STATE LEGISLATORS PASS BUDGET PLAN, UC CUTS TOTAL $650 MILLION

After months of debate, state legislators voted late Tuesday night to pass a budget package, which brings a total $650 million cut — and a likely tuition increase — to the University of California as part of a solution to address California’s remaining $9.6 billion budget deficit.

The package, which was reached as a compromise between Gov. Jerry Brown and state Democrats Monday afternoon, relies heavily on spending reductions, $4 billion in revenue projections and the possibility of deeper mid-year cuts to both K-12 and higher education should those revenues fail to materialize.

The budget passed first through the Assembly in a 51-25 vote and then through the Senate by a slim majority of 21 votes before being officially signed into law by Brown Wednesday afternoon.

“Democrats in the California State Legislature made tough choices and delivered an honest, balanced and on-time budget that contains painful cuts and brings government closer to the people through an historic realignment,” Brown said in a statement. “Putting our state on a sound and sustainable fiscal footing still requires much work, but we have now taken a huge step forward.”

Brown vetoed a budget passed by Democratic legislators June 15 — for the first time in state history — that included the same cut to the UC and CSU, stating that the budget was not balanced and would not address the state’s long-term financial woes.

“The latest state budget plan is deeply disappointing,” reads a statement from the UC Office of the President. “Because cuts of this magnitude inevitably will drive up tuition for public university students and their families, we cannot stand silent.”

According to UC spokesperson Steve Montiel, it is likely that tuition increases will be recommended at the UC Board of Regents meeting in July, in light of the state budget’s passage.
“We certainly hope that there aren’t further cuts beyond $650 million, which is a big hit in itself,” Montiel said. “I would say it’s likely that there will be a recommended tuition increase, but as far as timing of that or any amount or anything like that, we can’t say right now because the options are still being looked at.”

Previously, UC President Mark Yudof has said that the university could absorb the previously approved $500 million cut it faces without raising tuition but that any additional cuts would likely mean fee hikes throughout the UC system.

The expected result under this budget plan will be a double-digit tuition increase on top of the 8 percent hike already approved for next year, according to UC officials.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman — who is currently interning for United States Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA, in Washington, D.C. — teamed up with other student government leaders from throughout the UC system Tuesday to compose a letter that was sent to Brown, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and Yudof.

“At a public university, our students should not have to bear the burden of these skyrocketing fees,” Freeman said in a statement. “Our efforts do not stop here.”

Sixteen student government presidents and external vice presidents from across the system urged legislators to consider alternative sources of revenue, including the possibility of tax extensions or the amendment of the current tax code.

“As the elected Student Body executives for the University of California system, we represent different constituencies with sometimes different interests,” the letter reads. “However, one message is universal: we are united in the effort to secure an accessible and affordable higher education for all California students.”

Brown has previously attributed the lack of a balanced budget to state Republicans’ unwillingness to pass a budget that incorporated voter-approved state tax extensions, which he originally proposed in January.

The proposed tax extensions could raise an estimated $14 billion in revenue for the state by extending increases in income taxes, sales taxes and vehicle license fees originally enacted in February 2009, for five years, according to a state Legislative Analyst’s Office report.

However, the budget passed Tuesday night does not push for the tax extensions to be put on a ballot this month, as Brown had previously advocated for, though he is likely  to attempt to place the extensions on the November 2012 ballot.

Allie Bidwell is the news editor.