Legislative Analyst’s Office advises alternative UC budget approach

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The state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office proposed an alternative approach to state funding for public higher education in California on Wednesday when it recommended the Legislature pursue a major revamp of its higher education spending strategy.

As California enters the thick of its lengthy budgeting process and emerges from the fiscal crunch of the economic downturn that intensified in 2008, a range of proposals for restoring state funding for higher education has surfaced in recent months. Many legislators and the governor now appear ready to reinstate a higher level of funding for the UC system, but just how much funding will be restored remains an open question.

The report from the LAO diverges from the higher education funding plan proposed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s preliminary state budget last month and advises lawmakers to restore and refine a funding approach used by the state prior to the recession. In contrast to Brown’s proposal, which offers the university a flat 5 percent funding boost, the LAO recommends tying state funding to the UC and CSU systems’ workloads, as measured by student enrollment, inflation and other figures.

LAO analyst Paul Golaszewski said the fluctuating financial needs of California’s universities require a more complex approach than Brown outlined in his budget.

“(Brown) hasn’t told us how he came up with the amount for the base increase,” he said. “He has just said it’s what he thinks is reasonable based on the state’s budget situation.”

While the LAO plan eclipses Brown’s funding proposal by providing an additional $44 million, $78 million of the increased funding comes from tuition hikes, and the plan still fails to meet the university’s request for an additional $120.9 million from the state.

Patrick Lenz, UC vice president of budget and capital resources, said that while the LAO’s approach to workload-based funding might be a step in the right direction, the recommendation does not do enough to ensure the university can meet its responsibilities in the next year.

“The analyst is on the right track,” Lenz said. “But they need to go a little bit further.”

Whereas Brown’s plan in his preliminary budget froze student tuition until 2016-17, the LAO report advises a minimum 2.5 percent UC tuition hike in order to prevent future volatility in student fees.

Despite disagreements over specifics, Rebecca Baumann, a legislative aide to state Sen. Loni Hancock, said many legislators seem to acknowledge the need for reinvestment in higher education.

“Everyone wants to get money back into the system,” Baumann said. “It may take a while to get back to 2007-08, but this is a step in the right direction.”

With renewed revenue streams pouring into state coffers, Baumann said California has an opportunity to make concrete improvements to its enormous higher education system.

Legislative subcommittees will hold hearings regarding items in the governor’s proposed budget until May, when revenue figures are revised, before voting on a final version in June.

Contact Connor Grubaugh and Chris Tril at [email protected].