State Budget Proposal Faces Challenges

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State Budget for Education

University News Editor Zach EJ Williams talks to reporter Javier Panzar about what to expect from changes in the California state budget relevant to higher education.


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Correction Appended

In the midst of a projected $20 billion state budget deficit, the University of California sits in a relatively strong position as the spring budgeting process gets under way. But that may change.

In his Jan. 6 State of the State address, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a proposed $370 million restoration in funding for the university as part of a wider effort to reprioritize the state's role in public higher education. A constitutional amendment guaranteeing 10 percent of the state budget in future years to higher education may be brought before voters as soon as next fall.

But meanwhile, drastic cuts are in store for state health services, welfare programs and the state corrections system. State legislators have vowed to fight the proposed cuts, and the political gridlock in Sacramento-which delayed the approval of last year's budget-may prevail once again as the difficult decision of what state programs to fund and what to cut must be resolved in the coming months.

Last year's budget was approved one month past its June 30 deadline, forcing the state to issue IOU's to its creditors. In 2008, the state missed its deadline in record fashion, with a budget arriving on Schwarzenegger's desk in October.

A decades-old requirement that the budget receive the approval of a two-thirds majority in the Legislature continues to exacerbate political divides among lawmakers, officials said.

"It's always been a partisan process, there is no denying that-it's always been like that even in good times," said Adam Keigwin, chief of staff to Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo. "Now you have the fiscal reality that makes it that much more difficult."

The Gauntlet

The budget process begins in the fall when state agencies request funding for the upcoming fiscal year. The governor's office then crafts a proposed budget to be announced in January. Committees in the state Senate and Assembly as well as the Department of Finance then review the proposal before a final budget is sent to the Legislature by the governor in May.

Final approval by two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature as well as the governor's signature are due June 30.

In his address Jan. 6, Schwarzenegger declared an emergency legislative session requiring lawmakers to act on a portion of the deficit within 45 days.

"Having to work within 45 days presents some problems," said Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, who sits on the budget committee. "It doesn't give us much time to deliberate, and a lack of careful deliberation I fear ... will not present the level of transparency that I would like."

But the typical budget process creates its own problems, Ruskin said. Established by Proposition 13 in 1978, the requirement for a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to pass a budget and raise taxes demands an overwhelming consensus that often cannot be reached, he said.

"Sometimes people think that the difficulty of reaching a budget solution is because there is no civility between the two parties, (but) that is not the case," Ruskin said. "It is really due in large part to something that is built into the process."

As legislators begin debate on the budget and potentially deep cuts in services, UC and CSU officials have said they will continue to advocate for their share of the financial pie.

Advocacy

The $637 million state cut from the UC's 2009-10 budget led to controversial decisions by the university administration to implement faculty furloughs and raise student fees by a record-breaking 32 percent. Many students, faculty and staff resisted the moves throughout the turbulent fall 2009 semester, staging protests, strikes and building occupations throughout the 10-campus UC system.

University officials are looking to channel the dissatisfaction within the university community into a statewide effort to pressure the Legislature to increase funding for higher education.

A university Web site, launched last fall, encourages members of the university community to sign up as advocates, providing pre-written letters that can be sent to lawmakers in Sacramento.

According to UC spokesperson Peter King, 250,000 people have become members of "UC for California," which aims to secure $913 million in additional funding for the university system.

"Faculty, administrators, civic leaders and business leaders have all been beating the drum pretty hard," King said. "This is not the little school on the prairie; this is an economic engine."

Alex Filippenko, a UC Berkeley astronomy professor, urged his students last month to become involved.

"Please also show the note to your parents, and encourage them to e-mail the governor as well," Filippenko said in an e-mail. "We are fighting to preserve the quality of the University of California­-and, by the same token, to help ensure a prosperous future for the State of California."

The Constitutional Question

While Schwarzenegger has proposed a constitutional amendment to solve state public higher education's financial challenges, critics have said he is shifting the problem elsewhere.

The proposed amendment would guarantee 10 percent of the state budget to higher education by limiting spending and partially privatizing the state corrections system. Passing the legislature with a two-thirds majority before going to voters will be a tough sell, according to Kenneth Miller, an associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.

While Democrats are traditionally 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.

With the proposal straddling traditional party lines, "you are going to get an interesting mix of supporters and opponents," he added.

Others have criticized the wisdom of solving the state's financial problems at the ballot box. According to Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, Schwarzenegger's proposed constitutional amendment would give future lawmakers less flexibility to deal with financial shortfalls.

"(Ballot box budgeting) doesn't take into account demographic and economic changes," Ross said. "It might not be the best way to proceed."

But others disagree, arguing that constitutional funding guarantees reflect the will of voters and do not tie the hands of legislators who can suspend guarantees with a two-thirds vote, said Fred Silva, senior fiscal policy advisor for government reform group California Forward.

"What it does is set a series of priorities that voters are interested in meeting," Silva said.

Tags: CALIFORNIA STATE BUDGET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, UC BUDGET

Correction: Friday, January 22, 2010
The infographic accompanying this article incorrectly stated that the state budget is due June 31. In fact, it is due June 30.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

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



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