(Source: Andrew Edwards San Bernardino County Sun, Calif. — Gov. Jerry Brown and leading Democratic lawmakers are betting on a tuition freeze for students at California’s public universities to encourage voters to pass a tax increase this November, but Inland Empire Republicans who say they have been shut out of the budget process expect the measure to fail.
“There is not a single tax increase on this budget that has a single chance of passing,” predicted Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia.
On the other side of the aisle, Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto, said she does not think of the tuition bill as a threat to raise student fees if voters reject higher taxes as much as a means to keep college affordable.
Unlike Donnelly, Carter predicted the voters will approve new taxes in November.
“I think people will say, ‘We’re all in this together. We’ll either rise together or we’ll fall together,”‘ Carter said.
Lawmakers are expected to vote on the tuition proposal today, but the bill amounts to little more than words on paper until Nov. 6, when voters will have their say on competing tax proposals, one of which the state’s Democratic governor says is necessary to balance Sacramento’s budget without deep cuts to education.
The new proposal would give the 23-campus California State University system, which includes Cal Poly Pomona and Cal State San Bernardino, $125 million for the 2013-14 academic years if university leaders reverse a recent tuition hike set to go into effect with the coming school year.
The 10-campus University of California system would receive the same amount if its leadership keeps student fees flat. The UC Board of Regents is scheduled to consider a tuition hike next month.
Student fees at both the UC and CSU systems have doubled during the past half decade.
Cal State San Bernardino student Natalie Dorado praised the tuition freeze as a relief to her contemporaries who are finding it increasingly difficult to finish their degrees.
“Money has to come from somewhere, and it shouldn’t just come from students,” Dorado, 25, said.
Dorado was one of 13 students at CSU campuses who in May staged a hunger strike to protest rising tuition and high executive pay at public universities.
Annual tuition rates for CSU and UC students respectively stood at about $2,500 and $6,100 in 2005-06, Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said.
As of fiscal 2011-12, student fees have ballooned to nearly $5,500 for CSU students and close to $12,200 within UC.
The promise of a tuition freeze is the latest method the Brown administration has used to — depending upon one’s political views — entice or threaten voters to agree to a tax hike in November.
The governor’s budget assumes $8.5 billion in revenues from a tax hike that goes to the voters on Nov. 6. The referendum would raise sales taxes and income taxes on upper-income Californians. A competing proposal would raise income taxes on a broader range of Californians.
Before promising a tuition freeze for California collegians, the governor has said a rejection of the tax measure would result in “trigger cuts” that would heavily affect schools.
If enacted, the trigger cuts would cut $250 million each from the University of California and California State University systems.
The cuts would take much more money from school districts and community colleges — $5.4 billion from school systems up and down California.
Assemblywoman Norma Torres, D-Chino, said more taxes are a lesser evil than deep spending cuts and defended the political logic of linking tuition to the November tax measure.
“I think the only thing that’s fair is the L.A. County Fair. We have a $16 billion deficit,” she said.
“None of the decisions are good decisions, not when you have $16 billion to cut,” she continued.
The Democratic majority within the Legislature has already approved a $92 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Brown and Democratic leaders have also agreed to a package of cuts to social programs such as CalWORKs, a welfare-to-work program, in-home care and Healthy Families, which is state-sponsored health insurance for children and teens.
Those cuts are designed to help solve a budget deficit the Brown administration pegs at nearly $16 billion.
Lawmakers approved a spending plan for the coming fiscal year under new rules that allow a budget to be passed by majority vote.
The new system means Democrats did not have to engage in the kind prolonged negotiations with minority Republican legislators that formerly pushed budget negotiations into late summer. But new taxes are so critical to the budget that California officials and residents must wait until November to know if the spending plan will survive.
“Basing the budget on the assumption that taxes are going to go up is absolutely ridiculous,” Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said.
Like Donnelly, Morrell anticipates voters will reject new taxes in November.
The outcome of the November vote is not the only unanswered question for the tuition freeze plan. If voters say “yes” to new taxes, the CSU system would need to somehow reverse a tuition increase scheduled to go into effect before the November election.
The CSU is counting on its recently approved $498 tuition increase to bring in some $132 million, more than the $125 million promised in the freeze deal.
If the tuition freeze is enacted, CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said university administrators would need to invent a mechanism to give students refunds.
“We would obviously have to figure out a way to do that, but we don’t have a way to do that right now on such a large scale,” he said.
The UC system has yet to raise tuition for the coming school year, but a spokeswoman said the campuses need guaranteed funding to pay their bills.
“It’s all a gamble. Everybody wants to believe in a simple situation,” she said.
Bay Area News Group reporter Matt Krupnick and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
©2012 San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, Calif.)
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Source: Andrew Edwards San Bernardino County Sun, Calif.