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Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015
By Joe Kiskis  (UC Davis)

This note makes a few comments on the final UC budget for 2015-2016 and then focuses on points related to the UC Pension Plan (UCRP). To some extent, it updates previous comments here by including changes since then and information that was not available then.

The 2015-16 UC Budget and UCRP

To get good information on the budget, one must read both AB 93 and SB 97. The process this year was a little convoluted. On June 15, the legislature passed AB 93, the Budget Act of 2015. This was the Legislature's version of the budget and was passed on that day so as to meet the constitutional deadline. It was done before the Legislature and Governor had come to agreement. Their agreement was announced the next day. To account for that and other small items in the following days, SB 97 was passed on June 19. It makes many significant amendments to AB 93, including a number relevant to UC. Both AB 93 and SB 97 were signed by the Governor. However the Governor exercised his line item veto authority in a few minor ways that are not relevant to UC. To get complete information, there are, as usual, trailer bills to read. One of those, SB 81, has a few parts relevant to UC---most significantly concerning the Middle Class Scholarship Program.

The main features of the UC budget concerning tuition and the base budget came out as expected and as have been widely reported. However, it's worth noting that the final language on these points is less proscriptive than in the original version and that what is expected to happen in the out years is just that---an expectation that is not mandated in this budget. Briefly, per the Regents decision of May 2015, tuition for California resident students is to remain constant for two more years. Following that, modest increases comparable to the rate of inflation are possible. On the other hand, for non-resident students, tuition will likely increase by 8% in each of the next two years. System-wide Student Services fees (as opposed to tuition) are allowed to go up 5% ($48).  The increase in the 2015-16 UC base budget is the same as the Governor originally proposed, i.e. 4% or $119.5M. The expectation is that 4% increases will continue through 2018-2019.

There was an expectation that the Legislature would augment the Governor's budget with funding for enrollment growth and that the Governor would not line-item veto it. This did not turn out as well as was hoped. The amount is only $25M, and it is contingent on UC adding 5,000 resident undergrads by 2016-17. This is a short timeline, and the amount is far below that needed to educate 5,000 students for one year. On a per student basis, it is also substantially below the average State contribution to the cost of education.

Earlier versions of the budget had limits on nonresident enrollment. Those did not make it into the final budget.

In the trailer bill, the eligibility requirements for the Middle Class Scholarships have been raised and the funding for the program has been decreased.

UC Retirement Plan (UCRP)

As it turned out, there is a large discrepancy between the language related to UCRP in the publicized agreement from the Committee of Two (or equivalently in the Governor's May Revise statement) and that which actually appeared in the final budget product.

The original claim was that there would be a one-time payment of $436M spread over three years ($96M in the first year) to pay off a small fraction of the UCRP unfunded liability. In return the University agreed to make a permanent change to UCRP by adding another tier that would apply to new employees. In this new tier, UCRP eligible salaries were to be capped at the inflation indexed PEPRA/Social Security limit ($117k for the current year) rather than at the IRS limit of $265k currently used by UCRP. Employees in the new tier would have the option of either a defined benefit plan with the new cap in combination with a supplemental defined contribution part or a defined contribution plan with no defined benefit portion. The second option of a straight defined contribution (DC) plan is most troublesome. Fortunately, no language describing such options was incorporated into the budget bills signed by the Governor.

The Governor's May Revise letter to the Legislature suggested budget bill language. This suggested language said only that UC would get a one year addition of $96M in exchange for making UCRP consistent with the PEPRA cap. It said nothing about how that should be done. It made no mention of $436M, no mention of a DC supplement, and certainly no mention of a DC only option. This recommendation was followed, and the language that the Governor suggested is essentially that of the budget bills. However, to drive home the point that there is no larger deal, the amended version of the budget adds:

"This appropriation does not constitute an obligation on behalf of the state to appropriate any additional funds in subsequent years for any costs of the University of California Retirement Plan." (SB 97, p. 96)

