U. California System, Cal Grants Escape Cuts in Governor’s Budget

By Javier Panzar

California’s public university systems saw a reprieve Friday as they escaped Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budgetary axe in his revision of the state budget.

In a budget filled with massive spending cuts, service reductions and the outright elimination of the state’s welfare-to-work program, CalWORKs, both the U. California and California State U. systems saw increases in funding. Additionally, previous cuts to the Cal Grant financial aid program were rescinded.

The competitive Cal Grant award, which faced elimination in Schwarzengger’s January budget, will now be fully funded to the tune of $45 million. Other proposed cuts – including $111 million in enrollment growth funds for the UC and CSU systems and $75 million from Cal Grants – “will no longer be considered as budget solution options under any circumstances,” according to the budget summary.

Diana Fuentes-Michel, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, which administers the Cal Grant awards, said though she is pleased with the level of funding, she is aware that the funds are tenuous and as the state faces a $19.9 billion deficit, more cuts could come.

“I am concerned because I know that the budgeting process is a process of negotiation, and everything needs to be on the table, in terms of options for resolving this problem,” she said.

The budget revision now faces the scrutiny of the state Legislature, where it will require a two-thirds majority in both houses before it can be signed into law. In past years, the Legislature has failed to muster the necessary votes before its June 30 budget deadline.

This year’s proposal has already prompted condemnation from top Democratic leaders. In a press conference following the budget’s release, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, called the revision and its $12.4 billion dollars in cuts a “non-starter.”

Schwarzenegger has called the cuts “tough choices” that are necessary given the size and scope of the state’s budget deficit.

“California no longer has low-hanging fruits,” he said during a press conference. “As a matter of fact, we don’t have any medium-hanging fruits. We also don’t have any high-hanging fruits. We literally have to take the ladder away from the tree and shake the whole tree.”

Nonetheless, Schwarzenegger has kept previous promises to preserve funding for higher education.

The proposed budget also includes $355 million in capital facility construction funds for the UC system, which according to a statement released by UC Vice President for Budget Patrick Lenz would “create 3,300 private sector jobs associated with the building and construction.”

Victor Sanchez, president of the UC Student Association, who, along with UC President Mark Yudof, led a coalition of students and administrators on a joint lobby effort in March, called the budget “bittersweet.”

While the Cal Grant awards are fully funded and the UC system retained its level of funding from January, he said the cuts to social services are disheartening and reflect the need for budgetary reform.

“It sucks when a victory feels like a loss,” Sanchez said. “We need to know the state is in a very difficult position, and we need to push our leaders to come up with new alternative forms of revenue. Everything has to be on the table, including taxes.”

Read more here: http://www.dailycal.org/article/109472/uc_system_cal_grants_escape_cuts_in_governor_s_bud
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