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Bell Museum director Scott Lanyon and Rep. Mark Kennedy (R-Minn.).

Rep. Mark Kennedy (right) sported a cap from the U's Bell Museum of Natural History when museum director Scott Lanyon visited Kennedy's offices in Washington, D.C., in 2004. U faculty and staff help build a strong presence for research and higher education priorities.

Let the sessions begin

By Channing Riggs and Ann Freeman

From Brief, January 12, 2005

Tight budgets. No new taxes. Partisan wrangling. If these phrases are sounding familiar, it can only mean one thing: the state and federal legislative sessions are under way.

The starting gun sounded on January 4 at both the 109th Congress and the 2005 Minnesota Legislature.

The word from Washington, as well as St. Paul, is caution. Ask only for what is reasonable. Prepare to defend it against many other important programs. Get ready to be held accountable to high standards and tight deadlines.

In Washington, the Bush administration has established a number of clear priorities--homeland security, defense, social security reform, and tax reform--and will be devoting its time and, more importantly, its money toward these programs.

In Minnesota, the Pawlenty administration is equally focused--on controlling health care costs, especially for prescription drugs, and providing adequate funding for K-12 education while demanding accountability for results.

Federal and state funds have a symbiotic relationship in the support they provide for the University and higher education. Adequate state funding helps the University invest in the top researchers, faculty, and facilities, which helps garner increasingly competitive federal research funds.

K-12 education will also continue to be the focus in Washington. The move of Margaret Spellings, who championed the president's No Child Left Behind initiative, from White House education policy adviser to secretary of education will ensure that this initiative is the Department of Education's top priority.

So what about higher education?

At the federal level, the Higher Education Act (HEA) is the main federal law that regulates financial aid, international studies, campus crime and safety, access to postsecondary education, teacher training, graduate education, and direct and guaranteed student loan programs. The HEA needs to be reauthorized every five years, yet it was last reauthorized in 1998. Congress will move forward with HEA legislation, but the administration is not likely to make it a high priority. Any HEA legislation will focus the education community and Congress on dealing with a host of related issues, and higher education is likely to hear increasing demands for accountability in federal spending on education.

You can help

Legislative Briefing
Thursday, Jan. 27, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
McNamara Alumni Center

Learn how you can be an advocate for the U at the state capitol and in your community. RSVP by calling 612-625-9174 or see www.supporttheU.umn.edu.

Meet your state legislator
Members of the U's Legislative Network in 20 districts are hosting meetings with state legislators in their homes. Attend a meeting and speak directly to your elected officials about why investment in the U is important to Minnesota. Find out more at www.umn.edu/groots.

Funding of federal agencies is crucial to the University's research mission. In 2004, U researchers competed for and won more than $377 million in federal funds--about 16 percent of the U's annual budget. Adequate funding for key federal agencies will be an important priority for higher education since some agencies received modest increases of only about 2 percent last year (the National Institutes of Health and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), while others were cut for the first time (National Science Foundation).

Early indications are that, due to a tight federal budget and the administration's priorities, funding levels could be even worse this year. Some federal agencies are being asked to prepare scenarios that demonstrate flat or decreasing budgets. The challenge for the University and the rest of the higher education community will be to lobby for reasonable, achievable federal funding goals.

The same is true at the Minnesota Legislature for the University in its biennial and capital budget requests. The biennial request--for $42 million in new state funding for each of the next two years--seeks a partnership with the state to maintain Minnesota's role as a world leader in the biosciences; to assure that top students stay in Minnesota and that the U attracts and retains world-class faculty and staff; and to sustain the infrastructure needed to support discovery and learning.

Because the legislature failed to pass a state bonding bill last year, a top priority this year is to pass one early in the session. The University's capital request of $158 million in state funds focuses on critical investments to support its academic infrastructure, needed state-of-the-art research facilities, and modern classrooms. The governor has recommended just more than $100 million for bonding projects at the University, which falls $58 million short of the amount requested by the U. The University and its supporters will need to work hard to convince legislators and the governor to fund its full request.

Federal and state funds have a symbiotic relationship in the support they provide for the University and higher education. Adequate state funding helps the University invest in the top researchers, faculty, and facilities, which helps garner increasingly competitive federal research funds.

Bottom line--the University must work harder than ever in both Washington and in St. Paul to make a case for this critical support if it's going to continue as a national leader in research and education.

And that's where you can help. Friends and supporters of the U are asked to contact their state legislators and urge them to reverse the trend of declining state support and invest in the University of Minnesota. To contact your legislator, visit Contact. You can learn much more about the U's state legislative requests by attending the annual Legislative Briefing, which be held Thursday, January 27, from 5:30 7:30 p.m. at the McNamara Alumni Center. For more information or to RSVP, call 612-625-9174 or see Briefing.

For information about the University's capital and bonding requests, the role of the federal government, and how you can become an advocate for the U, visit www.umn.edu/govrel.

Channing Riggs and Ann Freeman work in Government Relations in University Relations.

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