The State's Budget, Part III: What to Say

As counties across the state begin the annual budget process, it’s time to determine where the money will come from...

June 30, 2016

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Remember what your mother taught you. Always say please and thank you!

By Paul Emerson, State Financial Analyst and
Rhita Koches, Core Legislative Group Coordinator

To prepare you to be a better advocate for counties’ interests, this is the third installment in TAC's three‑part overview of the state's budget process — the 101 on the when, the who and the what: When to ask. Who to contact. What to say.

As counties across the state begin the annual budget process, it’s time to determine where the money will come from. You now know the timing to make your request (Part I) and who to ask (Part II). But, what do you say?

As a follow-up to TAC’s series on the state’s budget process, Part III addresses the last important aspect of getting your message heard — what to say.

Key Points on Testifying
TAC’s Legislative Guide includes very specific tips for testifying before a legislative committee. Those same points can be easily adapted to making your case for funding to representatives of a state agency or your individual legislators.

After briefly explaining your county needs, use a story to drive home your point and how your project will benefit the community. During TAC’s Legislative Exchanges and Luncheons with Legislators events, legislators repeatedly ask county officials to tell them the story of what’s going on in their counties.

The Opening Session of TAC’s 2016 Legislative Conference will focus on effectively sharing your county’s story. Speakers will explain the importance of sharing specific instances with legislators and your constituents. Stories stay with your audience longer and lend a face to your issue.

Key Documentation
It’s also helpful to have a descriptive but brief document that illustrates your concerns and puts a face on the conversation. Documentation should specifically describe the issue and be easy to comprehend. Remember, your audience — whether a legislative member, their staff or an agency representative — doesn’t live in “county land,” and they’re probably not familiar with all of the demands on county government.

Pull QuoteYour efforts may include more than one or two personal visits with your legislative members and their staffs. For instance, when you witness a sea of ladies all wearing red coats in the Capitol, it stands out, vividly, and for a long time. Believe it or not, there may be opposition to your proposal. Keep your legislators and their staffs up to date on any changes that may impede on your progress. This becomes extremely critical when conference committees are named, usually in early April.

Contacting Key Budget Folks
As summer presses on into July and August, budget hearings for state agencies’ Legislative Appropriations Requests (LAR) will begin. This is a good time to make contact with key staffers and work with the members. There are fewer folks around and less competition from the opposition.

No matter what the outcome of your request might be, always follow up your visit by acknowledging your appreciation for the legislator’s time.

Do's and Don'ts
Below is a quick reference list of Do’s and Don’ts when conversing with your member.

      DO        DON'T
  • Be brief and explicit, courteous and reasonable.
  • Establish your own credentials or expertise on the subject.
  • Get to know the other committee members before you testify — reduce nervousness.
  • Know your issues and opposition.
  • Keep the door open for further discussion.
  • Distribute handouts.
  • Build relationships with members.
  • Don’t argue or back recalcitrant legislators into a corner.
  • Don’t be arrogant, condescending or threatening.
  • Don’t be repetitive.
  • Don’t get distracted or go off topic.
  • Don’t be closed to alternatives.
  • Don’t assume your legislators are familiar with all of the details of your issue.

Now that you know when to ask, who to contact and what to say, you’re ready to make your case for state appropriations to better serve your community.

If you have questions, you can contact Paul Emerson, TAC state financial analyst, or Rhita Koches, TAC Core Legislative Group coordinator.