UC budget fight: Brown playing 3D chess, Napolitano playing tic-tac-toe

UC budget fight: Brown playing 3D chess, Napolitano playing tic-tac-toe

Janet_NapolitanoGov. Jerry Brown has upped the stakes in his fight with University of California President Janet Napolitano over who is ultimately in charge of UC budget and tuition decisions.

Napolitano’s success last fall in getting UC regents to approve a five-year, 28 percent tuition hike conditioned on how much state funding UC receives is what triggered the fight.

In his newly released state budget, the governor not only ignored her call for more funding, he indicated a preparedness to micromanage UC over whom it admits. The Los Angeles Times’ George Skelton depicted Brown as having …

… essentially stiffed UC President Janet Napolitano and the regents, who have threatened to raise tuition again unless the state chips in substantially more money.

Brown re-offered only last year’s deal: a 4% increase, or about $120 million, if the university keeps tuition flat. UC previously said that wasn’t enough. “The $120 million is not chump change,” the governor insisted.

And he threw in a new condition: No additional out-of-state students, who pay triple tuition, crowding out California kids. UC was “created by the people of California … for the citizens of the state,” he declared.

The populist quality of his admissions maneuver will serve Brown well politically — even if it goes against his normal posture of budget pragmatism. Out-of-state students pay so much in tuition that they shore up financing for UC and relieve pressure on the state budget.

Brown, Legislature > Napolitano, regents

But the insiders and UC watchers I have spoken with think the governor is playing three-dimensional chess and Napolitano is playing tic-tac-toe.

Brown and the Legislature want to get credit for tuition relief for the middle class. Napolitano wants to have a bigger budget but has yet to convince the public or the media that UC is in dire straits.

The governor just won a landslide re-election by making the case he is a careful fiscal steward of the state. Napolitano has no political base in California after years as governor and attorney general of Arizona and homeland security czar for the Obama administration.

Given these facts and circumstances, it’s difficult to see how Brown can lose this fight. The more interesting question is whether Brown will allow the UC president to save face by making some concessions. To this point, he’s not just content to accept the narrative of her as an adversary, he’s actively encouraging it.

Skelton thinks this may be the end game:

Brown wants to negotiate with Napolitano over university cost-cutting, which could include professors spending more time teaching and less researching.

But that would only be a further humiliation for Napolitano, who has repeatedly declared her intention to keep the UC system as one of the world’s great centers of research.

If Napolitano went along, it would also likely trigger a sharp reaction from the UC Faculty Senate.

The former Arizona gov may already regret challenging the current California gov so directly.

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