By Carolyn McMillan
With state budget negotiations in full swing, members of the University of California Board of Regents will join students in Sacramento today (May 15) to call on lawmakers to re-invest in public higher education.
Regents will remain in the Capitol on Wednesday, holding their first board meeting there since 1993. The agenda will include a discussion, but no action, on UC's 2012-13 budget.
University officials have been working for months to secure an agreement with state lawmakers for a multi-year funding plan that would provide modest but predictable increases in state support for UC, including sufficient funding for 2012-13 to avoid any increase in student fees.
The university operates now with the same level of state funding that it had in 1997-98, when there were 73,000 fewer students. Administrators have enacted administrative efficiencies, reduced academic programs, cut staffing, raised tuition and frozen faculty hiring. The institution is now at a crossroads, with further cuts putting the university at risk of permanent and irreversible decline in academic quality.
Advocates for public higher education, concerned about preserving UC's quality and affordability, sent more than 50,000 emails to California lawmakers over the past week, underscoring the importance of UC to the economy and to students and their families.
UC regents say lawmakers need to continue to hear that message over the next few weeks as the legislature grapples with how to close a projected state deficit of $16 billion. Regents are holding their meeting in Sacramento to drive the point home that UC needs state support.
California Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his proposed spending plan Monday, a document that that signaled strong support for public higher education. It trimmed spending for UC by roughly $38 million from his January proposal.
It also called for a mid-year ‘trigger' cut of $250 million, unless voters support Brown's temporary tax measure on the November ballot.
Brown said his objectives for public higher education include stabilizing general fund support for UC and the California State University systems, a move contingent on voter support for his tax initiative, and ensuring that tuition remains affordable.
UC administrators were encouraged to see Brown's support for higher education, but acknowledge that state lawmakers face difficult choices between now and June 15, the deadline to approve a final state budget.
"Governor Brown's revised budget proposal makes it clear that he considers public higher education a priority for the state, and we appreciate that," said Patrick Lenz, vice president for capital and budget resources. "His proposal is part of a long process, so at this point it would be premature to predict what the impact of the final 2012-13 state budget will be on the University of California.
"We will continue to seek a long-term funding agreement with the state that will provide the stable fiscal footing needed to preserve the University's quality, access and affordability."
Given so much uncertainty about the budget, regents on Wednesday will consider a range of funding scenarios, including the possibility of a tuition increase in fall.
One of the biggest unknowns clouding UC's budget picture is whether voters in November will support Brown's tax measure. It would raise several billion dollars in state revenue from a temporary sales tax increase of a quarter-cent per dollar and from a temporary surcharge on the income tax of those who earn more than $250,000 per year.
Both President Mark G. Yudof and regents chair Sherry Lansing have expressed personal support for the measure.