Cuts unite student political groups

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University Democrats and College Republicans may butt heads on most issues this legislative session, but both will lobby to fight higher education funding cuts. “Obviously, we disagree with the College Republicans on several issues, but I think what we really want to try to do is focus on issues we can all agree on,” said University Democrats spokesman Cameron Miculka. “The thing we’re going to be most involved with is watching how the Legislature tackles the budget. One of the first things that is going to be on the chopping block is higher education.” The Legislative Budget Board, a joint committee that recommends state budget appropriations, released proposals last week to balance the state budget shortfall of $15 billion to $25 billion. The recommendation included cutting more than $400 million from student financial aid programs and a proposal from the House to eliminate funding for at least four community colleges. College Republicans President Justin May said the focus of the group’s lobbying will suggest administrative and bureaucratic cuts in the University budget. “We are trying to make sure faculty members are still given a good salary and that students are given the financial support they need to pursue their studies,” May said. “We acknowledge that [the Legislature] is going to have to cut back state spending, but we really don’t think we should see a disproportional hit for higher education funding.” UDems and College Republicans both have their first meetings of the semester tonight. Miculka said UDems will encourage members to get involved in the lobbying process by writing local lawmakers such as state Reps. Mark Strama and Donna Howard, Austin Democrats, and their home district representatives. Strama will speak at tonight’s UDems meeting. “We are planning on having lobby days, a couple rallies and making sure we get the campus informed on all the issues we’re trying to tackle,” Miculka said. “We want to raise awareness to make sure people know what is going on in the Legislature.” Aside from focusing on budget cuts to higher education, Miculka said UDems will also lobby against concealed carry of handguns on campus. In November, state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, and state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, filed bills proposing the legalization of concealed carry on college campuses. Last session, Wentworth and state Sen. Joe Driver, R-Garland, pushed similar bills that passed in the Senate but failed to reach the House floor. May said the Sept. 28 incident when mathematics sophomore Colton Tooley fired several rounds with an AK-47 before taking his own life in the Perry-Castañeda Library fueled their lobbying efforts to allow concealed carry on campus. With 101 House and 19 Senate Republicans — solid GOP majorities in both chambers — he said he believes the bill is likely to pass. “We believe very strongly that those who own a conceal and carry permit should have the right to defend themselves on campus. We believe violence does not stop at the borders of our university,” May said. “We know that it doesn’t just by seeing what happened last semester.” Even if college campuses are designated gun-free zones, the bill will ensure student and faculty safety, said Kory Zipperer, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus vice president. “There’s a difference between feeling safe and being safe,” said Zipperer, a psychology senior. “We don’t think the campus merits any restrictions. We would like to see the bill signed by Gov. Rick Perry.” The College Republicans also support a bill filed that would eliminate in-state tuition for non-citizens and undocumented immigrants, May said.