California Votes No

Voter rejection of budget measures makes enormous budget cuts likely for public higher education.
May 20, 2009

California voters on Tuesday rejected -- by a wide margin -- a series of budget proposals that would have minimized cuts to public higher education and many other state and local entities. Higher education leaders have warned that such an outcome will lead to severe and sustained cuts.

The ballot measures would have made a variety of changes in state budget rules that would have had the impact of making more money available this year -- although not necessarily in the future. While many higher education leaders have been critical of stopgap measures, saying that they tend to have a negative long-term impact on the availability of state funding, many backed the measures that were defeated, calling them the only way currently available to avert massive cuts.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger strongly backed the measures and has released forecasts of what would take place without their passage.

Based on the governor's projections, the state's university systems have responded as well.

The University of California last week noted that the governor's revised scenario for a defeat of the budget measures suggested a cut of $322 million or 10 percent for 2009-10. Because the state is already opting not to provide funds for inflationary increases or enrollment increases, both of which are significant in parts of the UC system, the total budget gap is really about $531 million, university leaders said.

Mark G. Yudof, president of the university system, said in a statement (prior to the vote): "Additional budget cuts of this magnitude would have a devastating effect on the students, the faculty and the staff of the University of California, and ultimately on the service we provide to the state. The severe reductions envisioned in these scenarios, especially if the ballot measures fail, threaten a dramatic change in the quality and accessibility of the university."

There were no signs that voters rejecting the ballot measures based their views on higher education. Many analysts noted that it was hard to find anyone who thought the state was handling its budget situation responsibly. So those urging support for the ballot measures were left in the difficult position of arguing that these proposals represented the best possible solution, not necessarily a good solution.

The Community College League of California's statement of support, for example, read this way: "While critics from both the political right and left argue that the measures should be opposed, no practical alternatives have been offered. With a two-thirds vote required for budget approval, neither those that argue for larger cuts nor advocates of larger tax increases can yield a better solution than the one approved in February, which requires these ballot measures to work. These measures will better enable the state to weather the fiscal storm that is battering it, although we must also redouble our efforts to ensure long-term budget stability for community colleges and a more reasonable budget process."

The league has projected hundreds of millions in additional budget cuts for the state's community colleges with defeat of the measures. For many districts, which are already facing large enrollment increases, the cuts could mean turning students away. (The league's district-by-district analysis of the financial ramifications of defeat of the ballot measures may be found here.)

The projections are also dire for the California State University System, which is expected to see a $410 million cut now that the measures have failed. That would represent a 10 percent cut in the system's budget and a 15 percent cut in support with state general funds. According to Cal State, such a cut would be the equivalent of reducing enrollment by 50,000 students and laying off 4,000 to 5,000 employees; or the equivalent of closing two large campuses in the system; or a combination of large fee increases and enrollment reductions of tens of thousands of students.


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