Governor Jerry Brown has been rightfully praised for his fiscal prudence and discipline. Sometimes, however, it is possible to be Pound wise and Penny foolish. That would appear to be the case with the Governor’s veto of legislation to provide $100 million for the University of California and the California State University system.
The money would have gone for pressing deferred maintenance at the UC and CSU campuses. This isn’t glamourous stuff, but we can’t afford to neglect the facilities and infrastructure that support the academic necessities on our campuses. As we all know, delayed maintenance results in costs that grow exponentially. The veto of the $100 million that was earmarked for the campuses is likely to result in future costs in the hundreds of millions.
We understand the Governor’s desire to hold the line on spending, particularly as California faces unanticipated costs attributable to the drought and wildfires, but failure to deal with urgent maintenance needs on the campuses will inevitably result in new unanticipated costs that could have been avoided.
Part of the problem is the way the higher education funding was handled in the Budget process. The dollars for higher education deferred maintenance were included in the 2014-15 State Budget passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Brown. There was a catch, however. The availability of the money was tied to a projected property tax revenue surplus that that failed to materialize. Since overall State General Fund revenues exceeded projects by $500 million, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins pushed an amendment late in the legislative session to restore $50 million for the University of California and $50 million for State University system and to make the monies available annually provided General Fund revenues reach certain targets. That was the funding the Governor has vetoed.
Basic maintenance and infrastructure costs are not optional and shouldn’t be tied to unrelated revenue streams. In his veto message, the Governor said that “making investments to maintain the State’s aging infrastructure” remains a priority for his administration. Hopefully, the Governor, the Legislature and the higher education systems will get together early and make sure that these needs are addressed once and for all as the new Budget cycle begins.
Higher education is one of our state’s greatest strengths, both in terms of the economy and our quality of life. State financial support for our colleges and universities has lagged miserably over the past three decades. Crumbling campuses can’t begin to meet the needs of a great system of higher education. We can and must do better.
Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman (R) is a former California State Senate Leader and Assemblyman, and Levine (D) is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman. Please visit yestohighered.org