Assembly Democrats announce plans to increase funding to UC

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Democrats in the state Assembly announced plans Wednesday to expand funding for the UC system, despite Gov. Jerry Brown’s warning that the university should not expect additional state help.

Speaker John Perez and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, issued these plans in a “blueprint” for the 2014-15 state budget. Brown is set to release a preliminary budget for 2014-15 next month, after which the legislature will debate its merits. As a bullet-point list of priorities to keep state finances stable and “expand opportunities” for Californians, the blueprint has no specific price tags but suggests that the state support the university beyond the $146.2 million in increased state funding that Brown’s multiyear funding plan has already promised for 2014-15.

This pledge follows much debate about the university’s bid for extra state funding. The UC Board of Regents passed a preliminary budget for 2014-15 in November assuming additional state support of $120.9 million for enrollment growth, enhanced academic support for students and the university’s retirement program, but Brown said the legislature would be unlikely to support such an increase.

Still, Perez and Skinner’s announcement suggests there is some support for increasing funding. They released the budget plan — which also included plans to increase financial support for CSU campuses and community colleges — in coordination with fellow state Assembly Democrats. The legislature’s budget analyst Mac Taylor projects a $5.6 billion surplus for 2014-15 if the state does not increase spending, indicating that additional funding could come from that money pool.

Patrick Lenz, the UC system’s vice president for budget and capital resources, said increased funding from the state could allow the university to add an additional 2,200 freshmen and community college transfers to the system — growth that may not be possible without additional money from the state.

“We are very encouraged,” Lenz said in a statement. “After years of declining state support during the economic recession, we welcome legislative initiatives to help meet the current and future needs of California by supporting the vital mission of our public university system.”

Brown will propose a preliminary state budget in January. The final budget will be approved in June. Brown’s office was unavailable for comment.

“With the budget process officially beginning next month, we believe it is helpful to the people of California to show some of the key priorities that will be shaping the discussion,” Perez said in a statement.

Libby Rainey is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @rainey_l.