Student Fee Increases More Likely with New Deficit Prediction

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With the realization this week that the state's budget shortfall may be $10 billion higher than originally expected, the chances of UC students being spared fee increases just got slimmer.

The state is now expected to face a $22 billion budget deficit, nearly $10 billion higher than Gov. Gray Davis had projected earlier this year. And with less money at the state level, some experts are predicting that less money will make its ways to UC's coffers, necessitating student fee hikes to maintain competitive programs.

Davis' proposed budget, being discussed in the state Legislature, decreases the funding UC had expected from the state by $30 million. The decrease could force the university to cut academic and research programs, which may prompt an increase in student fees to keep the programs.

But Davis spokesperson Hilary McLean said Davis does not think UC student fee increases are

necessary and has not accounted for them in his proposed budget.

"Governor Davis has worked to avoid painful cuts to education," McLean said. "This budget speaks to the governor's priorities. He is a huge advocate of higher education."

But raising student fees at UC may be Davis' only option for overcoming the deficit if he wants to avoid taking a hit come the November election, said UC Berkeley political science Professor Bruce Cain.

Cain said he suspects Davis will raise fees despite his promises not to do so. If student fees are not raised, income and sales taxes could be raised to account for the budget shortfall, but that could be detrimental to Davis' chances for re-election, Cain said.

"In the end, Davis doesn't want to hand (Republican gubernatorial opponent Bill Simon) an issue he can use against him," Cain said. "It's an issue Republicans love to campaign on."

While an increase in student fees is Davis' least desirable and last option for making up the shortfall in state money to UC, it is possible, said Steve Boilard, director of higher education for the Legislative Analyst's Office.

Although increases have not been formally proposed, the issue will be discussed at a hearing on UC's budget in Sacramento in May, Boilard said.

Even if the state does not increase student fees, the UC Board of Regents can do so if the budget cuts legislated in Sacramento are too drastic.

The regents are hesitant to increase fees, but it is still possible "if that is required of us," said UC Regent-designate Fred Sainick.

"We would like to not have an increase if we can afford not to," Sainick said. "I understand as you make an increase, some students choose not to attend. That is undesirable, but we need money to run the institution. It's a double-edged sword."

Davis had pledged an annual 5 percent increase in funding for UC and CSU. The current budget proposal, however, will increase UC's budget by only $117.7 million, marking a 1.5 percent increase over last year's budget.

At present the regents do not know how deeply the budget cuts will affect UC programs. Final cuts will be made to university programs after the budget is announced.

"It is hard to say in the context of not knowing where we are going if there will be a big impact (on UC)," Sainick said.

Davis' budget will be discussed May 14 before it is expected to be finalized by both houses of the state's Legislature in July.


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