(Somewhat) Sunnier Day in California

While criticized for relying on federal dollars and optimistic revenue projections, budget accord is first in years to please state higher ed leaders.
October 7, 2010

While attracting criticism for relying heavily on federal money and rosy revenue projections, a long-delayed California budget accord delivers many of the higher education funds some feared would be lost in legislative horse trading.

The Legislature’s joint budget conference committee laid out details of a budget deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Wednesday, highlighting the promise of some restored funds for the state’s cash-strapped colleges and universities. A vote on the plan, which will be 99 days overdue, is scheduled for today.

Under the proposal, the state would rely upon a combination of general funds and federal stimulus dollars to prop up the University of California and California State University. While Schwarzenegger had proposed $305 million in restored recurring dollars for each system, the budget deal would give $199 million in recurring dollars and rely on $106 million in one-time federal stimulus funds to make up the difference, university analysts said.

“Our hope going forward is we could make that $106 million a permanent increase to our base, but in a fiscally challenged year like this we’re very grateful to the Legislature,” said Claudia Keith, spokeswoman for the state system.

The budget would bring the state system’s funding up to levels from about four years before, Keith said. As for the University of California, the funds similarly fall short.

“While this is very much appreciated restoration, it still leaves us about $300 million less than what the state was funding the university in 2007-8," said Patrick Lenz, the University of California’s vice president for budget.

The budget proposal does not specify dollar amounts for enrollment growth, but states that “full funding” will be provided for that purpose. If consistent with prior legislative proposals, the enrollment growth funding would hit $60.6 million for California State. The University of California expects $51.3 million to help it meet anticipated enrollment growth.

The University of California would also receive $14.1 million for rising health care costs for retirees.

In the days leading up to the budget deal, community college leaders in California felt relatively confident that the system would receive $126 million in new funds to cover enrollment growth of 2.2 percent -- and the budget deal as written would deliver. Less certain, however, was the $25 million for workforce training programs and $35 million to partially restore cuts to student services programs. While those funds ended up in the deal, the student services money restores only about 10 percent of the 42 percent reduction those programs have sustained, community college budget officers said.

“It’s very much appreciated, but it really doesn’t come close to restoring [the funds],” said Erik Skinner, executive vice chancellor for programs.

The proposal was greeted with enthusiasm from the California Faculty Association, a union representing more than 23,000 California State faculty members, from part-time lecturers to tenured professors. Lillian Taiz, the union’s president and a frequent critic of the defunding of higher education in the state, said in a news release that the plan marked a positive departure from prior budget slashing.

“This funding is a welcome change of trajectory for the 23 California State University campuses,” said Taiz, whose union is affiliated with the National Education Association, the American Association of University Professors and Service Employees International Union.

“The CSU truly is the economic engine for California, and restoring this vital funding is an important part of putting our state back on the road to economic recovery.”


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