In a report released on Jan. 26, the nonpartisan budget analyst of the California Legislature rejected Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed constitutional amendment to spend more on higher education than on prisons.
The amendment would limit state spending on prisons to 7 percent and mandate at least 10 percent to the UCs and CSUs.
California’s 2009-2010 budget allocated $8.1 billion, or 9.5 percent, to prison spending. According to data in the LAO report this represents a 4 percent increase from 1985. In contrast, the state provided $4.9 billion or 5.7 percent of the General Fund to the UC and CSU for 2009-2010. State support for universities has fallen 11 percent since from 1984-1985.
In its analysis, the LAO said the constitutional amendment set arbitrary spending parameters for public universities and corrections services. It also stated that the legislature and governor can already decide on spending priorities through the normal budget process.
“The legislature adopts a budget each year,” said Steve Boilard, LAO’s Director for Higher Education, in an e-mail interview. “In doing this, the legislature decides how much General Fund support to provide to the universities and to corrections. There are no prescribed limits on what share of total state funding each is to receive.”
However the LAO study drew criticism from UC officials, who accused it of supporting “business as usual.” UC Vice President of Budget Patrick Lenz said while he agreed that an amendment wasn’t necessary, he was troubled by the lack of proposals to address the problem.
“I think that some really specific recommendations would be beneficial,” Lenz said.
He added that he felt that most members of California’s term-limited legislature were limited in their knowledge of higher education and its funding. This environment, he said, made the need for clear funding solutions necessary.
Education policy experts are split on whether the LAO’s analysis answers the question of how to solve the university’s revenue problems. The main point of contention has been whether the amendment’s quotas will give adequate funding to UC.
“One reason higher education has been losing funding steadily is because it is part of the discretionary portion of the state budget,” said Cristina Gonzalez, UC Davis education professor in an e-mail interview.
Gonzalez approves of the governor’s proposal because she thinks it will prevent any tampering with education funding.
“Given that history, to secure a fixed percentage of the state budget makes a lot of sense,” Gonzalez said. “This represents a reallocation of resources. The alternative is to raise taxes, which nobody seems to want to do.”
Others say locking in spending, whether it favors universities over prisons or not, will fix the long-term problem. They believe the focus should be on reforming California’s revenue foundation.
Education professor Tom Timar advocated a rethinking of California’s tax base, such as lessening state dependence on income or property taxes, which are susceptible to the health of the economy.
Timar said that such would allow the UC to weather boom and bust cycles and rely on a steady base of revenue.
“It’s going to take going back and looking at how we fund public services; what are our revenue sources; what is the taxing system like,” Timar said. “I think we need to look at ways of funding the university that are stable, predictable, ongoing and adequate that give the university the kind of funding it needs to maintain its international preeminence and be able to serve the people of California.”
LESLIE TSAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.