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Bill's Veto Means $800,000 Loss to 3 Colleges in County : Education: The measure would have shifted money from the state's general fund. District's budget assumed it would be signed.

October 04, 1994|JEFF McDONALD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura County's three community colleges must cut $800,000 from an already lean budget because the governor has refused to sign a bill that would have reinstated funding lost to sinking property values.

Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed a bill by Assemblyman Jack O'Connell (D-Carpinteria) that would have diverted millions of dollars from the state's general fund to California's 107 community colleges.

The veto means the Ventura County Community College District will lose $800,000 it was counting on from Sacramento to balance its 1994-95 budget, a $59.6-million spending plan that is $3 million short of what the district spent a year ago.

Trustees for the three-campus district narrowly approved a final budget last month that assumed the governor would sign the bill into law. At the time, administrators said there was nothing left to cut from the budget.

Earlier in the budget process, administrators warned of potential layoffs of part-time teachers and the cancellation of numerous classes if more money could not be found.

But Vice Chancellor Jeff Marsee said Monday that the colleges should be able to cover the latest shortfall without canceling classes or laying off instructors. Come February, however, when another property-tax adjustment is due from Sacramento, such drastic cuts might become necessary, he said.

"In each of the last three years there has been a downward hit" in the February budget adjustments, Marsee said.

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In a letter to the California Assembly, Wilson said he vetoed the bill because it would have permanently taken cash from the state's general fund.

"It would be more prudent to make this decision on a year-by-year basis, rather than putting the budget on an even greater autopilot," Wilson wrote.

But the funding guarantees, as outlined in the O'Connell bill, already extend to the state's elementary and secondary schools as well as the University of California and Cal State University systems.

"It is terrible that the governor is unwilling to honor the budget for community colleges that he himself approved," O'Connell said in a statement.

News of the veto angered at least one of the county's community college board members. Trustee Pete E. Tafoya said Wilson's refusal to sign the bill was another example of the governor's failure to support public education.

"People should pay attention to this come Nov. 8," Tafoya said.

College board President Allan W. Jacobs, who with Tafoya and Trustee Karen M. Boone approved the final budget Sept. 13, said he was confident college administrators would find a way out of the latest budget crisis.

"Out of a $60-million budget, we can certainly find areas that we'll have to reduce or cut back on," Jacobs said. "(But) I don't see any pocket that it could come from directly. It will have to be spread across the whole system."

Both Jacobs and Tafoya said they would not support tapping into a Ventura College bookstore fund of $500,000, a proposal raised last month by Trustee Gregory P. Cole.

Cole and Trustee Timothy D. Hirschberg refused to approve the final budget last month, saying it was unwise to count on the $800,000 when adopting a spending plan.

"There's going to have to be some cuts made, there's no question about that," Cole said Monday. "But I think the whole system has to be overhauled. Many states don't provide the greatly subsidized community colleges that California does."

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Marsee said he would present a series of alternatives to trustees at tonight's meeting of the colleges' governing board, including a plan to use an anticipated $1 million health insurance refund to cover the deficit.

"But some of that money has to be shifted to other obligations," the vice chancellor said. "For immediate needs the money will be handy, but we've still got some downsizing and reorganizing to do."

The district can save an undetermined amount of money by continuing the hiring freeze implemented earlier this year and by not filling the positions of employees who quit or retire, he said.

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