Thus neither the Governor nor the Legislature are pressuring the University to introduce a straight DC option. The DC option is something introduced (most likely by UCOP) during discussions in the Committee of Two but done without appropriate consultation within the University. Nevertheless, the Office of the President intends to pursue the possibility of a DC only option. In the discussions that will take place in the coming months, it is worth keeping in mind that a DC option appears to be primarily a priority of UCOP and not of the Legislature or the Governor. Note also that the relative merits of defined contribution verses defined benefit plans were thoroughly, carefully, and widely discussed in the University about six years ago. The conclusion was that the excellence of the University was best served by continuing with UCRP as a defined benefit plan. Thus in 2010, when the President recommended and the Regents endorsed pension reforms, UCRP was preserved as a defined benefit plan.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thursday, June 18, 2015
As you have probably seen, the Governor and the Legislative Leadership have agreed on a final budget bill.  From a funding standpoint, there is little in the new bill regarding UC to change Chris's critical analysis of the Governor's May Revision.  UC is scheduled to receive up to $25M beyond the Governor's original call for a 4 percent general fund increase on condition of a continued tuition freeze.  CSU fared somewhat better.  It will receive approximately $50M over the Governor's May proposal.  It too, though, has a variety of conditions placed on the money.  For UC the key pages of the bill are 105-113 and for CSU 113-117.  I'm going to focus on UC in this post because I am less familiar with the implications for CSU. But I hope that people at CSU will use the comments section to expand the discussion.

There are several key points to make about the total budget package.

First, it includes a one-time payment of $96 million for the UC pension.  But this money is dependent on a dramatic reduction in the benefits of UC's defined benefit pension plan (as was clear from the Regents agreement with the Governor).  After a new system is put into place, the maximum salary that can be counted in a pension calculation for new hires will be approximately $117,000.  The Regents have proposed a supplemental Defined Contribution Plan and have also floated the possibility of allowing new hires to go entirely into a DCP.  If the latter should happen it is possible that the DBP will become unsustainable in any form.

Second, the Legislature was able to get the Governor to agree to an additional $25M above his May proposals.  But this money is contingent on the University enrolling an additional 5000 resident students by the 2016-2017 academic year (107).  There are a couple of things to be said about this situation.  First, as Dan Mitchell pointed out, UC is unlikely to increase numbers in a dramatic fashion for the upcoming year.  That means that these increased numbers will hit with great impact in 2016-2017.  Having been at UCLA when it attempted a dramatic increase in numbers I can say that without proper preparation and expanded faculty and student services the effects are quite serious. Secondly, the Legislature is assuming $5000 of the marginal cost of each new resident student.  This figure is even lower than the LAO calculation that, as I pointed out in an earlier post, would lead to the permanent under-funding of the University. In addition, the money will arrive long after the students have both enrolled and had their presence documented by UCOP.

Sacramento is also insisting that this money, itself inadequate for the simple increase without a lot of supplement, also be used to increase and quicken graduation rates.  Now increasing graduation rates is something that we can all support--but Sacramento appears to be concerned with increasing graduation rates no matter the effect on education.  It wants more students to pass through more quickly with inadequate support--a position that ties in nicely with the Governor's vision that costs can be driven down by pushing students into online courses or reducing requirements.  There is, in all of this, a general disregard for academic expertise and an apparent conviction that quantity is the most important variable.

Although less explicit, it seems as if the Legislature and the Governor are willing to make the University more dependent on non-resident students even as they insist on increasing the number of resident students.  Although the Legislature and the Governor have insisted on a continuation of the tuition freeze for resident students through the 2016-2017 academic years (106), President Napolitano has been empowered to increase tuition for non-resident students up to 8% annually.  Both the Governor and the Legislature have apparently agreed to the assumption that non-resident students can be used to underwrite resident students so that the State can continue its long-standing failure to support higher education in the state.

Thirdly, and more positively, the Budget Bill demands greater administrative and spending transparency (108-109).  The bill directs the University to finally clarify the nature and distribution of the Manager and Senior Professional category (long one of the black holes of administrative transparency), to clarify the financial sources it considers applicable to educational activities, and to provide forecasts of costs and resources through 2018-2019. Although this transparency will not accomplish anything in and of itself, it will allow for a more open discussion of priorities than has been possible in the past.  The bill also demands that the University include state employee salaries in any market calculation for the Senior Management Group.  In effect, Sacramento is challenging the University's insistence that its administrators should be paid more than other public executives. Given the University's recent practice of hiring administrators without prior background as educators it is perhaps not surprising that the Governor and Legislature are now wondering why they should be treated differently than other public administrators.


