Proposed State Constitutional Amendment Would Guarantee Funding for UC

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Correction Appended

A decades-long financial wilting of the UC and CSU systems may come to an end with a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee at least 10 percent of the state budget to the two university systems.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed the measure in his Wednesday State of the State address to a joint meeting of the California legislature. He added that he would protect higher education for next year in his proposed state budget slated to be announced Friday.

Deep cuts to the state corrections system would fund the measure, which would limit spending to 7 percent of the state budget in contrast to the 11 percent currently directed to corrections. Partial privatization of the state prison system would also be included in the effort to slash costs.

"Because our future economic well-being is so dependent upon education, I will protect education funding in this budget," Schwarzenegger said in the address. "I will submit to you a constitutional amendment so that never again do we spend a greater percentage of our money on prisons than on higher education."

The proposal comes after the state cut nearly $816.1 million from the UC budget last year prompting the university to adopt faculty furloughs and a 32 percent fee increase.

"This is a bold and visionary plan that represents a fundamental restoration of the values and priorities that have made California great," UC President Mark Yudof, who went before a joint committee of the legislature last month to ask for renewed funding for public higher education, said in a statement.

The proposed amendment needs a two-thirds majority vote from both houses of the legislature and the majority approval of voters in order to take effect. According to Rachel Arrezola, a spokesperson for Schwarzenegger, the intent is to have the amendment passed by the legislature in time to be placed before voters in the November 2010 election.

Though the guaranteed funding would not go into effect until the 2011-12 fiscal year, UC spokesperson Steve Montiel said the move represented an important step forward in the relationship between the university and the public at large.

"There are definitely still short-term funding concerns, but what we see as important about the proposal is not so much the number and percentages but the opportunity for Californians to rethink their investment in the university," Montiel said.

But getting the proposal past the legislature and onto the ballot will be a tricky process, according to Ken Miller, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California. While traditionally Democrats are more willing than Republicans to cut funding from prisons and pay for higher education, they also tend to oppose the privatization of social services that Schwarzenegger proposes, he said.

"In general Republicans like privatization ... so if you can shift money from state toward privates then they would support that," Miller said. "That is the sweetener for Republicans."

With the proposal straddling traditional party fault lines,"You are going to get an interesting mix of supporters and opponents I would guess," he said.

Despite the two thirds majority required to pass and the unique character of the proposal, the governor's office says it can muster the support. "This is one of the governor's key priorities," Arrezola said. "We are confident we are going to get it passed."


Correction: Tuesday, February 9, 2010
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the state cut nearly $813 million from the UC budget last year. In fact the state cut $816.1 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Javier Panzar covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected]

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