Don't Cut Higher Ed. And Don't Ask Me to Pay More!

Comments (14)

Say what you will about Californians, but when it comes to their desires and demands about government services, they are consistently inconsistent.

A newly released statewide poll shows that while large majorities of residents are angry... even downright depressed... about the funding of public colleges and universities, most are unwilling to pay any additional taxes to solve the problem.

The new survey from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California finds a whopping 74% of respondents, across all political persuasions, believe that not enough is now being spent on higher education. And 62% say that after several years of deep cuts in higher ed -- capped off by a $1.5 billion cut this past year -- California's once praised colleges and universities are headed in the wrong direction.

But what to do? Here's how the PPIC puts it:

Despite Californians' worries about the fiscal situation in higher education, 52 percent of residents are unwilling to pay higher taxes to maintain current funding, while 45 percent would do so. Likely voters are divided (49% yes, 49% no). Most Democrats (63%) would pay higher taxes, while most independents (55%) and Republicans (71%) would not.

This isn't the first time that a poll's found voters demanding more spending without paying more in taxes. Quite the contrary: that contradiction, even when additional tax dollars are generally seen as necessary, has appeared in major polls for several years running.

But what's especially puzzling about this survey is how many of those polled say the community college, CSU, and UC systems are a "high" or "very high" priority -- 70% -- but how few would pay additional dollars to maintain even current funding.

So how should state lawmakers maintain current funding or even increase it to the levels of a few years ago?

Increase student fees? 69% say no.
Admit more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition? 52% say yes... unless it means fewer slots for in-state kids, in which case only 20% say yes.

Only finding money for higher ed construction projects through selling bonds (borrowing) finds majority support, with 58% of those polled approving.

Critics of additional taxes will no doubt say that there are other places in the state budget to save money and redirect it to higher education; even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger pretty much solidified that notion in his 2010 trial balloon idea to link higher ed and prison spending.

The poll also seems to suggest a slight skepticism from the public about how colleges and universities are spending their existing dollars. PPIC finds a 10% drop in approval for CSU and 8% for UC since the question was last asked in 2007. And 65% of those polled express concern about recent tuition hikes enacted in response to state budget cuts, which today's news is only likely to exacerbate.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • Stella

    The problem we have is bad citizenship.  Contrary to what we may think, this is an affliction that crosses class lines. To be a citizen of a just society we all have to be realistic and accept  to pay our fair share.  Most people have little understanding how taxation works and how we pay for local and state government services.  Most voters vote for their pocket book and not for the social good.  

  • Amy

    The problem is that tax rates are increasing and the median income for 99% of Californians is decreasing. The cost of living in general is going up while people’s incomes are not. You can’t expect people to be happy about paying for the massive increase in tution rates in the last 5 years alone while the national government is bailing out criminal corporates. Not to mention that California is increasing the pay to it’s staff in the midst of all of this. Bottom line…the average person has been tightening spending since the recession and the government should be too!

  • Amy

    The California *Sentate is increasing the pay to it’s staff.

  • Anonymous

    Its the media that represents taxpayers position as cross purpose. Cut salaries and benefits of public employees that grew alongside two bubble economies and alot of corrupt politics and are consuming 80+% of expenses in most every public agency. Every public agency employee needs to wake up to this fact (and ignore their union bosses). Not doing this causes layoffs and makes economic recovery less likely. And again the so called fourth estate needs to exit their closed feedback lairs and open their institutions to diversity….of views!!!!!

  • Ash Roughani

    You’re right, but it’s also the case that we lack leaders with sufficient political courage to explain the reality of inevitable trade-offs of fiscal and policy choices.  Instead they hear one-sided talking points about tax loopholes or the proverbial “waste, fraud, and abuse.”

  • John Myers, KQED

    Ann: Given I’m likely the only journalist to reply to your comments, I should point out that there’s not a single credible analysis I’ve seen that shows the salaries & benefits of public employees are “consuming 80+% of expenses in most every public agency.”

    If you’ve got a source for that claim, I’d be happy to look at it.

    Keep in mind that state workers took pay cuts, via furloughs, of 15% or so of pay in the last few years. As for pensions, there’s likely little (or, as some suggest, zero) legal authority to change pension benefits for current workers.

