A Capitol Conversation
January 22, 2004
Presenter: Donna Peterson, Associate Vice President of Government
Topic: Legislative Update
Donna Peterson is a former State Representative and Senator. She
oversees the University's legislative requests on the biennium schedule.
The first year of a biennium is the budget year. The second year
is for capital building projects (bonding authorizations.) This
year (2004) is a bonding year.
What is bonding?
The state sells bonds that are paid off over 10-20 years. State
bonds are like credit cards. We have to know our collective credit
limit. The state must have the cash flow to make cash payments on
bonds, and so the state sets limits on debt service. Tradition sets
that limit at about 3% of the state budget.
The same is true for the University. The University has to set
priorities. We create a capitol priority list internally. Every
two years the University submits the requests at the top of the
internal list to the Department of Finance (as a preliminary step)
during the summer. The regents review and give approval to this
list. After it is approved by the regents, the list goes back to
the Department of Finance, along with requests from all sorts of
other state entities. (About $1.5 billion received in total requests
And the Governor uses this aggregate list and his political agenda
to make his own bonding proposal. The University still lobbies for
our full list.
It takes 60% legislative approval for the bonding bill to pass
and this leads to lots of pork; legislators "trade" projects
to get the bonding bill through the Senate, House, and conference
committee. This constitutional requirement makes it hard for the
Governor to limit bonding.
Is bonding an economic stimulus?
Some people use the economic stimulus argument to promote the immediate
positive impact of a large bonding investment. Construction jobs
are immediate. Credit is cheap now, so why not have a big bonding
bill to put people to work.
The University prefers to emphasize the long-term impact of the
investment: Talk about what happens in those buildings and how that
work impacts the economy: Researchers get grants, hire more staff,
research gets translated into businesses.
What's on our priority list?
See Donna's handout
What is going on now looking forward to this session?
This Governor has promised to veto anything not on his list. The
House wants an even smaller list. The Senate wants more. Both say
Higher Education was under-prioritized in the Governor's request.
Why should we care about these requests?
Our University community has come together to work on the four campuses
bonding request as one. The pride we demonstrate in our institution
leads to better results at Legislature, and that leads to improving
our reputation as an institution. If your buildings are not in this
request, backing this request helps move your project up the priority
list. Therefore it is important to include requests for support
in our communications pieces. Those who show up will get something!
Context for motivating constituents:
The University prefers not to enter into competition with other
projects: Try not to talk about other possible projects, just communicate
the value of having the U of M as a strong and viable institution.
And talk about our needs. By the same token, our strategy is to
promote the University as a whole, and avoid internal competition.
What is the best time to muster support?
Between now and March 1 is the best time to communicate with your
See the grassroots
network Web site for help forming messages.
Calling in May is too late!
Strategies for influencing legislature:
Introduce yourself now to your legislator. Even if you don't get
a positive response immediately, you may get the payoff next year.
Make sure you identify yourself as a constituent right away-in an
email or in a letter. Attend election functions this coming year,
too. A heart-felt direct pitch from students, faculty, and staff
is deemed as the most effective lobbying tool. An effective message
can't be too scripted.
Where can we find specific messages to incorporate in our communications?
Call University Relations. They can help you with talking points
that are right for the moment. Things change frequently at the legislature,
and different arguments are developed over time as the lobbyists
glean what is effective to motivate legislators on a particular
issue during a particular session. It is important to have the most
How does Stadium talk effect our bonding request?
As everyone has see, the Vikings and Twins are going to talk---
so the University has to respond, or we could end up playing games
at a Vikings stadium in Blaine or something.
We are exploring how much can we raise in non-state funding. If
there is a source of revenue that the state uses for stadium bonds
for Vikings and Twins, the U of M want to be in on that for a Gopher-only
stadium-the goal would be to bring Gopher football home. See the
feasibility study on-line.
Donna understands the dynamics of football in a Big Ten community,
and so she is enthusiastic about this opportunity even though it
is not a University priority.