team will be working with the CU Budget team on several key priorities, including garnering support for the budget request of Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat; his plan, announced in November, holds some good news for CU and higher education:

  • A 10 percent operating increase for higher education totaling $60.6 million;
  • An additional $15 million to help offset the impact of implementation of HB 1319 (for a total operating increase of $75.6 million);
  • $30 million for the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Fund, a fund created last year. Institutions must apply to access funds, which are awarded based on the quality of the proposals submitted by institutions.
  • Continuation construction costs for the Jennie Smoly Caruthers Biotechnology Building in Boulder ($20.2 million) and the Visual and Performing Arts building in Colorado Springs ($9.6 million).

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education’s capital priority list also includes three other CU projects that will need additional funding in order to progress: a classroom renovation at CU Denver North ($50.6 million in additional funding needed); a CU Denver Interdisciplinary Building and Data Center ($140.3 million) and a CU-Boulder Aerospace and Engineering Science Building ($196.6 million).

CU will support the governor's request for Level 1 (critical) controlled maintenance needs, as well.

Federal lawmakers also returned to Washington earlier this week. CU’s government relations team will be working at the national level as well, where appropriations for the 2016 budget year hold ramifications for CU. Research efforts and financial aid funding depend on federal investment; the next fiscal year also will see the return of sequestration, which tightened budgets for many researchers across the system two years ago.

Other issues expected to draw attention nationally: reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; the Campus Safety and Accountability Act; reform of tax, patent and immigration laws; the America COMPETES Act; and potential legislation related to college athletics.

At the state Capitol, CU is expected to work with lawmakers on several potential bills to be introduced by CU. Key areas of focus will be workforce needs, STEM education and university infrastructure.

Follow coverage of CU-related activity during the legislative session in the coming weeks in CU Connections.