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Cal State Fee Hike Opposed in Legislature : Education: Lawmakers cite phone calls and letters criticizing plan for 40% increase. University officials warn of layoffs and elimination of classes.

March 02, 1992|WILLIAM TROMBLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The proposed 40% student fee increase at California State University has encountered stiff opposition in the Legislature, leading Cal State officials to warn that they may have to eliminate more classes and lay off additional staff members next year.

Gov. Pete Wilson's proposed 1992-93 budget includes a $372 hike in Cal State fees--from $1,078 to $1,450 for a full academic year--and the system's board of trustees has approved the increase.

But legislators must approve Cal State fee hikes and opinion is running strongly against the increase.

"It's not going to happen," said Assemblyman Robert J. Campbell (D-Richmond), whose Ways and Means subcommittee handles the budgets for higher education systems.

Campbell and other legislators said they were not influenced by the noisy student demonstration against higher fees at the Capitol last Monday, but that they are paying attention to the phone calls and letters of complaint from students and their bill-paying families.

The governor also proposed a 24% boost in University of California fees to $3,036 a year, but that is encountering less opposition from lawmakers.

This is partly because the percentage is smaller, legislative sources said, and partly because the Legislature has no direct control over the constitutionally independent UC system.

State Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said fee increase objections were ineffective last year, when UC raised student fees 40% and Cal State boosted them 20%, but are likely to carry more weight this year with a recession going on and other student costs rising.

The total cost of attending a UC campus, including room and board, books and other expenses, is $10,249 this year, second-highest among 21 comparable public institutions surveyed by the California Postsecondary Education Commission. Total cost of attendance at a Cal State campus is $7,449, slightly below the average of 16 comparable schools.

Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), has introduced legislation that would limit fee increases to 10% in both higher education systems. To get around the fact that the Legislature cannot set UC fees, the Torres bill calls for reducing the general state appropriation to the UC system by the amount of student fee increases that exceed 10%.

The Torres measure does not appear to have attracted much support among legislators, but neither does there appear to be support for the 40% Cal State increase envisioned by the Wilson budget.

The boost would generate $116 million in additional revenue, one-third of which would be used to provide financial aid for students who could not afford the higher charges.

But, Cal State Chancellor Barry Munitz said, "I am not optimistic" about getting the increase "and that's what worries me. My deepest fear is that half the argument will be won: They'll stop the 40% increase but then they won't give us the backup money to solve the problem that creates."

Munitz is trying to work out a compromise with legislative leaders that would involve a fee increase of about 25%, further cuts in the Cal State budget and the use of $40 million to $50 million from state treasury funds.

That kind of package would close the $219-million gap that legislative analyst Elizabeth Hill said exists in the Cal State budget for next year and it would give the system about $35 million for educational improvements.

The problem is that neither Munitz nor anyone else knows where the new money would come from in a year when the state faces another large deficit.

"The state is bankrupt," said Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. "I have no idea how we're going to balance the budget."

If the fee is limited to 25% and there is no new state money--an outcome that many predict--then class size will grow even larger on the 20 Cal State campuses, more class sections will be cut and it will take even longer for students to earn their degrees.

"That's the worst of both worlds," Munitz said.

This year, Cal State dropped 5,000 course sections, eliminated more than 800 non-teaching jobs and left 644 faculty positions vacant.

Some legislators believe that the 24% fee increase at UC, and the 40% Cal State hike, while painful, are essential to maintain quality in the two systems.

Vasconcellos told a group of Cal State student leaders recently: "If it's a choice between higher fees and reducing food supplies for children, then I'm for higher fees."

"It's easy to say, 'We're against fees, we're against taxes,' but what are the alternatives?" asked Assemblywoman Delaine Eastin (D-Union City), chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee.

State Sen. Becky Morgan (R-Los Altos Hills), vice chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she will vote for the fee increase because "I think our higher education system is still a bargain."

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