Spending plan would give $250 million to CSU schools

The Fresno BeeSeptember 24, 2013 

The governing body of California State University schools may ask the state to chip in an extra $250 million next year as part of a plan that keeps tuition rates flat and adds about $100 million to the multiyear budget proposal Gov. Jerry Brown made in January.

CSU trustees met Tuesday in Long Beach to discuss the 2014-15 budget plan, which includes more money to cover costs tied to higher enrollment numbers and rising health care and energy bills at the system's 23 campuses.

The spending plan, which still needs approval from the trustees, Brown and lawmakers, is a big jump from the $142.2 million increase pitched by the governor earlier this year. Including tuition revenue, the trustees' proposal totals $4.4 billion.

Brown asked legislators in January to boost CSU funding by about 5% this year and next year, and about 4% for each of the following two years. Legislators approved a $125.1 million deal for fiscal year 2013-14 — paid in part by voter-approved Proposition 30 dollars — but didn't commit to the long-term spending plan.

CSU officials say they need the extra cash to accommodate growing numbers of students.

The budget plan asks for $160 million to pay for an expected 5% overall enrollment increase, or 20,000 students. More students means new tuition revenue — a projected $85 million — which according to the proposal, will also help offset new costs like adding course offerings.

Robert Turnage, assistant vice chancellor for budget, said taking tuition revenue into account, the state would end up paying about $3,750 for each new student.

"In terms of future payoffs to the state and its economy, it's a worthwhile investment," he said.

Another $90 million in state funds would go toward possible employee pay increases. Clinton Moffitt, associate vice president for financial services at Fresno State, said that could result in an up to 1.5% salary boost for professors and staff.

About $20 million would pay for rising utility and health plan costs and another $50 million would be used to improve graduation rates. The plan also designates $15 million to help cover building repairs and new infrastructure.

Fresno State's slice of the total adds up to roughly $15 million, Moffitt said. The dollars could help update the university's 50-year-old power distribution grid, he said, which may cost upward of $30 million to replace.

The money would also cover costs associated with higher enrollment — 200 more students attend Fresno State this year than the previous, and university officials have said that number could grow in future semesters.

The new dollars would be a boon for those students: If Brown gives the $250 million proposal a nod, and it makes it through legislative budget hurdles, tuition rates would stay flat next school year.

But securing the money isn't a sure bet.

Brown, an ex officio trustee, said the board should temper its expectations and prioritize schools' most pressing needs before adding more students.

"I know you want to keep increasing, but there's also trade-offs," he said at the meeting. "Bottleneck courses may reflect an overreach. … You're trying to do more than you can do."

CSU officials caution that other statewide budget pressures, like dealing with prison overcrowding and paying down firefighting costs after a challenging fire season, could sideline plans to raise higher education funding.

A sluggish state and national economy adds even more uncertainty.

"You always shoot higher than what you think you will get. I don't see it being $(250) million … but there will be a lot of tugs," in both directions, Moffitt said.

The trustees are slated to vote on the plan in November, before sending it to the governor for consideration.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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