If one were looking to make a statement about fiscal prudence in the $3.3 billion budget for the University of California system, wiping out a single $5.4 million research program probably wouldn't be how you'd do it. Which suggests that, despite his remarks to the contrary, there was probably another reason why Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in signing an overall 2008-9 budget that kept spending essentially flat for the 10-campus system, used his line item veto power to slash all funds for the Miguel Contreras Labor Program, which supports both research on labor and employment issues and education for labor leaders.
The decision was hardly mysterious to supporters of the programs, which have been a target for several business groups and free market think tanks in the state. "The governor reached in to the university budget and eliminated the only program at UC directed to labor," leaders of the Institutes for Research on Labor and Employment at the university's Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses wrote last month. "By cutting the entire labor and employment research program without any academic review, the governor’s attack violates fundamental principles of academic freedom and university governance. This could set a dangerous precedent for the governor to unilaterally remove any other research and educational programs that he does not like."
Schwarzenegger's own veto statement laid out a non-political motivation for the cut: "While this budget bill provides for a modest reserve in 2008-09, it fails to make the necessary statutory spending reductions and revenue increases needed to eliminate the state’s structural budget deficit going forward. At the same time, constitutional requirements, federal law and court required payments drive the majority of the spending in any budget, and limit my ability to reduce spending. As a result, I have an obligation to reduce spending when my veto power is adequate to do so. Consequently -- and in order to further ensure that this budget remains in balance -- I am taking the difficult but necessary action reflected in this veto to further control state spending."
Officials in the governor's office could not be reached for further comment. But urged on by key business groups and some research organizations, Schwarzenegger has gunned for the university's labor-related programs since he took office, instituting a similar line item veto in 2005-6 before reaching what UC officials had thought was a compromise with legislative and university leaders that led the governor to leave at least some funds for the programs in his last two state budgets, for 2006-7 and 2007-8.
In one of its "Golden Fleece" awards for the 2006-7 budget year, the Pacific Research Institute bemoaned the fact that after vetoing the labor studies programs in 2005-6, Schwarzenegger had failed to do so in 2006-7. "The UC Labor Institute now enjoys a fresh $6 million in taxpayer dollars to harass California businesses, concoct bogus studies, conduct union activism, and engage in partisan politics," the research institute said in a news release. "Unions have every right to do all of that, of course, and may even call their institute a think tank. But unions themselves, not California taxpayers, should pay the bill."
The Pacific institute added: "While camouflaging itself as a neutral, scholarly, and academic program, the Labor Institute has provided biased media spin during labor disputes between unions and businesses. It convened training seminars for union organizers and funded summer internships for college students to organize companies in conjunction with unions. What the Labor Institute called 'research' was merely anti-business propaganda. The Labor Institute also promoted a biased version of labor history to be taught in California public schools. The Institute compromised the image of the University of California by producing shoddy, amateurish work under the university’s name."
Language similar to that has been used in recent years to try to eliminate similar labor studies programs in states such as Indiana and Massachusetts.
Ken Jacobs, chair of the University of California at Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education, which with a similar center at UCLA was poised to receive about two-thirds of the total funds allocated for the university's broader labor studies program, said in an interview Monday that its officials were surprised by the governor's latest veto, despite the programs' contested history. After the 2005-6 veto, he said, the university had arranged for an external review of the UCLA program, which was "very positive," and legislative leaders had, UC officials were led to understand, "come to an agreement with Governor Schwarzenegger." "The message we had received from everyone involved was that the concerns had been addressed."
But in retrospect, that was obviously not the case, Jacobs said. He insisted that the labor program's research efforts "have supported some very high quality and vital research on issues such as health care reform -- research that was "used by legislative analyst's office and posted on the governor's own Web site," he said. And the centers' outreach efforts, which include training union leaders and encouraging labor/management cooperation, he said, are designed to further collective bargaining, which is enshrined in the National Labor Relations Act as a "public good," and therefore a legitimate role for a leading public university.
All of the labor program's work, Jacobs acknowledged, "start from the premise that labor unions are a legitimate part of the American landscape, and therefore that the training of union leaders is an important role for the university to play."
"If one doesn't think unions have a legitimate role in the life of the country and the economic landscape," he conceded, "you would have a different perspective" about our work.
A spokesman for the University of California system, Ricardo Vasquez, said the university's president, Mark G. Yudof, "is committed to finding a way to fund the institutes," and is "looking at our options for how to do so."