At this point in time, it is difficult to see how President Napolitano and the Regents efforts to provoke public support for the University were successful.  Nor is it clear that the continued willingness of the University to act as if the Governor is the only player in town makes any sense.  In the end, the University received approximately 25-30M extra dollars compared to what the Governor had promised in previous budgets.  But this additional money comes with some very crucial strings, including a drastic reduction of pension eligibility, agreements to look into reducing graduation requirements, increased auditing of faculty and staff, increased dependence on NRT, and the possibility of even greater state intrusion into university affairs. It is also true that President Napolitano was able to get the Governor to promise a longer-term funding commitment to the University.  But as we learned from Schwarzenegger's "compact," those promises are easy to make and easy to break.  So, the bottom line seems to be minimal increased funding, seriously increased auditing of academic life, continued pressure to sacrifice educational quality to cost cutting, and a commitment to substantial cutbacks in retirement benefits for future employees.  Not a good budget round.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wednesday, June 3, 2015
by Joe Kiskis


As the Legislature and Governor enter the end game for the 2015-2016 budget, here is a review of provisions related to UC in the Governor’s latest budget proposal—the May revise, which is now being considered by the Legislature.

It appears likely that the final UC budget will have provisions that address access and affordability. What is missing are resources to ensure that the university can maintain quality. It is the hardest to quantify, the weakest politically, and is now the most seriously threatened.

This budget is another demonstration of the truism that the only way to restore access, affordability, and quality is through adequate State investment in public higher education. In spite of strong revenues to the State, the Governor’s budget falls well short of what is needed to reverse the negative trends in recent years. As it happens, it is well within the means of the citizens of the State to restore all of California public higher education to the levels of access, affordability, and quality enjoyed in 2000-2001.

The May revise budget summary starts the UC overview on page 28.

Many aspects of the May revise as they relate to UC are contained in the agreement of the “Committee of Two”  now endorsed by the Regents.

1) Systemwide tuition and fees for California resident students are to remain constant for two more years. Following that, modest increases comparable to the rate of inflation are allowed. On the other hand for non-resident students, tuition will increase by 8% in each of the next two years.

2) Increases in the UC base budget are to be the same as the Governor originally proposed, i.e. 4% per year ($119.5M for 2015-16) but are now continued through 2018-2019. This is much less than what the State should contribute to replace cuts since 2007 and is also substantially less than the needs identified in the UC proposed budget for 2015-2016. (Further detail is here).

The May revise also proposes one time funds of $25M for deferred maintenance and $25M for energy efficiency projects.

3) The May revise contains a tepid and ambiguous recognition of a State obligation to UC pensions. One-time funds of $436M spread over three years (with $96M for 2015-16) are proposed. However, this is Proposition 2 money, which can be used only to reduce the UCRP unfunded liability (about $7.6B in the last annual report). The one-time payment is only modestly significant in the long run and has negligible impact on the University’s operating budget in the near term. This is because the University has not planned to increase the UCRP contribution rate above 8% for most employees and 14% for the employer. Contributions at this rate cover only the current year additional liability and some of the interest on the unfunded liability. i.e. at this point, the regular employer and employee payments are making no contribution to retiring the unfunded liability. Thus in near term years, the Proposition 2 money does not reduce the large negative impact on the UC operating budget from regular UCRP contributions. The Proposition 2 money could be framed as a replacement for or enhancement to UC’s own occasional ad hoc payments to reduce the unfunded liability, but these have been very controversial, and UC has not revealed any plans to make another such payment.

Unfortunately this modest one time contribution comes with permanent strings. In return UC is required to introduce yet another tier to UCRP that would apply to new employees. The new tier will mirror state law for other state employees. In this tier, UCRP eligible salaries are to be capped at the inflation indexed PEPRA/Social Security limit ($117k for the current year) rather than with the IRS limit of $265k currently used by UC. Employees in the new tier will have the option of either a defined benefit plan with the new cap and an add-on defined contribution plan to supplement the defined benefits or a fully defined contribution plan. It is this second option that is particularly troubling.

The relative merits of defined contribution and defined benefit plans were thoroughly evaluated and debated during the extended review that led to the 2010 reforms of the UCRP. The conclusion was that a defined benefit plan is the more advantageous option for both the University as an employer and for its employees.

The main concern is not so much that UC has cut a deal on this issue but rather that it has made such a poor deal. For very modest one-time money, it has agreed to make permanent changes to UCRP including offering a completely defined contribution option that will put at risk the whole of the defined benefit plan. (Chris Newfield has previously made similar comments.) In addition the closed process by which this agreement between the Governor and the President was reached has undermined shared governance and collective bargaining.

4) UCOP has stated that the Governor has agreed not to veto additional appropriations for UC that come out of the legislative process. The University is asking legislators for additional funds to increase California resident enrollment.

5) There are several areas in which the President has committed UC to the implementation of additional efficiencies. These include transfers, time-to-degree, advising, and use of technology. Some of these Presidential promises relate to topics that are squarely within the authority of the Academic Senate, and all of them would normally be addressed through shared governance.

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