College reacts to budget cuts
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to veto the budget deal, saying the plan will cut spending too little, raise taxes and fees too much and shortchange economic stimulus programs.
The plan promises to raise $5.7 billion in general fund revenue with a temporary half-cent-per-dollar increase in the sales tax, a severance tax on oil production in the state and a new surcharge on the state income tax.
Democratic lawmakers criticized the governor for promising to veto the package which they say will solve nearly half of the projected $40 billion budget deficit over the next 18 months.
The bill passed using a loophole in the two-thirds majority needed to pass a raise in taxes, which the governor said he approved of.
Since the proposal is a “revenue-neutral” bill, meaning that some taxes are cut while others are raised the same amount, it could be passed with a simple majority vote.
Spending reductions in the approved budget plan include $2.5 million in mid-year cuts to schools, less than half of the deep cuts which would have been felt by state schools if the Republican proposal would have passed.
“I am happy with the decision; it recognizes how critical community colleges are, especially in a struggling economy,” said Lassen College President Doug Houston.
“The state is in a difficult position, and there are no easy answers. On behalf of the students of this county, I think it is not going to be the answer to the state’s problems to cut into apportionment. But these are more responsible, manageable cuts, and I am satisfied with the outcome,” said Houston.
“I am a fiscally conservative person myself, and as much as I cringe at the idea of any sort of tax increases, if they are temporary, I can certainly support that,” said Houston.
Community colleges across the state have been watching the legislature’s every move the past month, anticipating deep cuts to funding.
A previous legislative Republican proposal of a $10.6 billion, 14 percent cut in funding over the next 18 months offered at the Dec. 16 special session prompted protests from community college students across the state.
Beginning as early as 8 a.m. Wednesday, December 17, students from nearly every community college in the state participated in an organized fax- day protest, all simultaneously faxing a 216-page state-wide petition to the cuts to the offices of lawmakers involved in the decision.
Lassen College Student Senate Region One President Abel Ramos, Senator Christian Younger, and the LCC Associated Student Body participated in the statewide event.
Younger said the group inundated the offices of governor Schwarzenegger, assembly member Dan Louge and state senator Dave Cox throughout the day, beginning at 8 a.m.
In addition to the 216-page petition, Younger said LCC students also signed a separate 60-page petition, which was included in the fax protest.
On the day following the mass protest, LCC ASB received an e-mail from Logue’s office, saying the assembly member would like to personally speak with LCC ASB representatives to hear their concerns. No tentative date was set, but Louge said he would contact the ASB office after the holiday season.
Both Houston and Younger said they are sure the advocacy efforts of students across the state helped influence the decision made by the legislature.
Erik Skinner, vice chancellor for fiscal policy at the California Community Colleges’ Chancellor's Office, said the main message behind the advocacy efforts is that California community colleges are the key to California’s economic recovery.
“As the largest provider of workforce training in California, we offer more than 175 degree and certificate programs in hundreds of vocational fields. Our short-term vocational programs prepare students for new careers in good paying jobs in a matter of months,” said Skinner.
Houston agreed, calling the community college system the “economic engine of the state.”
“In my 18 years in the community college system, it is my experience that when the economy takes a downturn, community college enrollment increases because people begin to look for ways to compete in a difficult job market. Cutting funding for the schools will prevent a future workforce from being trained,” said Houston.
The passing of the Democratic package is what most community colleges across the state were hoping for as the approved budget minimizes the effects to community college funding by more than half.
Houston said the 4-5 percent cuts the college would feel from the approved Democratic package will be much easier to swallow than the Republican-proposed package, which would cause the school to begin turning students away.
“Honestly, we can weather a 4-5 percent cut. It will be painful, but we can make it. Most importantly, we can make it without turning away students. But a 14 percent cut, we just could not endure without having to turn away students, which is exactly what we do not want to do,” said Houston.
He said LCC’s spring enrollments are up from this time last year, and overall, enrollment has been up 6 percent for this year. If the governor does protest the approved budget and a larger cut to community college is passed, some of those students enrolled in spring courses will be told they cannot be accommodated.
Houston said he fears for the future of LCC and community colleges across the state if the passed budget is contested and the legislature meets in January to discuss implementing the proposed Republican cuts.
“My fear is that excessive mid-year cuts will be far more onerous for the college. Students are already enrolled, and we have already provided services. If the current 4-5 percent cut stays, we can make it without turning students away, and we will have the next year to prepare for possible deeper cuts in the following academic year,” said Houston.
“But if we begin the semester thinking that we are fully funded, and find out half-way through the semester that our funding is cut (because the governor has contested the budget), I am not inclined to turn away students who are already taking classes. At that point, we would have to dip into already thin reserves to deal with apportionment shortfalls in the spring and summer semesters. Obviously, our preference is not to dip into those reserves,” said Houston.
According to a November analysis by the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, if the $10.6 billion Republican proposed budget cuts are implemented, community colleges would be forced to turn away nearly 300,000 current students, an average loss of one in ten students at state community colleges which will exacerbate California’s growing unemployment rate, currently at 8.2 percent.
“Lassen College has turned a corner in a lot of ways. We are in a growth pattern, enrollments are increasing, and we could balance the budget within the next year, but only if the cuts are as minimal as possible,” he said.
As of press time, Senate President Darrell Steinberg said he plans to meet with the governor in an attempt to reconcile their differences on the budget.
To make your voice heard on this issue, contact our area’s state legislators, Dan Logue at (916) 319-2003 or Dave Cox at (916) 651-4001.
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