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Bills take aim at college costs

Portantino would increase oversight, cut salaries.

December 09, 2010|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

State Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) this week reintroduced into the legislative agenda two bills aimed at improving oversight of, and reigning in costs associated with, California's struggling public higher education system. The bills are part of a multifaceted reform package ultimately intended to balance the state budget.

Assembly Bill 2, a revival of a bill that last year was left to languish in a state Senate committee and was vetoed in 2008 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, would establish a uniform method of measuring the performance and operations of the University of California, Cal State and community college systems.

AB 7, a version of which was held up last year in the Assembly Appropriates Committee, would freeze the salaries of all state workers earning more than $150,000 per year, including hundreds at public colleges.

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"This is good policy that makes good fiscal sense," Portantino said of the bills. "It's critical during a budget crisis that we look for efficiencies, how we can streamline and make the systems work while having discernable goals and objectives coordinated between the three segments [of public higher education]."

In addition to clearer accountability, AB 2 could save money by eliminating reporting redundancies, he said.

Declining state spending on higher education and rising education costs have hammered UC and Cal State students with unprecedented tuition and fee hikes in recent years — the most drastic of them a 32% (about $2,500) increase for UC students in November 2009.

The UC Board of Regents last month approved another 8 percent student-fee increase to take effect next year.

Ten years ago, the state's general fund contributed $14,750 of UC's $20,490 per-pupil spending, according to UC statistics. Last year, the general fund contributed only $7,570 in per-pupil spending that by then had dropped to $15,820, marking the first time public funding had supported less than half of a UC student's education.

Similar declines in public investment into the Cal State system constitute an apparent erosion of public support that former Lt. Gov. and UC Regent John Garamendi has described as an ongoing privatization of public education.

Portantino said a third proposal — his call for a state constitutional amendment enacting a pay-as-you-go budget system that would force legislators to prioritize needs while preventing spending in excess of state revenues — could also benefit the state's public colleges.

"I would like to see the higher-education system become a priority and receive increased investment. The overall health and welfare of our economy is dependent on having an educated workforce," Portantino said.

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