5 California Ballot Measures Fail, Making Deeper Cuts to Higher Education Likely

May 20, 2009

San Francisco — California voters rejected five ballot measures on Tuesday that were designed to help close the state’s budget deficit, leaving its public colleges and universities facing additional cuts of up to 10 percent in the support they receive from the state.

The measures, Propositions 1A through 1E, were each rejected by more than 60 percent of voters. A sixth measure, to freeze salaries for lawmakers and other top state officials in deficit years, was overwhelmingly approved.

The rejected propositions sought to increase borrowing and extend new taxes to close about $6-billion out of the state’s estimated $21-billion budget gap. One measure, Proposition 1B, would also have promised about $1-billion to the state’s community-college system, starting in 2011.

The failure of those ballot measures will probably deepen cuts in state support for student aid and the public college and university systems.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, proposed this month that the University of California and California State University systems each see a 10-percent reduction in state support if the deficit-closing measures failed. Federal stimulus funds would offset some of those cuts in the next fiscal year, but Mark G. Yudof, president of the University of California, said last week that the cuts would still have a “devastating effect” on the university.

“If these cuts are implemented,” Mr. Yudof said, “we will have to look at a wide variety of unpleasant options to close our budget gap in the coming years — from enrollment and student-fee levels to class sizes, academic program offerings, and availability of campus services for students, in addition to pay reductions or furloughs for our employees.”

Community colleges would see a budget cut of about $800-million in state support under Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal, according to Scott Lay, president of the Community College League of California. The budget proposal is the worst officials at the community-college system have seen in decades, Mr. Lay said.

The ballot measures dealing with the deficit were unpopular with the public as soon as they were introduced, despite warnings from Governor Schwarzenegger and other state officials that their failure would sink the state deeper into financial crisis. The proposals also divided the state’s higher-education establishment, with one measure, Proposition 1A, receiving support from leaders of the community-college and university systems but heavy criticism from faculty associations at Cal State and the University of California. —Josh Keller