Everyone knew it was coming.
When Gov. Jerry Brown took to the podium last Monday to outline his budget proposal for the state of California, there were already suspicions that the biggest cutbacks would be to social services and public education, two aspects of government that are never far from the chopping block in hard economic times.
Unfortunately, Brown only continued the “politics as usual” rhetoric by slashing state funding for the most vulnerable entities, taking $1.5 billion from California’s welfare-to-work program CalWORKs, $750 million from the Department of Developmental Services and $1.4 billion cumulatively from four-year universities and community colleges.
This breaks down to half a billion dollars in cuts to the UC and CSU schools and $400 million out of community colleges. It also means that for the first time ever, the UC will get less annual money from the state than it does from student tuition: $2.6 billion from the state versus $2.8 billion from tuition. The one segment of public education that Brown refused to take money from was K–12 education. But this doesn’t mean much in the long run if students don’t have affordable, well-rounded universities to turn to for a higher education once they graduate high school.
Yes, the state is in a terrible financial situation, but it’s hard for UC students to understand why they must face the likelihood of even higher tuition and fewer class options when their wallets and aspirations have been so heavily battered over the past few years.
There are alternative solutions that Brown and his political posse in Sacramento can explore for helping to trim California’s deficit without having to pilfer more money from our already strained public education system.
One such solution — increased or continued taxation — was mentioned by Brown in his budgetary address. He is hopeful that voters will approve the extension of taxes that are set to expire this year despite the fact that the public rejected proposed taxes in 2009.
“I think there is a significant number of people who have an open mind and it will be up to the legislature and myself … to make the case,” Brown said last Monday.
Although California residents may not take kindly to renewing taxes, it would be smart to consider a tax on the wealthier segments of the population. A proposal that the legislature could consider making to the state’s electorate is that of bringing back Proposition 87, which would have taxed oil producers in California 1.5 percent to 6 percent — depending on oil price per barrel — and established $4 billion towards the reduction of petroleum consumption if it had not been voted down in 2006 with a no vote of 54.7 percent. Perhaps instead of having the money go towards alternative energy research this time around, it could be used to try and bring California back in the black.
Another idea that should be taken into consideration is to cut from the top instead of at the bottom: in other words, to lower the salaries of the UC administrators who are making exorbitant amounts of money. Thirty UC Santa Cruz representatives make over $200,000 annually, a third of whom occupy various administrative positions within the university, according to the UC salary database last updated in June 2010.
In addition, at the University California Office of the President, which employs the top-ranking officials within the UC system, 74 workers earn at least $200,000 a year. This of course includes UC President Mark Yudof, who, while condemning Brown’s proposed cuts to the UC, collected a check of nearly $600,000 last year, a quarter of a million more than his 2008 salary.
UC administrators cannot condemn the half a billion dollar sucker-punch to their education system while simultaneously collecting paychecks that allow them to live more luxurious lifestyles than the state’s crop of public university students can afford. It is not only frivolous and hypocritical of them to make such excessive amounts of money in these rough economic times — and demand for more, in the cases of the 36 employees who have threatened to sue for bigger pensions. It’s also fiscally and morally irresponsible.
In taking office as the new governor of California, Brown has reiterated that we cannot afford to continue the cycle of irrational spending. But what he needs to realize is that what the once-golden state particularly cannot deal with right now is more tarnish and rust to our formerly top-notch public university system, which is undoubtedly what a $500 million setback would result in.