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UC Regents urge lawmakers to re-invest in higher ed

The University of California Board of Regents, meeting in Sacramento on May 16 for the first time since 1993, discussed the university’s budget and their legislative advocacy efforts aimed at making public higher education a state funding priority.

Regents, students and other UC supporters had spent much of the week meeting with state lawmakers and asking them to support a multi-year funding plan that would provide UC with modest but predictable increases in funding, including sufficient revenue to avoid a tuition increase in the fall.

“The student support is essential to the success of our lobbying efforts, and we’re pleased to have them standing with us,” board chair Sherry Lansing said in her opening remarks.

California faces a projected $16 billion budget deficit. Lawmakers have until June 15 to finalize a state spending plan, with no easy choices on the table.

Advocates for public higher education, concerned about preserving UC’s quality and affordability, have sent more than 50,000 emails to California lawmakers over the last two weeks, underscoring the importance of UC to the economy and to students and their families.

Lansing said she was encouraged by the budget proposal put forth Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown. As lawmakers hammer out a final spending plan over the next few weeks, it is critical that they continue to hear from UC supporters, she said.

“In large measure, the support for UC in the governor’s budget reflects the results of the advocacy efforts our students, faculty, staff, alumni and higher education supporters have engaged in here in Sacramento and across the state,” Lansing said. “And that advocacy continues today.”

The university has been coping with steep declines in state funding for more than a decade. This year alone, UC’s state appropriation dropped by 25 percent, or roughly $750 million. State funding for UC now has fallen to the same level as in 1997-98, when there were 73,000 fewer students.

Administrators have responded with both long- and short-term strategies. They have enacted administrative efficiencies, reduced academic programs, cut staffing, frozen faculty hiring and raised tuition.

Fee hikes have covered roughly a third of UC’s funding gap, however, and the institution is now at a crossroads, said Patrick Lenz, UC’s vice president for budget and capital resources. Further cuts put the university at risk of permanent and irreversible decline in academic quality, he said.

He said that given the depth of the state’s budget problems, UC had fared well in Brown’s proposed budget, but that the decisions ahead for lawmakers were very difficult.

The governor’s spending plan trimmed spending for UC by roughly $38 million from his January proposal.

It also included a possible mid-year “trigger” cut of $250 million, unless voters support Brown’s temporary tax measure on the November ballot. The measure would raise several billion dollars in state revenue from a temporary sales tax increase of a quarter-cent per dollar and from a temporary surcharge on the income tax of those who earn more than $250,000 per year.

Both President Mark G. Yudof and regents chair Sherry Lansing have expressed personal support for the measure. Several regents on Wednesday expressed concern about how UC would cope if the measure does not pass.

Lenz told the board that developing more detailed scenarios would be possible once lawmakers reach agreement on a state budget for the coming year. For one thing, UC officials will know by then whether they have succeeded in their targeted efforts to secure $125 million in augmented state funding, the amount necessary to avoid a fee increase in the fall, Lenz said.

Lansing and others have made securing that tuition buy-out one of the key priorities in their meetings with lawmakers.

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