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Higher education takes big hit in Brown budget

POSTED January 11, 2011 10:56 p.m.

Governor Jerry Brown’s 2010-2011 budget proposal, released Monday, calls for a $500 million, 18 percent cut in state support to the California State University system.

And that’s in the best case scenario.

“These cuts will be painful, requiring sacrifice from every sector of the state, but we have no choice,” Brown said. “For 10 years, we’ve had budget gimmicks and tricks that pushed us deep into debt. We must now return California to fiscal responsibility and get our state on the road to economic recovery and job growth.”

The proposal, which includes $12.5 billion in cuts, comes as California faces a projected $28 billion deficit. Beyond the cut to higher education funding, the plan calls for an 8 to 10 percent cut in take-home pay for most state employees, and to nearly every state service. Much of the burden would be taken up by county governments in Brown’s plan, but higher education would be hard-hit, with the University of California system and the California Community College system losing $500 million and $400 million for their budgets, respectively.

Should the plan find legislative approval in June, the proposed $2.2 billion CSU budget would return funding to 1999-2000 levels, though the university now serves 70,000 more students. In the CSU’s 2010-2011 budget, funding was already reduced to 2005-2006 levels, despite a partial budget restoration.

“While we understand the administration has limited options, higher education is the state's main economic driver, and we cannot improve our economy without an educated workforce," said CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed. "The magnitude of the budget reduction in one year will have serious impacts on the state's economy, limit access for students seeking entrance into our universities, and restrict classes and services for our current students."

The CSU is in the midst of a two-year, $625 million reduction, which has already seen enrollment cuts, employee furloughs, and staffing reductions. The CSU has more than 3,000 fewer faculty members than two years ago, while student fees have risen 242 percent since 2002.

"We will work with the administration and the legislature to minimize, as much as possible, impact to students. However, the reality is that we will not be able to admit as many students as we had been planning for this fall," added Reed. "Over the next few months, our 23 campuses will be faced with very difficult admission decisions as they try to manage this reduction. For students and parents, the uncertainty of the situation is even harder."

That uncertainty is worsened by Brown’s budget hinging on California voters approving tax extensions in a June Special Election. Those taxes, initially passed in 2009, include sales, vehicle, and income taxes. The measure would raise $11.2 billion over 18 months, $5.9 billion of which would head to local governments.

Should voters not approve the tax extensions, the CSU may face additional reductions beyond the proposed $500 million cut.

Despite the magnitude of the cuts, the audacity of Brown’s plan in the face of massive deficits drew early, tempered praise from Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R – Modesto), former CSU Stanislaus vice president of Communications & Public Affairs.

“I am pleased that Governor Brown is showing the will to pursue tough cuts and balance the budget by identifying $12.5 billion in spending reductions,” Olsen said. “While his proposal is a good start, relying on voter approval of 12 billion in tax increase extensions is irresponsible when they were clearly rejected by voters in 2009. I am eager to find out more specifics of the proposed cuts and will be looking closely at the impact to local government.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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