Gov. Brown’s 2016-17 budget proposal ensures increased funding for UC

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Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his proposed state budget at a press conference in Sacramento on Thursday, providing about $350 million to the UC system in additional funding for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Brown’s proposal was praised by observers for its provision of increased funds for the UC system in accordance with a funding agreement reached between Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano last May but elicited criticism from student leaders for failing to support affordability measures such as food and housing funds.

“The University of California appreciates the continuing support for higher education in Gov. Brown’s 2016-17 budget proposal,” said UC spokesperson Kate Moser in an email. “State support is crucial to allowing us to … maintain access, affordability and quality for our students.”

Currently, the UC system receives about $3 billion from the state general fund, accounting for approximately 10 percent of the university’s total budget. The proposal will provide an additional $125 million from the general fund to help fund priorities outlined in the university’s sustainability plan, including an addition of 10,000 more California students over the course of three years.

One-time funding provisions outlined in the proposal will go toward paying for deferred maintenance costs, energy projects and the UC Retirement Plan. In exchange for assistance with unfunded pension liabilities, the university has committed to a freezing in-state tuition until the 2017-18 academic year as part of the agreement between Brown and Napolitano.

Some student leaders did not share the administration’s enthusiasm for the budget. Despite lauding the progress made by the state and the university in forging a “true partnership … to keep tuition flat” in a press release, UC Student Association President Kevin Sabo criticized Brown’s proposals for not taking into account the costs accrued by students beyond tuition.

At their monthly meeting over the weekend, Sabo and his fellow leaders in the UCSA spoke out against what they considered a key omission in the budget: the lack of any provision pertaining to food and housing security for students.

“The time is now for public leadership to address UC’s housing and food crisis,” Sabo said in the press release. “This budget will support the new enrollment of thousands of additional UC students. But the ones here already are struggling to survive.”

Jason Constantouros, fiscal and policy analyst with the Legislative Analyst’s Office, said one potential recommendation to the legislature would be to ensure that the university’s spending of additional funds appropriated is tied to specific priorities.

“The Legislature should break away from writing the university blank checks without guaranteeing specific investments in solving the UC’s ongoing problems,” Sabo said in the press release.

Looking beyond its immediate ramifications, campus professor emeritus of public policy John Ellwood suggested that Brown’s budget and attitude toward the UC system does not bode well for UC Berkeley in particular.

“We have the fanciest faculty,” Ellwood said, noting that increased enrollment with a tuition freeze exacerbates the strain on campus resources such as faculty, especially because UC Berkeley does not have a medical school — a significant source of revenue for other UC campuses. “With a fancy faculty you have to compete in a very expensive market.”

While the campus administration is still in the process of reviewing the budget, UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore confirmed that the campus is committed to meeting the proposal’s calls, including ensuring the enrollment of one new transfer student for every two new freshmen and expanding access for online courses.

Suggesting that the majority of Brown’s constituents would not condone spending the marginal dollar on the UC system over other priorities and remaining skeptical of any reversion to a tax structure that would greatly increase state revenue, Ellwood said UC Berkeley’s only option to maintain its excellence is “to do what the privates have done” and solicit funding from private sources.

“All for one and one for all gets you a plan that is appropriate only for the average UC campus,” he said. “(The administration and the state) don’t like to hear that, but it’s empirically true.”

Over the next few months, Brown will meet with legislators and interest groups to finalize the 2016-17 state budget, while the UC Board of Regents will discuss his budget proposal at its meeting next week.

Ishaan Srivastava is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ishaansriv.