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UC Students Bear Brunt Of Local Budget Impact

Friday August 01, 2003

UC Berkeley students will pay 30 percent more in fees, but local schools and government will escape relatively unscathed under a final budget approved by the State Assembly Tuesday, officials said.  

The Assembly passed the nearly $100 billion spending package on a 56-22 vote just two days after the State Senate approved a similar document. Gov. Gray Davis is expected to sign the budget, a month overdue, Saturday afternoon. 

But California still faces a $7.9 billion shortfall next year, leaving municipal and university officials concerned about the possibility of heavy cuts in 2004-2005 and beyond. 

Biggest loser among agencies with local ties this year is the nine-campus University of California, taking a $410 million cut—$111 million more than Gov. Davis had recommended in his May budget proposal.  

The additional cut, anticipated by UC number crunchers for weeks, triggered a 5 percent fee hike for students at all nine of the university’s campuses. The jump comes on top of a 25 percent increase approved by the UC Board of Regents last month. 

UC Berkeley undergraduates who are residents of California will now pay $5,858 per year in fees, while resident graduate students will fork over $6,169. 

“This fee increase is deeply regrettable but given the magnitude of cuts we are taking, it is unavoidable if we are to protect the quality of the student instructional program,” said University of California President Richard Atkinson in a statement announcing the jump. 

In general, financial aid will cover the fee hikes for students from families with an annual incomes of $60,000 or less. But students said the increase will hit middle class pupils hardest.  

“The fees are going to have the strongest effect on students who are, for one reason or another, not eligible for financial aid,” said Gustavo Mata, a fourth-year undergraduate at UC Berkeley who serves in the student government. “It’s really detrimental.”  

The university—which has seen state funding dip 13.6 percent since 2001-2002—also took heavy cuts in administration, libraries, research and outreach to traditionally low-performing high schools. The budget also delays the opening of the 10th campus in Merced a year to the 2005-2006 school year. 

City budget manager Paul Navazio said the legislature hit Berkeley with a $2.1 million cut from its projected $280 million budget. The city had already budgeted for about $400,000 of the cuts, he said, leaving Berkeley with a $1.7 million shortfall. 

Cuts include small reductions in law enforcement grants, transportation projects and health programs, but most of the $1.7 million comes from a one-time, $1.2 million cut in vehicle license fee revenues that the state has pledged to repay in 2006. 

Navazio worried aloud about the state fulfilling its promise to pay back the $1.2 million. But assuming that the cut is truly temporary, he said the city should be able to avoid any significant new pain this year by dipping into a $6 million reserve, continuing its hiring freeze or putting off street and sidewalk repairs for a year. 

Still, with state legislators facing a shortfall of at least $7.9 billion next year, Navazio said Berkeley may fare worse in 2004-2005. 

“The city, in one way, dodges the bullet—but only because [the Legislature is] reloading,” Navazio said. 

“The future is not bright for us,” said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. 

Berkeley already faces a 2004-2005 shortfall of about $10 million, regardless of what the state legislature does, and city officials are weighing a series of politically dicey options for closing the gap: chopping programs, cutting worker pay—which would require union approval—and asking the voters for millions in new taxes through a 2004 ballot measure. 

Navazio said the city will conduct a $25,000 public opinion poll this fall to see if the measure has “a snowball’s chance in hell” of passing in tough economic times. An 11-member mayoral task force on revenue—composed of local business leaders, members of a citizen budget commission and others—will also weigh in on the issue. 

If City Council decides to go forward with the measure, members will have to decide whether to place it the on the March or November 2004 ballots. A March vote would be advantageous because it would come before City Council takes up the 2004-2005 budget in June, Navazio said. But, under state law, a March ballot measure would require a two-thirds vote, while a November initiative would require only a simple majority. 

Eric Smith, associate superintendent of business and operations for the Berkeley Unified School District, said Wednesday that he had not yet had time for a detailed reading of the state budget, which slashed about $2 billion from K-12 education statewide. 

But Smith said an initial examination didn’t reveal anything particularly damaging to the local schools. 

“At first blush, I don’t think we’re going to be significantly penalized,” he said. 

Teri Burns, deputy superintendent for government affairs with the California Department of Education, said education “fared very well” statewide considering the overall magnitude of the shortfall. 

She said the heaviest cuts came in maintenance, instructional materials, summer school, reading programs and teacher training. 

State Assemblywoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) was one of 45 Democrats in the Assembly who joined with 11 Republicans to pass the budget Tuesday. 

She’s not pleased with the final product. 

“I feel that this was a dreadful budget that we passed,” she said, lamenting the UC fee hikes and cuts in family planning services. 

Hancock said she would have preferred a budget that raised taxes on the wealthy and preserved government programs. But she said a state requirement that two-thirds of the legislature approve the budget allowed the Republican minority to hold out against tax hikes. 

“Essentially it was a budget written by Republicans that we ended up agreeing to,” she said. 

Henry Brady, a professor of political science and public policy at UC Berkeley, said locals will not begrudge Hancock, a staunch liberal, for approving a budget that cut social services. 

“I don’t think in a place like Berkeley she’s hurt at all,” he said. “She has a very safe seat. People know her inclinations.”