Hastings College of the Law may have to kiss another $1.5 million in California state money goodbye next year -- and that's the best-case scenario.
Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a $500 million reduction in state funding to the University of California, among a slew of other cuts, in a news conference Tuesday morning. Hastings is being asked to absorb its equivalent of the 18 percent slash under Brown's budget. The final number would depend on a June special election, when voters will be asked to approve an extension of the current income and sales taxes, among other things. Brown said Tuesday that he'll have to find other combinations to deal with a $25.4 billion budget gap if voters don't pass the tax extensions.
Hastings, which isn't governed by the UC Regents, is a separate line item on the state budget and has already crunched its numbers. David Seward, the school's chief financial officer, said that of the $57 million in the school's 2010-11 budget, about $8.4 million was coming from the state. The cuts would mean the school would get about $6.9 million in public funding next year instead, he said, and that's assuming voters approve Brown's revenue proposals, which could be a long shot. Depending on election results, he said Hastings would have to revisit its expense and revenue plans, which include a 3 percent tuition fee increase.
The school's policy of limited hiring and salary freezes has continued since going into effect in early 2009. The school would try to cut operating expenses before raising fees again, he said. But the most likely scenario if the reductions are even worse than Tuesday's proposal would be a combination of cuts and fee increases.
It's too soon to say exactly what the governor's proposal will mean for UC's other law schools, including Berkeley Law and UC-Davis School of Law. UC President Mark Yudof responded to the governor's proposals Tuesday with an open letter to California in which he noted that it's the first time in history that UC student tuition payments would be higher than the state's contribution to the higher education system. Yudof said he'd prefer not to raise tuition fees and to try to leave financial aid programs unchanged. He's giving each of the 10 chancellors six weeks to come up with plans to grapple with budget reduction targets. Those will trickle down to individual law schools.
"With the governor's budget, as proposed, we will be digging deep into bone," Yudof wrote. "The physics of the situation cannot be denied -- as the core budget shrinks, so must the university."
State support has been dropping steeply for the past decade. Hastings' Seward said that 10 years ago, half the school's total budget came from taxpayers. Five years ago, it dropped to 28 percent. The latest cut puts state funding at 12 percent. "It's not as significant a number as it once was, but it still is a very important source of revenue and allows us to charge fees below those of other law schools," Seward said. Still, the writing is on the wall: "We need to become a self-supporting public institution," Seward said. "It's not a question of if, it's just a question of when."