Report Calls Governor's Proposed Amendment 'Ill-Conceived'

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Analysis: Governor's Proposed Amendment

Higher Education Reporter, Javier Panzar, talks about the issues the Governor's proposed amendment brings to the table.

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A proposed constitutional amendment hailed as a first step toward a renewed state commitment to higher education is out of step with California's fiscal realities, according to a Legislative Analyst's Office report.

The report urges the California Legislature to reject a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing 10 percent of the state's budget for higher education, calling it an "unnecessary, ill-conceived measure that would do serious harm to the budget process."

The office, which provides nonpartisan fiscal and policy advice for the Legislature, questions the necessity of a constitutional amendment. According to the report, the state already has ample authority to increase funding for higher education and a constitutional guarantee would only tie the Legislature's hands.

"Locking up a tenth of the state budget on UC and CSU, in combination with similar funding guarantees already in place, would constrain spending choices for over half of the budget," the report reads. "This could make it more difficult for the legislature to shift funding to cover new cost demands in other areas that may be a legislative priority, such as social services, health care, the judiciary or infrastructure."

The analyst's office also criticizes the proposal for not taking into account student fee increases in the UC and CSU systems that have offset cuts in state funding.

UC officials have come out against the analyst's report saying that a constitutional amendment is necessary in order to change the state's funding priorities.

"(The report) provides hard and clear evidence of what has been the Sacramento approach to higher education over the past two decades: stick students and their parents with what essentially is a user's tax in order to compensate for a declining commitment to higher education," UC Vice President for Budget Patrick Lenz said in a statement.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed the amendment Jan. 6 in his State of the State address as part of a larger effort, he said, to prioritize state funding for higher education.

The amendment would mandate that at least 10 percent of the state's general fund be spent on higher education while no more than 7 percent be spent on the state corrections system. The amendment would require the approval of two-thirds of both houses in the state Legislature before it could go before voters, where it would need only a simple majority to pass.

Beyond the questions of funding the university, the report faults Schwarzenegger for pitting higher education and the state's corrections system directly against one another in a bureaucratic duel for funding.

"The administration's proposal implicitly suggests there is a linkage of crucial budgetary significance between these two specific program areas," the report reads. "This is not however what budgeting is about."

Despite the report, UC officials plan to continue lobbying in Sacramento as the budget process continues in order to restore $913 million in funding to university.

"The most important element of the Governor's proposal was his challenge to California to rethink its priorities," Lenz said. "Our plan is to work with the Governor and the Legislature to develop a viable proposal to restore higher education's place as a top priority for the state."


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

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