Old news: Like most other major state programs, California's public universities and colleges are up against devastating budget cuts in the coming year, and probably longer. Those cuts will drive up fees, force larger classes and eliminate courses, services and programs.
What hardly anyone is discussing, either among the regents or the trustees – nor was it mentioned at a briefing by the Campaign for College Opportunity last week – is the need to increase state revenues to bring taxes at least to the rates they were in 2003.
The governor continues to perpetuate the belief that California's real budgetary problem is excessive spending, not inadequate revenues, a belief that's a core mantra of the state GOP and Grover Norquist's "starve the beast" theology.
To do that the governor uses a chart – probably his favorite – showing spending is climbing more steeply than revenues. But as the recent UC "Cuts Report" (universityofcalifornia.edu/senate/ reports/cuts.report.04.08.pdf) points out, "the chart has a number of flaws: is not corrected for inflation, for population growth, for growth in any agency's client base or legal mandate, or for the great variation in growth among different agencies."
More important, the chart omits the fact that $6 billion a year – far and away the biggest part of that alleged spending increase – is in fact the result of Schwarzenegger's cut in the vehicle license fee. Because he rolled back that fee by two-thirds, the state has had to backfill to local governments the money the levy would have raised. Were it not for the car tax cut, the state would probably have no need to cut any spending, either for K-12 schools or higher education or anything else.
And that's not counting the corporate tax loopholes that the Legislature handed out in the past decade and that, in tax reformer Lenny Goldberg's immortal words, make the tax code like a roach motel: Once the loopholes creep in, they never come out.
…But so far, there's still far too much silence from the universities' leaders on the choices: quality schools, colleges and parks in a state to which productive and creative people are attracted, or the no-new-tax mantra and life on the cheap.
Peter Schrag: Sacramento Bee April 23, 2008