UC Budget Update

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently introduced a very optimistic budget proposal along with a legislative initiative that would prioritize higher education. Upon closer examination, however, there are still many flaws and it is needless to say that an optimistic budget is not always realistic.

The proposed budget for 2010-11 falls short of the $913 million requested by the Board of Regents of the University of California by nearly $631.5 million.  The proposal includes $305 million in restoration of the temporary cuts from 2009-10, $51.3 million to fund 5,100 of the 14,000 under-funded seats contingent on the Regents not increasing fees further for 2010-11, and $14.1 million to fund required contributions to retiree health benefits.

The Governor also promised to increase need-based Cal Grant (also known as competitive Cal Grant) to cover the already approved fee increases for 2010-11. But this increase, as well as enrollment growth, is contingent on the federal government granting the State of California $6.9 billion in bailout funds.

In spite of the positive news, the governor did cut funding for competitive Cal Grants and academic preparation, which hurts middle-income students and access to higher education. Access and affordability are part of the University of California mission statement, but in a deep economic crisis these two have been repeatedly impaired. He also failed to provide $95.7 million for the State’s contribution to the UC Retirement Plan, and any funding for capital projects, amounting to $631.5 million. Many of the proposed capital projects include safety and seismic improvements.

The Governor has also proposed a state constitutional amendment to increase funding for the UC and CSU systems to ten percent of the state’s budget and limiting state funding for prisons to seven percent by 2014-15. While this at first appears to be a win for higher education, it raises a number of human rights concerns, as the plan to reduce state funding for prisons would require the privatization of some prisons. In many cases, privatizing the prison system has led to quality concerns.  The increase in higher education funding also assumes further cuts to other social welfare departments. In addition, this amendment has been highly criticized by the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office, which suggests that many legislators are unlikely to support it.

Considering that the State is already projected to be $20 billion in debt, it is questionable whether the funding promised to the UC will materialize. California legislators are expected to respond with a revision that does not look nearly as promising as the Governor’s proposal. The University of California Student Association (UCSA) is mobilizing with their annual Student Lobby Conference on Feb. 27 to Mar. 1, culminating with the March for Higher Education in Sacramento on Capitol Hill. At the last Regents meeting in mid-January, some of the Regents agreed to support the march by coming out and standing with students in solidarity to urge state legislators to fulfill their promise to support higher education. Those interested in participating should contact the Executive Vice President’s office of the Associated Students of UC Irvine (ASUCI).

Andres Gonzalez is the Civics and Student Fee Analyst for ASUCI. He can be reached at afgonzal@uci.edu.