    I don’t think those of us in the news media are unfairly presenting the voters as being inconsistent. I think the polling itself presents that conclusion. California voters have said in statewide nonpartisan polls during 2011 that they want education (K-12 and higher ed) off limits from cuts. They’ve also said they want programs for the poor protected. Those areas, alone, represent about 80 cents of every dollar spent/appropriated by state lawmakers.

    Voters have said they want to cut prison spending… though that opinion may be tested by Gov. Brown’s realignment program. Even so, corrections represents less than 10% of the current state general fund budget.

    To demand protection (or in some cases increases) for 80% of the state budget but refuse additional taxes… and also balance the books (as required by law) strikes many smart people as a fantasy. As a statehouse reporter, I’m agnostic on whether it’s cuts, taxes, or some combination… but I think the press has a responsibility to point out that the voters seem to want it all.

  • Anonymous

    Nobody’s perfect, but some
    higher education chancellors are much less perfect as stewards of public funds than
    others. University
    of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau
    ($450,000 salary) has forgotten he is a steward of public money, not overseer
    of his own fiefdom.


    UC Chancellor Birgeneau does
    not have a grip on financial realities. Trust the evidence.

    Pays ex Michigan governor
    $300,000 for lectures

    Tuition increases
    exceed national average rate of increase. 

    University accrues $150 million of
    inefficiencies over his 8 year reign

    Recruits (using
    tax $) foreign students who pay $50,600 and displace qualified Californians.

    $7,000,000 + for consultants to do the work of senior Cal. management.      

    (Prominent East Coast
    University accomplishes same 0 cost).

     In procuring $3,000,000 consultants failed to receive
    proposals from other firms.

    enrollment drops out of state jump 2010(Krupnick Contra Costa Times).

    Best in nation rank: # 70 Forbes.

    Academic rank: QS academic falls below top ten.

    Tuition to Return on Investment drops below

    Cal now is most expensive public university.

    NCAA: absence
    senior management oversight, basketball program on probation.


    all shameful. There is no justification for such irregularities by a steward of
    the public trust. If UC chancellors don’t understand financial stewardship they
    have no business in a public office. 


    Chancellor Birgeneau’s self-indulgent
    practices continue. University of California Board of Regents Chair Sherry
    Lansing must vigorously enforce financial oversight of Birgeneau. Only then
    will confidence of Alumni, donors, legislators, Californians return.


    agenda is transparency. I have 35 years’ consulting experience; have taught at
    UC Berkeley, where I observed the culture & the way senior management works.
    No, I was not fired or downsized & have not solicited contracts from UC/Cal).


    is the opinion that can make the difference, email UC Board of Regents

  • Teaking37

    I live in California and my son went to UC Berkeley. If I could pay more in taxes and be assured it would go to fund higher education, I would do it in a heartbeat. We need to support our universities, and we need to find a way to do it without our politicians have any discretion on how to spend it. 

  • Guest

    That’s earmarking funds.  In other words tying legislators’ hands.  And the fact of the matter is that about 80% of the budget is already spoken for.  That’s what makes the cuts so hard: the legislature can only cut those programs (like higher ed) that are not included in the 80% auto-pilot budget as enacted by us voters.  So yes, if our taxes go up a lot of that money will go for education.  you know that because we have already tied the Legislature’s hands to such an extent that they have very, very little autonomy when it comes tot he budget. 

  • jskdn

    While not all public agencies spend 80+% of their budgets on salaries and benefits, schools do. I think you can source that at School Services of California, which many if not most districts rely on for fiscal  information. And schools are the largest expenditure in the state budget.

    Whether you are right about pensions being untouchable or not, should taxpayers send more money to government than is needed to provide a decent pension for government employees, and one that in almost all cases would exceed that of the private sector taxpayer that has to pay for the government pension? What moral rationale is there for government employees as a privileged class?

    Furloughs are not pay cuts, they are work cuts. And since benefits are a large part of compensation of government employees, and they largely remain the same, total compensation per work day goes up.

    It’s undeniable that the vast majority of people polled will not understand the California state budget. Even people who pay close attention struggle to understand the kind a machinations that take place in California government budgeting. But often the kind of questions those polled are asked don’t necessarily reflect an accurate picture of what’s real, if that is even possible given the complexity of this state’s budgeting, or all the choices that could be considered. Pollsters make choices about what to ask and sometimes those choices reflect their and/or the news media’s prevailing biases.

