Governor: Put Prison Funds into Universities

Gov. Schwarzenegger made an ambitious proposal Wednesday morning, in his last annual State of the State address: He promised to amend the California constitution so that no less than 10 percent of the state’s budget could be spent on higher education.

Schwarzenegger’s bill — a far cry from his suggestion last year to completely eliminate funding for Cal Grants — would remove funding from California’s prison system and put it toward the state’s universities.

Currently, California spends 11 percent of its General Fund on public prisons, and 7.5 percent on higher education (of that, 5.9 percent is devoted to the University of California and the California State University systems). Ten years ago, the state was spending 10 percent of the General Fund on education and 3 percent on prisons.

“Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future,” Schwarzenegger said in his address. “What does [this statistic] say about our state? What does it say about any state that focuses more on prison uniforms than on caps and gowns? It simply is not healthy.”

The proposed amendment would cap taxpayer spending on prisons at 7 percent of the total budget, and create a 10-percent minimum for spending on higher education.

According to Daniel Simmons, Vice Chair of the UC Office of the President Academic Senate, this amendment would provide a much-needed source of economic stability and help ease the financial burden placed on students by rising tuition.

“University really has three sources of revenue — research funding, the state and fees — and of course the only one the university has any real control over is student fees,” Simmons said. “What the state doesn’t provide for the education of our students, the students are going to have to provide. So as the state gives us a stable source of funding, it will take the pressure off of student fees.”

Though the amendment may come before voters as early as the November 2010 ballot, it will not go into effect until 2014, giving the state enough time to privatize the prison system and begin redirecting taxpayer money.

The UC system received a cut in funding last year, when the state chose to finance the university $2.6 billion instead of the $2.9 billion it provided in the 2008-09 academic year. UCOP made up for the difference by passing a 32-percent student fee increase at the UC Board of Regents meeting in November.

According to Simmons, though the university would welcome the additional funding, it will still be facing budgetary shortfalls and relying financially on student in the coming years.

“The bad news is that the proposal really doesn’t kick in until 2014,” Simmons said. “So even if it were to be adopted by the people of California, we still have some years of difficulty in front of us.”

Schwarzenegger said he hopes that providing more funding for higher education will aid California’s long-term economic recovery.

“Choosing universities over prisons is a historic and transforming realignment of California’s priorities,” Schwarzenegger said. “If you have two states, and one spends more educating and one spends more incarcerating, in which state’s economy would you invest?”

Readers can contact Hayley Bisceglia-Martin at [email protected].