Regents Put Off Decisions Due to State Budget Doubt

Photo: The UC Board of Regents met on Wednesday to discuss possible ways to lower the university budget. However, they were unable to make any concrete decisions without a confirmed state budget.
David Herschorn/Photo
The UC Board of Regents met on Wednesday to discuss possible ways to lower the university budget. However, they were unable to make any concrete decisions without a confirmed state budget.

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SAN FRANCISCO - As California entered its 77th day without a budget Wednesday, the UC Board of Regents met at the UC San Francisco campus, voicing concern about an uncertain budget that could at best leave the university with a $237.1 million shortfall this fiscal year and at worst create a $1.2 billion deficit over the next two years.

During an hour-long presentation, Patrick Lenz, the UC's vice president for budget, told board members there is no way of knowing whether in coming years the state will compensate for last year's $637.1 million cut or for the estimated $586 million in increased costs over the next two years, which includes catching up on deferred building maintenance and increasing contributions to the employee pension system.

Faced with these possibilities - but without a clear picture of what the state's allocation will actually amount to - board members could do little more than speculate, putting off their decision of what to cut and what to keep until their November meeting.

Some board members, including former chair Richard Blum, decried possible coping measures laid out before the board, including cutting 1,500 freshman seats for next fall, and at least one regent said the university should take on more "draconian" responses to the loss of funds to communicate to the state the consequences of reduced funding, though he did not offer specific proposals.

"I am talking about something that we would actually be prepared to do which would put so much pressure on the legislature from the people of California that they would have to make some move," said Regent Norman Pattiz. "Are we being too damn nice?"

Additional student fee increases are also among the options that could be considered, but without a state budget in place, all decisions will have to wait until the board's November meeting.

In an interview after the meeting, Student Regent Jesse Cheng said he could understand why some regents were considering more drastic measures to address the possible looming deficit, but added that ultimately he would wait until the state had a budget to take a stance on what to cut.

"I don't want to hurt students, faculty or staff to show the state we feel pain," he said.

Because of the budget impasse - the second longest in state history - the UC is currently fronting $189 million to pay for 53,000 Cal Grant awards as well as an additional $200 million for other expenses normally funded by the state, officials said. Close to $352 million in construction projects, mostly seismic retrofits, have also been stalled because of the impasse, Lenz said.

Though both Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democrat-controlled State Legislature have set aside $371 million in their respective budget proposals for the UC system, that amount could be reduced, Lenz said. The state has allocated $106 million in federal stimulus funds to the university and will likely reduce state funding by that same amount, he added.

According to Lenz, if the state does not have a budget by the next board meeting, the system could decide to postpone their own budget decisions until January.

"We have a whole wish list here, all credible, all important. We are not going to get them all," said Board Chair Russell Gould. "So let's start focusing on where our real priorities are ... because we are going to have to sell them, we are going to sell them like hell in Sacramento."


Javier Panzar is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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