With legislative proposals to buy off tuition increases, Napolitano sees ‘promising 1st step’

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Rachael Garner/File

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With Gov. Jerry Brown set to release his preliminary budget next month, both the state Assembly and Senate have proposed their own plans that would “buy out” the proposed University of California tuition increase using additional state funding and increased tuition from out-of-state students.

These plans come in response to the UC tuition plan, passed in November, which pinned future tuition increases to levels of state funding. The plan approved up to 5 percent tuition increases if state funding remained at expected levels. At the board meeting, many regents and UC President Janet Napolitano called on Brown and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, who were in attendance, to provide additional funds and eliminate the increases.

Current state funding to the university is about $3 billion, which equates to roughly 40 percent of the university’s core budget.

According to some political experts, it seems quite likely that the state will provide additional funding and that the tuition increase will not go forward.

On Tuesday, the state Senate Democrats introduced Senate Bill 15, which would provide about $100 million in additional state funding for enrollment growth, increased student support and additional class offerings. The plan also calls for a $4,000 increase in out-of-state tuition and fees.

Atkins released a plan last month that would provide about $50 million in additional funding from the state for enrollment growth and calls for a $5,000 increase in out-of-state tuition and fees.

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Ted Lempert, UC Berkeley political science lecturer and former state Assembly member, thinks a deal to stop the tuition increases is likely, although the final deal will probably be markedly different than the current proposals.

“While there’s certainly a lot of posturing right now, the budget’s in a better place,” Lempert said. “This is not like one of those dynamics in D.C. where folks are trying to one-up one another and not get things done.”

Napolitano is an adept political player, and she successfully made the University of California funding a high-profile issue for the coming legislative session, Lempert said.

UC Berkeley adjunct professor of political science Dan Schnur agreed with Lempert, saying that Napolitano played the situation “near perfectly.”

“It seems pretty likely that Napolitano recruited the legislative leaders to have her back before she took on the governor,” Schnur said, who is also the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “One of the first rules of politics is to never start a fight you don’t know you’re going to win. By the time Brown realized he was surrounded, he didn’t have any options but backing off.”

Schnur said the question was not whether Brown would agree to “buy out” the tuition increase but rather when. He may leave the increase intact for his January or May budget proposal, but it is very unlikely it will still be there in the final signed document, Schnur said.

Napolitano said in a statement the proposed Senate bill was a “promising first step” toward protecting the UC system and the university will continue working with the Legislature to secure funding.

The Senate proposal also came a day after the Public Policy Institute of California released a poll showing 59 percent of Californians think current funding for higher education is not enough. Most residents, however, are unwilling to pay higher taxes to provide the funding, while 77 percent of respondents said they opposed increasing students fees for that purpose.

At the November regents meeting, Brown said the university should look into large cost-saving efforts such as instituting more online classes and moving the university toward a three-year degree. He said the state Department of Finance could team up with the university to work on these cost-cutting measures.

Napolitano was open to the proposal but said it didn’t address the immediate funding need.

The governor is still in the process of developing his own budget plan for higher education, according to a spokesperson from the state Department of Finance, H. D. Palmer. Palmer said he could not currently comment on the Senate or Assembly plans.

“For the first time since he was elected back in 2010, Jerry Brown has met his political match,” Schnur said. “It’s hard to see a scenario in which Napolitano does not come out a big winner.”

Daniel Tutt is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.