Gila Community College’s legislative lobbyists Triadvocates touted their successes in winning the passage of bills to help GCC become independent and gain additional state funding at the June 8 board meeting.
“None of the other state community colleges have this record of passing bills to move their agenda forward,” said Mike Gardner, a Triadvocates lobbyist and former state legislator.
Having a state senator who happens to be the Senate President Pro Tem doesn’t hurt, either. “Senator Allen, (R-Snowflake), is an amazing advocate for Gila Community College,” said Gardner.
Originally hired in 2007 to lobby for a bill to keep GCC from ceasing to exist, Triadvocates has continued to represent GCC, although several GCC board members raised questions last year about the firm’s contract to also represent Eastern Arizona College. Some members wondered what the firm would do if GCC’s interests ever diverged from EAC, which provides GCC’s academic credentials and administers its budget.
This year Triadvocates oversaw two key legislative measures and acted on behalf of the college during budget sessions.
Senate Bill (SB) 1213 creates a blueprint for GCC to become an independent community college district. The measure would allow GCC to eventually qualify for its own credentials and retain control of its class offerings and budget. However, the college had to give up access to a pot of money available to other rural community colleges to win passage of the independence bill.
When the Legislature defined the criteria for community colleges, it set the population and property values too high for rural areas to ever hope to qualify as their own districts. A handful of existing rural community colleges were grandfathered in, without meeting the requirements.
Sen. Sylvia Allen, with help from Triadvocates, muscled SB 1213 through legislative blocks to succeed in creating an exception to the definition of community college. GCC can now work toward its independence.
In addition, the lobbying firm worked on SB 1217, which amended the distribution of Workforce Development funds created from the passage of Proposition 301 in November 2000.
Proposition 301 takes six-tenths of 1 percent of the overall statewide sales tax revenue and divides it amongst elementary- through college-level schools. The money going to community colleges is entitled, “workforce” funds.
Two years after Prop. 301 passed, GCC became a provisional community college, but still remained ineligible to receive workforce funds. As a result, GCC has never seen these funds, even though every purchase a Rim Country resident makes contributes sales tax money to the workforce capital.
“When Prop. 301 was passed, there was no such thing as a “provisional community college district” and thus we have not been receiving any of these monies,” wrote Larry Stephenson, GCC board member in an e-mail. “Needless to say, the other community colleges in the state were not pleased when Gila Community College stepped up to the plate, since there is a finite pot of money for workforce development.”
Opposition from other community colleges in the House forced Sen. Allen to amend the bill so that GCC had to give up about $200,000 in workforce development money that all the state’s other community college districts routinely receive.
Instead, GCC will get about $80,000 based on enrollment, but not the $200,000 base payment other districts receive.
Moreover, the legislation requires even the $80,000 to go through EAC, rather than coming directly to GCC. Under the terms of its contract with EAC, Gila Community College pays a roughly 25 percent overhead fee on everything it spends.
The Triadvocates lobbyists ended their PowerPoint presentation with the question, “What is next?”
Stephenson replied, “What would (Triadvocates) see looking forward to next year?”
The discussion then moved on, without discussing next year’s priorities nor whether the board wants to renew Triadvocates’ annual contract.