Commentary: Cuts To Higher Education While Inevitable Turn Our Back On Promises to the Next Generation

higher-ed-cutsSomeone wrote with regards to the threats to UC Davis facing serious cutbacks due to the budget, “This is too bad, no doubt. But I think Californians need to realize that the State does not OWE them a college education.”

Actually, that was the pledge the State of California made back in 1961 when it formed the CSU system, creating an affordable system to allow everyone who had the desire to go to college.

When I point out that not only does the state owe people a college education, which is something that they have promised dating back to the 1950s, from an investment standpoint, it’s the best way we could be spending money.

Perhaps unaware of the pledge, the same individual or someone else responded, “Please show me where it’s in the law that the state owes people a college education?”

And then added, “This all comes down to there’s no money left because the Democrats have thrown our money at the public unions for political paybacks. They have sold us out so some of the things Californians took for granted are going to go away. Get used to it, you aren’t owed anything.”

Actually, I very much disagree.  Young people are owed a college education, if we wish to have the kind of workforce that can continue to propel us into the field.

But the other part of the statement is telling – it is the example of the lie told often enough, that people believe it as though it were fact.

It is true that under a Democratic legislature and a Democratic Governor under Gray Davis, the Democrats did deliver the only real pay increase that public sector employees had had in the last 30 years.  And it is also true that pensions were increased.

What is not true is that that is the reason we are where we are.  The numbers just do not add up.

We have cut tens of billions from the state budget over the last three years, plus much of it to education and to assistance to lower income people.

State employees, under the direct control of the Governor and legislature, amount to only $24.4 billion.  When you have budget deficits that are in the tens of billions you know it is not simply to due to increased spending to public employees.

That money includes all the money going to UC and CSU, that includes all of the money that goes to incarcerating the state’s 160,000 convicted felons, it includes all of the money for the Highway Patrol, State Parks, and the state agencies.

That is not what created the huge budget deficits.

Wrote LA Times columnist George Skelton last June, “One persistent myth about the perpetually bleeding state budget is that it’s all the fault of public employee unions.”

Wriote Mr. Skelton, the true culprit is more complicated.  “California’s budget nightmare stems from a devil’s brew of sins: lack of discipline on both spending and tax-cutting in the past; an outdated and unreliable tax system too susceptible to economic booms and busts; the unhealthy dependence of local governments on Sacramento; and a dysfunctional state budgeting process that requires a gridlock-generating two-thirds majority vote.”

Many people believe that Sacramento could make its ends meet by cutting the salaries of state employees by 10%.  In point of fact, last year, most state employees have seen their salaries decline by a lot more than that, on average about 14% through furloughs. However, as Mr. Skelton pointed out, the state remained deep in the red.

The problem is too big to come from just one place and indeed, last June, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that California’s spending was at a forty-year low.

According to the Department of Finance, state spending per $100 of personal income is at its lowest level in nearly 40 years.

The LAO concluded that the recession, rather than spending, is the primary cause of California’s budget deficit. 

Where does this leave us?  It leaves us in a huge mess that will not be easy to fix without greatly impacting the future.

On Friday, one person asked why Democrats are not screaming about the cuts to social services.  The answer is that many are, but what good does it really do?  The budget has to be balanced, the state is not making enough revenue.  The Republican alternative, which largely does not exist, is an all-cuts budget that would cut more steeply from the programs many would like to preserve.

Until the economy turns around there is not much we can do other than hope that we have not sacrificed too much of our future through cuts to education, colleges and social services.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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5 Comments

  1. J.R.

    You are making an elementary, though not uncommon, mistake.

    You think that because many successful people are college educated, that sending more people to college will make more people successful. Yet several recent studies show the contrary.

    There is evidence that we are sending too many people to college. We are likely in a college “bubble” not unlike the housing bubble. Students are coming out of four years of college with degrees in worthless majors, no job prospects, and often large debt.

    And despite your repetitious claims that public employees are not the source of the budget problems, the facts say otherwise. The vast bulk of public spending goes to salaries, either directly as you list, or indirectly as through the money sent via Prop 98.

  2. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “State employees, under the direct control of the Governor and legislature, amount to only $24.4 billion. When you have budget deficits that are in the tens of billions you know it is not simply to due to increased spending to public employees.
    That money includes all the money going to UC and CSU, that includes all of the money that goes to incarcerating the state’s 160,000 convicted felons, it includes all of the money for the Highway Patrol, State Parks, and the state agencies.”

    Does this figure include teachers? Bc teachers are also state workers…

  3. medwoman

    JR and DMG

    I feel that the problem that you are citing is not so much a matter of sending too few or too many people to college but may reflect a poor distribution of degrees. I can only cite my own field with any authority but feel this problem widely affects not only medicine but also fields such as physics and engineering.
    The problem is one of inadequate numbers of, in my example, medical school slots, which ultimately results in the need to hire foreign medical school grads. While many are fine physicians and it is a great opportunity for them, this is one opportunity denied to an equally qualified American graduate. This is a complex issue in which more than just numbers of students will need to be assessed.

  4. Frankly

    [i]”Wrote LA Times columnist George Skelton last June, “One persistent myth about the perpetually bleeding state budget is that it’s all the fault of public employee unions.”[/i]

    Arg!

    Useless journalistic litter… it is not “ALL THE FAULT” of any one person or organization. However, the culprit is the increased high cost of public-sector labor, and the unions have worked tirelessly to ramp up pay and benefits for their members.

    [i]”According to the Department of Finance, state spending per $100 of personal income is at its lowest level in nearly 40 years.”[/i]

    Arg2!

    This is a crafty and disingenuous metric meant to infer that Californians are paying less to government than 40 years ago. We don’t need to go back that far to see the real problem:

    Year / Budget / Increase / GDP-Growth
    1991-92 / 55.7
    1992-93 / 57.0 / 2.33% / -0.2%
    1993-94 / 52.1 / -8.60% / -0.4%
    1994-95 / 57.5 / 10.36% / 1.9%
    1995-96 / 56.8 / -1.22% / 4.0%
    1996-97 / 61.5 / 8.27% / 4.0%
    1997-98 / 67.2 / 9.27% / 13.7%
    1998-99 / 71.9 / 6.99% / 14.0%
    1999-00 / 81.3 / 13.07% / 7.8%
    2000-01 / 99.4 / 22.26% / 7.5%
    2001-02 / 103.3 / 3.92%/ 0.1%
    2002-03 / 98.9 / -4.26% / 2.0%
    2003-04 / 98.9 / 0.00% / 3.1%
    2004-05 / 105.5 / 6.67% / 4.7%
    2005-06 / 117.3 / 11.18% / 4.3%
    2006-07 / 131.4 / 12.02% / 3.3%
    2007-08 / 146.5 / 11.49% / 1.8%

    The growth in state government spending far exceeded the state’s growth in economic output.

  5. E Roberts Musser

    medwoman: “The problem is one of inadequate numbers of, in my example, medical school slots, which ultimately results in the need to hire foreign medical school grads. While many are fine physicians and it is a great opportunity for them, this is one opportunity denied to an equally qualified American graduate. This is a complex issue in which more than just numbers of students will need to be assessed.”

    You make a good point. What we are doing is educating people from other countries at the expense of our own young citizens, particularly in the sciences where there is a huge shortage of qualified candidates. Yet the UC system has stated they will do this more and more to bring in the necessary dollars to fund higher education. The universities are damned if they do, damned if they don’t, notwithstanding some of the wasteful spending that has gone on by the universities themselves, e.g new stadium…

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