Last night, Pennsylvania state Rep. Marty Flynn, D-113, Lackawanna County, stood in the center of a room full of Scranton-area Penn State alumni and students who had gathered for a Penn State Grassroots Network event in the Scranton Hilton.
In one sentence, Rep. Flynn expressed in a way I hadn't heard before why it's so important for Network volunteers and other friends of Penn State to contact their elected officials as advocates for Penn State:
"The bird that chirps is the one that gets fed."
I wanted to make sure I had the quote exactly right, so I went up to him later and asked him about it. He repeated the quote, then said something like: "You know, the squeaky wheel gets the grease."
I know exactly what he's talking about, and in fact, it's a precept of legislative advocacy that I preach to volunteers all the time: What gets talked about gets done. So if you want something to get done in the state -- for instance, if you want Penn State to get a healthy state appropriation in the upcoming budget year -- you have to talk it up with your state representatives and senators.
Like lawmakers everywhere, Pennsylvania legislators want to represent their districts well in Harrisburg, and they can't do that unless people tell them what's on their minds. So, what people tell them shapes the legislation they support and the way they vote.
Soon, I'll be getting in touch with Network volunteers, Penn State student government representatives across the state, and other friends and advocates of the University, to help them reach out to their elected officials and ask them to support a healthy 2014-15 state budget appropriation for Penn State.
Penn State has asked for a 5 percent increase in its appropriation and has proposed a modest tuition increase. But with the Commonwealth facing a large structural deficit in the coming budget year, and tax revenues only trickling in, much can change in the coming weeks and months as the budget process continues.
Despite the possible changes ahead, advocates for Penn State can start a conversation with their legislators right now, and here are a few things that would be good to say:
--- State funding for Penn State has been flat over the past two years, and the year before that, there was a 24 percent cut in the state appropriation.
--- Supporting a healthy direct appropriation to Penn State is the most efficient way to benefit students – Penn State leverages the roughly $250 million the state invests in Penn State each year to provide $500 million worth of in-state tuition discounts for Pennsylvania resident students.
--- Your support for Penn State helps your constituents—specifically, the Penn State students and families in your district—by helping Penn State provide them with the lowest tuition possible and lower debt after graduation.
--- So please do the best you can for higher education in Pennsylvania and for Pennsylvania students. Investing in public higher education is good for all of us.
So, friends of Penn State, please start thinking about ways to reach out to your state legislators -- emails, old-fashioned handwritten or typewritten letters, phone calls, visits to their home district offices -- and start telling your personal Penn State story and asking state legislators to do the best they can for public higher education this year.