• Home
  • About Us
  • Guest Posts

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Brown's Budget Sacrifices the Present, Gambles the Future

The Budget Agreement passed last week--especially as modified by Governor Brown's line-item vetoes--takes several more steps towards dismantling the social infrastructure that has enriched California for decades.  In both its specifics and in its political vision, the budget sacrifices the present through austerity and gambles the future in an appeal to Californian's lowest social and political inclinations.  In keeping with Brown's ongoing failure to offer a political and social vision beyond what Chris has called "neo-Hooverism," the budget links together a technocratic lack of imagination with an effort to shore up managerial control.  Despite the occasional gesture to his older desire to be a futurist--as in his continued support for high-speed transit--Brown seems unable to move beyond already failed policies.  Brown was born in 1938, the year after FDR prematurely pulled back on the New Deal.  Apparently he wants to return the economy to the state it was in the year of his birth. 

Although the budget contains a complex of strategies and programs--including Brown's effort to shift more of governmental activity back to the counties--the nature of the budget (and Brown's vision) can be seen clearly in 4 areas: Higher Education; K-12 education; Resources for the poor and sick: and his insistence on the logic of austerity.  Let me take each in turn.

So Much for the Master PLan

Much of the discussion of the budget's implication for UC and CSU has focused on the $125 million offered to each system in exchange for keeping tuition at present rates.  If this money is actually delivered it will be a good thing for students and is a response to the activism of students and their supporters.  In addition, the budget proposes to allocate nearly $90M to UC to be used for the pension system. (2

But these parts of the budget are contingent on the passage of Brown's tax initiative in November.  If that fails, then UC and CSU will each suffer an additional $250 Million dollar trigger cut and the Community colleges will suffer a $548.5 Million dollar cut.  (2-3)  Even if the Tax initiative passes, the $125M will not be received till 2013. And if it fails we can expect tuition to go up dramatically this winter.

But the problems go even deeper.  As Bob Meister has recently argued, Brown's new budget effectively repudiates the essential logic and commitment of the Master Plan.  Despite the efforts of the Legislature, Brown used his line-item veto power to de-link state funding from UC and CSU enrollment targets.  (5-6)  As President Yudof made clear in his report to the Regents the elimination of the enrollment targets (and the removal of some set-aside obligations) were in response to Yudof's "request." (2)  As Meister explains, with the elimination of the California Post-Secondary Education Commission, and Brown's veto of the Legislature's attempt to include enrollment targets "the state will no longer monitor UC’s compliance with Master Plan expectations." 

That President Yudof should be so pleased with this development is striking: in his report to the Regents he doesn't note that the enacted funding for UC is lower than the proposed funding in Brown's initial budget proposal back in January.  The same decline from proposed to enacted is true for CSU as well.  President Yudof seems more pleased by his increased flexibility on enrollment than he does seem concerned about the downward trend of funding across the year.

To be sure, there still will remain political considerations.  No one knows what price UC and CSU might pay if they dramatically scaled back in-state enrollment.   In addition,  the Master Plan still remains official policy although the tuition increases of the past decade have hollowed out those promises considerably.  But Brown has taken an additional step.  He has removed the legal obligation for either CSU or UC to meet their obligations to California students under the plan.  He has, at that same time, allowed a budget that places the heaviest burdens on the Community Colleges.  And he has done all of these things at a moment when declining access at UC and CSU is pushing students out of UC and CSU and into the community colleges or driving them to the for-profit sector. 

Brown's vetoes have severed the link between state funding and access to higher education.

The Great Gamble

The question of how much damage this budget will do to higher education depends on the November elections.  But we need to be honest when we approach this budget--the real threat embedded in Brown's plans is not to higher education but to K-12 education.  If Brown's tax initiatives fail in November (and their fate is uncertain) K-12 education will suffer a funding loss of $5.4 Billion dollars or approximately the cost of 3 weeks of instruction. (2)  As the California Budget Project notes, K-12 schools would bear 80% of the triggered cuts if the tax initiatives fail.

