Governor proposes mixed UC budget

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a modest increase in state funding for the University of California to cover student enrollment growth and higher salaries in an annual state budget unveiled on Jan. 10.

If approved by the state Legislature, the plan would fulfill the terms of a multiyear funding compact the governor signed with the state’s higher education leaders in 2004.

“The governor’s overall budget proposal for UC is very welcome after years of cuts,” UC President Robert C. Dynes stated in a university announcement released several hours after Schwarzenegger’s presentation. “The governor has fulfilled his commitments under the compact, providing many of the basic resources we need to begin rebuilding our programs and to sustain our contributions to California’s economic competitiveness and quality of life.”

Under the proposed plan, the university will receive approximately $2.8 billion of state dollars, an increase of $97.5 million or 3.6 percent from the year before. However, the money would restore roughly half of the cuts the university absorbed in the current fiscal year, and is more than $500 million below what it received in 2001-02.

“This budget is not everything that I want, but the fact is, it’s a budget forced on us by a broken system,” Schwarzenegger said at the budget announcement. “There is great virtue in providing services to the people. But it is also virtuous to be wise and responsible with the hard-earned tax money the people pay to their government.”

Included in the university’s increase is $14 million in one-time funding to allow for the opening of UC Merced in fall 2005. Under the plan, the university will enroll 1,000 students in its first year, 600 of them freshmen.

The governor’s funding plan — which includes next year’s 8-percent tuition fee increase already approved by the UC Board of Regents — would also fund a 1.5-percent general salary increase for university employees, the first pay hike in several years.

Including new students at the Merced campus, the budget provides for 2.5-percent enrollment growth, expected to account for to approximately 5,000 additional full-time students. However, under the plan, the university will need to choose how to split this money to pay for new freshman admits and the cost of providing full summer sessions at the four undergraduate campuses that do not currently offer complete summer instruction.

Part of the money could be used to pay for a 10-week quarter that administrators have planned to introduce at UCSD this summer.

UC Office of the President spokesman Brad Hayward said the university has not yet decided how much of the enrollment-growth funds it will use to pay for summer instruction for current students.

If approved, the governor’s plan would also force the university to return $17.3 million that legislators approved last summer to fund previously deferred incoming freshman. To make up for the loss, the budget allows UC officials to use money currently slated for K-12 academic “outreach” programs or student enrollments. The university will lobby lawmakers to restore the money, Dynes stated. If unsuccessful, the cuts will not affect admissions for next fall, but may reduce admission in winter and spring 2006.

“We’re glad at least that it’s not worse,” UC Student Association President Jennifer Lilla said, promising that the organization would work alongside administrators to try to secure concessions for the university during budget negotiations. “I think any budget that relies on increases in student fees means we still have work ahead.”

Last summer, UCSA officers ran an around-the-clock marathon at the state’s capital as the July 31 budget deadline approached, attempting to increase public visibility for their cause.

“It may turn out that we do something equally drastic this year,” Lilla said.

In its current form, the budget proposal would also increase the portion of instructional costs covered by student fees by about 1.5 percent — from slightly under one third of the total funding to 34.2 percent.

“It’s certainly not something that anyone welcomes,” Hayward said. “But it’s a function of the fact that the state has had some very difficult budget years and higher education is one of the areas in which they have made some significant cuts over that time.”

State Treasurer Phil Angelides and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, two Democrats, both criticized the governor’s proposal, which included moderate funding increases for all levels of public education.

“This budget is wrong for California, wrong for our children and wrong for our future,” Angelides said in a Sacramento press conference called less than two hours after Schwarzenegger’s announcement.

Last summer, Angelides worked with UCSA to unveil a radio spot featuring “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson calling on lawmakers to increase higher education funding. Angelides is widely expected to run for governor in 2006.