Anthony Cannella: Reforms needed to make UC affordable

November 5, 2013 

As a father of four, I know how difficult it can be for working and middle-class families to save enough each month to send their children to a four-year college, even if they plan ahead. In Sacramento, I’m committed to bipartisan efforts that will make California’s universities more affordable and improve our institutions’ financial outlook for future generations.

Even as the economy improves in some parts of our state, poor decisions have created a financial liability at the University of California that threatens the institution’s ability to provide a quality, affordable education to our children.

During the last decade, tuition costs at UC campuses have tripled, making those schools unaffordable for an untold number of deserving students. State budget cutbacks have contributed to some of those increases, but that’s not the whole story.

In the early ’90s, lawmakers and UC administrators began a 20-year “holiday” during which they stopped making contributions to the UC Retirement Plan, hoping that the Internet-fueled stock-market craze would maintain adequate funding for retirees, who now face a $10 billion shortfall.

During those same 20 years, UC brought on far more administrators and middlemen than professors, teachers, or support staff – creating a high-priced bureaucracy that doesn’t benefit students, their parents or UC hospital patients. According to The Sacramento Bee, “UC today has more than 9,000 senior administrators – an ever-wider mix of associate and assistant vice presidents, deans and directors – compared with 5,400 a decade ago. UC now has more senior administrators than full-time, tenure-track faculty – whose ranks have flattened at 8,500.”

At the time I attended UC Davis, there were twice as many professors and teaching faculty as there were administrators.

Similarly, the number of UC employees receiving salaries higher than California’s governor has skyrocketed to nearly 8,000. And, as of 2012, there were more than 2,100 UC retirees taking home annual pension payouts of greater than $100,000 – some as high as $300,000 – and, according to the Associated Press, that number grew 30 percent since 2010 and is still climbing.

So what can we do about this mess? First, we need to realign the system’s priorities with its responsibilities to the taxpayers who passed Proposition 30 in November 2012.

The pension system is a good place to start. No public institution that receives taxpayer dollars should be shelling out six-figure annual payouts to its highest-paid employees.

Those resources would be far better spent holding down tuition, offering more scholarships or improving patient care. Capping these payouts would mean millions of dollars in savings.

Another part of the solution is Senate Bill 58, legislation I’ve authored that will hold tuition at UC schools steady until 2019, when temporary tax measures approved by voters last year (Proposition 30) will end. Voters agreed to increase sales and income taxes only to avoid budget cuts and tuition hikes at elementary schools and universities; yet, because of UC’s fiscal mismanagement, there’s already been pressure to continue increasing student tuition. Administrators at California State University and community college campuses across the state have done a much better job holding spending in line; it’s time for UC to get on board.

While solutions to UC’s problems may appear self-evident to many of us in the Legislature, it’s important to remember that under our state constitution, UC enjoys a tremendous amount of autonomy in its decision-making. There are limits to how much lawmakers can affect UC budgeting and policymaking by themselves.

That’s why it is incumbent upon all of us – elected officials, students, workers, patients, alumni, donors and everyday taxpayers – to become vigilant watchdogs and tireless advocates for reform at UC.

This week, together with Democratic Assemblyman Richard Pan from Sacramento, UC workers, students and others, we are announcing the formation of a new coalition that will organize and engage our neighbors to do just that. It’s called TakeBackUC.org.

If the Proposition 30 campaign taught us anything, it’s that taxpayers are committed to UC and recognize its value to our economy, our health care delivery system, and the aspirations of millions of everyday Californians.

But we cannot allow that to be the end of the discussion. We must ensure that our preeminent public university honors the public’s trust.

Cannella, R-Ceres, represents the 12th Senate District, which includes all of Merced County and parts of Stanislaus, Madera, San Benito and Monterey counties.

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