LETTERS: Lobbying essential to recover higher-ed funding

We are writing this letter in response to Leo Acevedo’s opinion, “Student awareness needed to combat education funding loss,” which appeared in the March 19 edition of The Signal.

Acevedo, executive director of the Student Finance Board (SFB), directly criticized the Student Government Association (SGA) and its policies regarding lobbying against the recent cuts to higher education. We find it quite appalling that anyone can so mistakenly criticize the efforts of student leaders in trying to improve the budgetary situation at hand.

As an upstanding leader in his own capacity, it is disappointing to note that Acevedo is not only mistaken, but clearly ill-informed in his criticisms of SGA.

As dedicated members and current lobbying chairs of SGA, we are insulted that Acevedo saw fit to attack SGA publicly in The Signal with his opinion instead of first approaching us to raise his concerns.

We would have been more than happy to inform him of our current lobbying efforts and consider his suggestions.

In response, we feel it is necessary to address his claims directly. Acevedo said our lobbying efforts “will accomplish very little,” so we should just abandon them entirely. By “accepting the realities of budget cuts,” as Acevedo suggested, we are not only encouraging Gov. Jon S. Corzine to cut the College’s budget in the future, but are also promoting the idea that we consider these budget cuts acceptable.

Certainly his opinion would not hold well with Rutgers University, which used lobbying and rallying efforts to get a significant amount of money back from the state.

If lobbying has no effect, then why would every organization that has a vested interest in the state budget utilize similar advocacy tactics?

And why do you think organizations with extremely successful lobbying campaigns never seem to wind up being negatively affected by the budget?

Acevedo also argues our time and effort could be better spent informing students about the effects of these cuts. This suggestion falsely implies that SGA has not worked on campus activism at all.

We have made it our duty to arrange a number of events geared at making students aware of the budget cuts.

We are currently working on a massive student awareness project for April, aimed at informing, educating and motivating students to respond to the effects of the cuts. On May 2, we will culminate with our annual student rally at the State House.

SGA considers keeping the students informed one of its most important goals, one it has never stopped pursuing.

What is even more disturbing is Acevedo’s attempt to justify Corzine’s cuts by claiming the only way we could have avoided a 10 percent cut was to either raise taxes or eliminate other programs.

Coincidentally, this echoes Corzine’s empty rhetoric,which simply isn’t true.

Furthermore, in writing his article, Acevedo left out a few minor details that unfortunately contradict his assumed expertise on the state budget. New Jersey brings in more tax revenue per capita than any other state.

We also have the highest budget per capita in the nation. Therefore, the state should have no problem funding essential state programs such as higher education.

Yet New Jersey ranks 42nd in the country for higher education funding as a percentage of the budget. This means 41 states value higher education more than New Jersey.

So it is not an issue of the state “being bankrupt” or “not having the ability to fund higher education” as Corzine and others imply.

Nearly every state in the country finds a way to fund higher education more effectively than New Jersey, and amazingly, they do so with lower per capita state taxes and balanced overall budget appropriations. If this state is bankrupt of anything, it’s bankrupt of leadership that understands where a state’s priorities should lie.

The last claim we would like to address is the claim that SGA has advocated cutting social programs in order to fund higher education.

This claim has absolutely no merit. Our policy has always been that we do not, under any circumstances, name alternative state programs that should be cut.

Our job as representatives of the College and its students is to advocate on why higher education is a valuable asset to the state and why further cutting of appropriations hurts not only students, but the state as well. It is not the job of SGA, but of Corzine and the legislature to appropriate funds to government programs. This once again illustrates why our lobbying and advocacy efforts are so important.

Our efforts were important enough to gain recognition from state Sen. Shirley Turner (D), who quoted our March 20 testimony to the Senate Budget Committee in a press release titled “Higher Education Budget Cuts Will Hurt Students/Workforce.”

This press release was quoted in the Asbury Park Press and the Home News Tribune.

Acevedo is not a member of SGA, and he is not involved with our lobbying efforts in any capacity. He should at least get his facts straight before criticizing something that we do as an organization.

As elected representatives on this campus, we make decisions to promote the overall welfare of this institution.

We are completely open to suggestions, and we urge all of those who are passionate about promoting higher education to join us in our efforts.

Sana Fathima
SGA senator of Engineering

Michael Peters
SGA senator of Culture and Society