State Democrats pass budget bills, higher education cuts

Budget bills approved by state Democrats Wednesday to close the state’s remaining $9.6 billion deficit include a combination of tax and fee increases, spending cuts and revenue assumptions, as well as an additional $300 million in cuts to California’s higher education institutions.

Among the cuts in the Democrats’ plan is an additional $150 million cut to both the UC and California State University systems.

The plan, introduced Tuesday, avoids the tax extensions and increases sought by Gov. Jerry Brown and delays some payments to schools, makes further spending cuts and raises certain fees, such as car registration fees and local sales tax rates. The bills now move to Brown’s desk for final approval.

State legislators voted Wednesday afternoon to pass the main budget bill in a 23-15 vote. Both houses met Wednesday to take up a series of bills related to the budget package, including the Democrats’ proposed plan. If state legislators had not passed a balanced budget by midnight on Wednesday, their pay would have been docked for every day the plan was late.

In addition to further cuts from the UC’s budget, the plan proposes delaying the payment of $540 million in UC bills until the next fiscal year.

A statement released by UC President Mark Yudof and UC Board of Regents Chair Russell Gould called the budget proposal “unacceptable” and said it would impair the university’s ability to provide access to affordable education while “preserving academic excellence and allowing students to complete their degrees in a timely way.”

Yudof has said the university could absorb the current $500 million cut it faces without raising tuition but that any additional cuts would likely mean fee hikes throughout the system.

If the proposed plan pushes through, the likely result will be a double-digit tuition increase on top of the 8 percent hike already approved for next year, according to UC officials.

“The world-class education, research and public service provided by the University of California fuel the economy and contribute to the well being of millions of people throughout the state,” the statement reads. “This budget plan would be bad for all Californians. That’s why we will fight it.”
Gould urged lawmakers to avoid more cuts to the UC and to try to find a more reliable, long-term solution.

“(Lawmakers) always need to make choices,” Gould said in a statement. “That’s leadership, and we need the leadership to stand up and say the University of California is a priority — it’s a priority for California’s future.”

According to Lakesha Harrison — president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 — continued cuts to the UC could have “devastating” consequences for students and employees.

AFSCME Local 3299 represents roughly 20,000 UC workers in the 10 campuses and five medical centers.

“Legislative leaders in both parties must continue to play a role of making sure UC’s scarce State resources prioritize its core educational and patient care missions, rather than executive bloat, intercollegiate athletics and management bonuses,” Harrison said in a statement. “This greater legislative accountability should not come, though, at the expense of the public support for UC that is required to fulfill its core mission for students and patients.”

State Democratic legislators and officials spoke out against the approved budget, stating the additional cuts have resulted from Republicans’ refusal to work towards a budget compromise.

“These cuts are penny wise and pound foolish and threaten to further damage a stretched-to-the-limit public university system that was once the envy of the world,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “In volatile economic times, we should be investing in our universities to ensure we are producing the highly-skilled, educated workforce California needs to compete in the global economy.”

Allie Bidwell is the news editor.