My first day as a policy assistant at The Center for Community Solutions was in mid-March. By that time, Governor Mike DeWine had already released the Executive Budget and budget hearings in the Ohio House of Representatives were well underway.
Although I knew going into this new position that I was joining during a very busy time, my first state budget cycle in the advocacy world was quite a journey.
Although I knew going into this new position that I was joining during a very busy time, my first state budget cycle in the advocacy world was quite a journey. Here are five of the many things I’ve learned over the past four months:
- Ohio’s Advocates Are Brilliant
First, everyone in the advocacy world is incredibly smart, passionate, and tireless. Despite countless meetings and endless to-do lists, my coworkers and supervisors still took the time to bring me up to speed every step of the way. Every day, I was impressed by the vast knowledge that my coworkers have cultivated. An hour after the first Comparison Document was released, when I was still learning what a Comparison Document was and how to read it (Comparison Documents, or Comp Docs, are released anytime a new version of a bill is announced, called a Substitute Bill or Sub Bill, to outline changes between the original bill and the new version), the rest of the Community Solutions policy team had already poured over the Comp Doc, identified major changes and started planning an advocacy strategy in response to new or changed budget provisions.
In meetings with state legislators, our team was not only able to explain complicated policies in short, easily understandable presentations, but could answer any questions state legislators had on almost any health and human services issue. If I could hand-pick the professionals I’d want advocating for me at the statehouse, it would be the Community Solutions policy team.
Working with Advocates for Ohio’s Future (AOF) and its member organizations also showed me how connected the Ohio advocacy world is. Ohio advocates are always informed on the efforts of other advocates and organizations and often coordinate and complement advocacy efforts, which is no small feat.
The budget process is LONG.
- Think Fast
Four months is a long time. I’ll say it again: the budget process is LONG. It’s hard to predict when hearings will be scheduled or when legislators will move on to the next step of the process, but seasoned advocates who have gone through multiple budget cycles are ready for anything to come their way.
There would be some weeks where we would have less than 12 hours to prepare testimony for a budget hearing, and other weeks where we would wait all week for a vote or for a Substitute Bill. In cases where things happened fast, advocates had to predict and be prepared for multiple scenarios so we could respond quickly when the time came. In the time between hearings, votes, and Sub Bills, we were organizing advocates and sign-on letters, spearheading social media pushes and petitions, contacting legislators and their staff, and hosting webinars or posting research on issues in the budget. There was very little downtime over the course of the budget, even when we were waiting for the next step.
- The Budget is Confusing
Legislators and state government use a completely different language than most of us are used to, even if you follow state government in the news. An advocate would need years of experience to fully understand the politics and policy behind legislative decisions and proceedings, and the list of acronyms is never-ending. The budget learning curve is awfully steep.
And, despite the state budget process being the biggest piece of legislation which sets state priorities for the next two years, there are still other bills being considered in the Ohio General Assembly. Advocates often work late into the evening to tackle the policy changes and proposed legislation coming from all directions. Some standalone bills are contradictory to budget provisions, and some are duplicative. Seasoned advocates are able to map out where different bills will end up and how they will impact our larger budget advocacy priorities.
Ohio constituents are amazingly engaged on social media and with advocacy organizations.
- Constituents are Vital
Ohio constituents are amazingly engaged on social media and with advocacy organizations. From calling or emailing state legislators, to adding their names to sign-on letters, to sharing social media posts, advocates would not be as successful without engaged Ohio constituents. In advocating to legislators, having the support of that legislator’s constituents makes the conversations much more meaningful.
- Zoom Made it All Possible
The virtual environment was a lifesaver during this busy time. We could have back-to-back meetings with coalitions, state legislators, and advocates around the state without any travel time. More advocates were able to attend more meetings in less time than if each of these meetings had been in-person. I can’t imagine how advocates made it through budget cycles before virtual meetings were possible. Because of the high levels of access and collaboration that virtual meetings allow, I hope that virtual advocacy is a part of our work for years to come.
Despite jumping into my new role during the busiest time for Community Solutions and Advocates for Ohio’s Future, I learned a lot in my first four months and I look forward to the knowledge I can bring to my second budget cycle in 2023. Even though we’ve been able to take a short breather after the budget season, our work is never finished. It’s time to turn our sights – and my learning – to new policy.