With a 6-1 vote earlier this month, the California Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of mandate and decided not to review a case that was submitted by the University of California Student Association and several other groups asking the court to stop mid-year budget cuts proposed for the UC by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because the petition was denied without prejudice, the UCSA can still file a suit in a lower court.
The UCSA, Californians for Justice, the Equal Justice Society and four individual students filed the petition on Jan. 21 and challenged the legality of Schwarzenegger’s November Executive Order, which lowered the vehicle license fee and added to the budget deficit for the current fiscal year. The governor proposed to remedy the deficit with cuts in funding to a number of programs and institutions, including funding to the university, primarily to outreach programs.
Lawyers representing the petitioners were expecting a different outcome.
‘Of course, we were disappointed,’ said Warrington Parker, lead counsel for Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, the law firm representing the petitioners. ‘I thought that they should take the case, and that the case had merit.’
However, lawyers representing respondents in the petition were not surprised at all.
‘Well, it was expected,’ said Rick Chivaro, chief counsel for the Office of the California State Controller Steve Westley. ‘I don’t think that the complaint stated any causes of action which the court would have taken and entertained.’
Following precedence, the court did not explain why they voted to deny the petition. According to Parker, there could be many reasons why the court voted the way they did.
‘It would be pure speculation as to why, and it may have been because they didn’t want to hear the case, or because there was a representation that the cuts were not going to go forward. I don’t know,’ Parker said.
Despite the fact that the California Supreme Court denied review, the UCSA claimed victory in the case.
‘We had heard from the state controller that they were not going to be implementing the cuts and that they were going to be sending them back to the legislature instead, and that was one of the reasons why they argued the court shouldn’t hear the case. And for us, that’s a full and complete victory,’ explained Matt Kaczmarek, a fifth-year geography major at UCLA and chair of the board of the UCSA. ‘That’s all we were asking them to do in the first place, was to let the legislature act on the matter and not the governor to unilaterally implement them.’
Although the petitioners have apparently achieved their goal of letting the legislature decide on the budget, they say they have received contradictory remarks from different offices of the Schwarzenegger administration.
The attorney general’s office said that none of the cuts would be implemented, while the department of finance said that the cuts are still being planned. Before deciding on whether or not to pursue the issue further, the petitioners want clarification from the administration.
‘We sent a letter to the attorney general’s office and asked them to clarify whether the mid-year budget cuts were going to go forward or not,’ Parker said. ‘Depending on what they say, we will make a decision. If the legislature approves any of the decisions, it would be a different case all together.’
Chivaro claims the administration has no plans of making the cuts and will let the legislature decide the fate of the $148 million in proposed cuts.
‘We expect the legislature to make the cuts,’ Chivaro said. ‘The whole basis seems to be on the notion that the transfer request without legislative action is illegal. The controller’s office had determined, prior to the filing of this lawsuit, that we would not be making those cuts, and we have not made those cuts.’
Out of the $148 million in proposed cuts, $29.9 million were designated for the UC, which included an unallocated reduction of $15.7 million, a reduction of $2 million for the Institute for Labor and Employment, and a reduction of $12.2 million for K-12 outreach programs for this fiscal year. The proposed reduction in funding would grow to $47.2 million in the 2004-05 fiscal year. The reduction of funding for outreach programs would eliminate K-12 outreach programs altogether.
Even though the university is already into the second half of the operating year and the various programs are functioning, if the governor or the legislature approves the cuts, they would be retroactively applied to the UC.
‘What happens in a mid-year cut is that effective on a certain date, all the money is gone, so the UC has to either move those employees, pay back the money, or completely shut down the programs. So it’s harsh,’ Kaczmarek said.
However, if the legislature approves the cuts, then the UCSA is willing to accept them.
‘[The legislature] is a more representative body than just one person, and we feel has the legitimacy to make the decision on where the cuts should be made,’ Kaczmarek stated.