UC Students Sue Governor, Challenge Funding Cutbacks

Tuesday January 27, 2004

Opponents of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have petitioned the California Supreme Court to invalidate his executive orders lowering the Vehicle License Fee increase and cutting $148 million to education and other programs. 

The petition argues that the governor violated the California constitution by overriding the legislature in determining how state money is spent. 

“There was no hearing, no process about what should be cut. We didn’t think that was a fair process,” said Liz Geyer, executive director of the University of California Student Association, which joined the petition along with four UC students and civil rights advocacy groups Equal Justice Society and Californians For Justice.  

At issue is the governor’s November executive order lowering the vehicle license fee that was to provide money for cities and counties. To help restore funding to localities, Schwarzenegger declared a fiscal emergency in December, cutting $148 million, including $24 million from UC and CSU outreach programs that offer programs for poor and minority high school students to help them qualify for a state university. 

The petitioners, united in their determination to preserve outreach, contend Schwarzenegger could not lower the Vehicle License Fee when the state lacked the money to offset the cuts. 

“The governor’s director of finance clearly lacked authority under California constitutional and statutory law to offset the license fee decreases by imposing $148 in budget cuts without legislative approval,” said Warrington Parker III, an attorney with San Francisco law firm Heller, Ehrman White & McAuliffe, which represents the plaintiffs free of charge. 

H.D. Palmer, Department of Finance spokesperson, insisted that Schwarzenegger violated no laws and would not have considered the measures had he not been assured he was on firm legal ground. Former Gov. Gray Davis invoked similar privileges in 2001. 

The plaintiffs filed the petition directly with the state Supreme Court to seek a quick resolution, said attorney Nicholas W. van Aelstyn, acknowledging it would be “unusual” for the court to hear the case. 

The court can choose to make the governor respond to the petition, deny it or send it to a lower court. A decision is expected sometime this week.