In effect, Brown is gambling that the citizens of California will not be willing to sacrifice their educational system to prevent a (modest) tax increase largely though not entirely aimed at wealthier citizens. Hopefully, he will be correct

Of course, we need to recognize the structural problems of raising revenue in the state.  No one can ignore the effects of the super-majority requirement in the legislature, the protections for commercial property, or the ideology of the state Republican party.  But Brown himself has played his part in getting the state to a point where he is rolling the dice on the future of children's education.  Brown, after all, committed himself to raising taxes only with a referendum, Brown himself failed to run against the corporate tax deals passed during the Schwarzenegger administration that cost the state billions in revenue, and Brown himself has articulated the ideology that cuts must precede social investment.  It was his insistence--not the nature of budgeting--that drives the policy that the inherited deficit must be retired above all else.

Two further parts of this budget will make clear Brown's indebtedness to the prophets of austerity.

Who Needs the IMF When You Have Jerry

Perhaps because it has become so commonplace, one aspect of this year's budget hasn't gotten as much notice as it might:  the dramatic cuts in social services to the poor, the elderly, and the sick.  To be fair to the Legislature they did prevent some of Brown's plans from being enacted.  But, as the CBP notes in its report on the budget, the new budget shortens the time that the poor can remain in the workfare program, cuts down on the young child exemptions from work within the program, reduces payments for childcare and preschool and effectively reduces access to childcare, reduces funding for In-Home-Supportive-Services, rearranges Medi-Cal to cut costs and integrates the Healthy Families Program into Medi-Cal. 

What makes these cuts even more notable is Brown's insistence that there be a $948M reserve fund in this year's budget. (2)  A reserve for what exactly?  The downturn of the economy and the increase in poverty?  A rise in unemployment?  The threat of a shortened school year for kids?

Brown has put together a budget that appeals to the worst of Californians' character: their resentment and their fear.  He has sought to meet their anger by cutting services to the most needy and to mobilize their fear for their own kids and the kids of their friends.  Implicit in his appeal is the argument: "see, we can punish the undeserving.  You can trust us with money it will only go to your kids."  Whatever his personal opinions and values may be, his political practice is one of destruction not creation; the poor and the young, the elderly and the ill will deal with the fallout for years.


Anonymous said...

"He has removed the legal obligation for either CSU or UC to meet their obligations to California students under the plan." The Master Plan is a 2-way agreement. UC and CSU are supposed to take all eligible Californians. The state and the taxpayers are supposed to provide the resources to make those spaces available. The legal obligation was removed when UC and CSU were cut by $1.5 billion last year, not when the Governor vetoed some enrollment number way below the number actually taken.

Anonymous said...

Tuition freeze by University of California inadquateUniversity access, and affordability are already major campaign issues in state and national races. UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau, Provost Breslauer leave an indelible mark on access and affordability. Self absorbed Chancellor and Provost are outspoken for public Cal. ‘charging Californians much higher’ tuition. Number 1 ranked Harvard is now less costly. Cal. tuition is rising faster than costs at other universities. The ‘charge Californians higher’ tuition makes Cal. the most expensive public university!

Birgeneau ($450,000 salary) Breslauer ($306,000 salary) like to blame the politicians, since they stopped giving them every dollar expected. The ‘charge Californians more’ tuition skyrocketed fees by an average 14% per year from 2006 to 2011-12 academic years. If Birgeneau Breslauer had allowed fees to rise at the same rate of inflation over the past 10 years they would still be in reach of most middle income students. Chancellor Provost increased disparities in higher education defeat the promise of equality of opportunity. An unacceptable legacy for students, parents, politicians!

Additional funding should sunset. The economic downturn is devastating California. Simply asking Californians for more money to fund inept Cal. leadership, old expensive higher education models and support excessive salaries, burdensome bonuses, and expensive pensions is not the answer.

UC Berkeley is to maximize access to the widest number of Californians at a reasonable cost: mission of diversity and equality of opportunity. Birgeneau’s Breslauer’s ‘charge Californians higher’ tuition denies middle income Californians the transformative value of Cal’s higher education.

Opinions? UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu Calif. State Senators, Assembly members.

Join the Conversation

Note: Firefox is occasionally incompatible with our comments section. We apologize for the inconvenience.