Pima Community College will soon have another new voice at the Legislature.

The school will spend more than $47,000 this year to help fund a new statewide group that aims to promote the interests of community colleges.

That's on top of the $55,000 a year PCC now pays its contract lobbyist at the Legislature, and the $137,000-plus salary recently approved when the college created the new post of assistant vice chancellor for state government relations.

Arizona already has a number of statewide groups serving the interests of community colleges, such as the Arizona Community College President's Council and the Arizona Association of District Governing Boards.

But those don't provide an effective unified voice on college issues, officials say. For example, the head of the college president's group rotates every year, so there's no continuity when interacting with state leaders.

The new group, the Arizona Community College Coordinating Council, will assume the functions of the presidents' group and hire paid staffers to do its work.

The council has a first-year net budget of $300,000 being covered by PCC and other community colleges in Arizona with fees based upon enrollment.

The money will help pay for a handful of employees including a part-time executive director, a part-time assistant executive director and a government affairs director.

Until now, PCC has been paying about $29,000 a year to the college president's group. That money, and an additional $18,000 or so, will now go to the new council for a total PCC contribution of $47,600.

"We are a full-court press on the Legislature this season," Suzanne Miles, PCC's interim chancellor, recently told the college's governing board in her request to take part in the new group.

Arizona community colleges were hit with steep cuts in state funding during the recession and are hoping to see some money restored as the economy improves.

Miles said the new group should help in that regard. PCC's current lobbyist and its new administrator will work closely with the council while still promoting issues specific to PCC, she said.

Alan Maguire, a Phoenix-based economist and public policy consultant who volunteered to set up the new organization, said it was born out of frustration among community college leaders, who felt they "didn't have a seat at the table," in state decision-making.

The new group, based in Phoenix, will be more than a lobbying outfit, Maguire said in an interview.

It also will promote best practices and problem-solving, he said, much like a college version of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, an umbrella group for municipalities.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4138.