    Of course if the news media can put its biases aside and its obsession with the politics of everything, and do the extremely hard job of explanatory journalism around public policy, attempting to give citizens an accurate understanding of the world from which they can act, that could help. 

  • Guest

    “While not all public agencies spend 80+% of their budgets on salaries and benefits, schools do.”

    So are you advocating fewer teachers?

    “Furloughs are not pay cuts, they are work cuts.”

    True.  You ended up paying less for less service.  As a result, it now takes several months for someone who pays to have a license issued actually get a license.  And that’s not even mentioning all the stuff that got in the news–like roads breaking down while caltrans is on furlough with the result that thousands of people simply didn’t make it to work that day.

    Again, is this the kind of solution you think we should have more of? 

  • Guest

    I forgot to mention in my previous.  You will probably have heard that yesterday a Vallejo policeman was shot and killed while pursuing a suspect who was armed and dangerous.  You may have noticed that the policeman in question did not have back-up and that it appears that he was by himself in the patrol car.  If you have read Michael Lewis’ Boomerang (or even Vanity Fair’s California and Bust) which profile Vallejo you will know why that is: Vallejo can’t afford more cops.  So while you are right: about 80% of any program’s budget does indeed go for salaries and wages (so 80% of education’s salary goes to pay teachers, 80% of crime fighting salary goes for cops, etc.) what you seem to be forgetting are the consequences of cutting.  People literally die.

  • Anonymous

    University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau hijack’s
    our kids’ futures. I love University
    of California (UC) having been a student & lecturer. But today I am
    concerned that at times I do not recognize the UC I love. Like so many I am
    deeply disappointed by the pervasive failures of Regent Chairwoman Lansing,
    President Yudof, Chancellor Birgeneau from holding the line on rising costs
    & tuition increases

    Chancellor Birgeneau
    has molded Cal.
    into the most expensive public university. Paying more is not a better

    Californians are
    reeling from 19% unemployment (includes: those forced to work part time; those
    no longer searching), mortgage defaults, loss of unemployment benefits. And those
    who still have jobs are working longer for less. Faculty
    wages must reflect California’s
    ability to pay, not what others are paid.

    Current pay increases
    for generously paid University
    of California Faculty is
    arrogance. Instate tuition consumes 14% of Ca. Median Family Income!

    Paying more is not a
    better education. UC Berkeley(# 70 Forbes) tuition increases exceed the
    national average rate of increases.

    UC President Yudof, Cal.
    Chancellor Birgeneau($450,000 salary) dismissed many much needed cost-cutting
    options. They did not consider freezing vacant faculty positions, increasing
    class size, requiring faculty to teach more classes, doubling the time between
    sabbaticals, cutting & freezing pay & benefits for chancellors &
    reforming pensions & the health benefits.

    They said such
    faculty reforms “would not be healthy for UC”. Exodus of faculty,
    administrators? Who can afford them and where would they go?

    We agree it is far
    from the ideal situation, but it is in the best interests of the university
    system & the state to stop cost increases. UC cannot expect to do business
    as usual: raising tuition; granting pay raises & huge bonuses during a weak
    economy that has sapped state revenues & individual Californians’ income.

    There is no
    question the necessary realignments with economic reality are painful. Regent Chairwoman Lansing can bridge the public trust
    gap with reassurances that salaries & costs reflect California’s ability to pay. The sky above UC will not fall when Chancellor Birgeneau is ousted.


    Opinions? Email the UC Board
    of Regents



  • Mamsa1991

    I wonder how many who vote no for taxes to support education got their education in CA pre prop. 13, or didn’t have to pay outlandish fees for public education. This is the only country in the world that does not support public education. Californian’s are greedy; they want something for nothing. Eduction is the future for this state; we should go back to pre prop. 13 taxes, and certainly all the wealthy in this state, who are not taxed as they should be, should quit finding loopholes and pay taxes. What a shame middle class families who work, pay taxes and have kids, cannot afford to put their kids in public universities, or worse yet, the  kids who manage loans come out of college close to $100,000 in debt. Wake up people, California’s education system is sliding into the toilet, and all of us who live here will pay the consequences. Without an educated state, the tax base will drop even lower. Get involved, come spend time at some of the UC or CSU or community colleges and see what has happened to education. If we can bail out Wall Street and the banks, we can certainly do more to assure our kids and state they education remains a fiscal priority.