Interview with Governor Brown

Courtesy of the Daily Bruin

On Oct. 16, Highlander Editor-in-Chief Chris LoCascio and News Editor Sandy Van joined student newspapers from seven University of California campuses for an interview with Governor Jerry Brown on the UCLA campus. With the UC’s future funding uncertain, the discussion encompassed the impact of Proposition 30, sustainable measures for higher education, market intrusion in the public sector and the ideological divide between government mistrust and fiscal state dependency.   

UC Davis: If Prop 30 fails to pass, will any one area be more affected: K-12 education, community colleges, CSUs or UCs?

Governor Brown: The way the budget was enacted, the UCs will lose $250 million if the no vote prevails on Proposition 30. The Cal State University will also lose $250 million and the CCCs [California Community Colleges] will lose about half a billion and the kindergarten-12 schools will lose about $4.5 billion, and, as a matter of fact, the UCs may even lose more money because there’s a certain tuition buyout that also might be lost. So there’s big stakes in the Prop 30 election.

UC Davis: A competing tax initiative, Prop 38, is also going to be on the ballot. What are your thoughts on Prop 38 and do you believe it will affect the outcome of the passing of Prop 30?

GB: Actually I don’t. [Prop] 38 is a separate measure that aims to achieve slightly different results. I prefer Proposition 30 because it has been drafted with a view to the budget architecture and how new taxes can work together with the rest of general fund spending. It also, and perhaps most importantly, prevents the cuts this year. The trigger cuts only go into effect if Proposition 30 gets a no, so the most important thing regardless of what people do on any other measure is to vote yes on 30. That stops the cuts and that’s why I think it’s so important; it provides the revenue going forward.

UC Irvine: What is your response to supporters of Prop 38 and to opponents of Prop 30, especially regarding how the money will be handled through general funds?

GB: Well it’s very clear if you read the text of Proposition 30. The money is put in a special fund that can only be used for schools and community colleges—that’s a fact. Now I think it’s well to point out that both these tax measures add a certain amount of money, which relative to the total state spending on education, is no more than 20 percent and therefore, 80 percent of this spending is through the authority of the legislature and the governor and that 80 percent is always subject to legislative enactment, every year. The taxes on the other hand, can be allocated to special funds, audited and absolutely guaranteed to go to the schools but unless you cease having all government, you can’t affect the fact that if the other initiative…is cut back, then that reduces the subtotal. So education spending is $50 billion and you add another six and another 10. If that $50 [billion] is reduced to $48 [billion], then the net is not as much as you might want, that’s just the way it is.

Now there’s such a hostility to government, that some people feel that the government can’t be trusted with tax dollars, so the corollary of that would be not to have an elected government, to have something on automatic prescription by way of some crucial movement…completely unreal possibility, so we state it is the absolute truth that the money goes into a fund, it’s audited and it will be publically available and that money’s going to go there. Equally important is the fact that because of the budget—now we’re not talking about the taxes, we’re talking about the budget—that the budget assumes Proposition 30’s money comes in this year. If that assumption turns out to be wrong because the no vote gets 50.1 percent, all these drastic cuts will take place, even if Proposition 38 is passed.

So by the way, the reason this happens, is because when I was putting the budget together, we didn’t have enough money. So we had to either cut another $6 billion, or we say, “No let’s assume that people vote new tax revenues and then we’ll say the cuts only go into effect if the people vote no.” Now the reason we have to do that is because the state borrows money during certain months of the year when the tax revenues don’t come in at the rate needed to meet the spending. In order to borrow the money from Wall Street or the banks, you have to have a credible balanced budget. You can’t have a credibly balanced budget if $6 or $8 billion of it is a contingency that may never occur, so the only way you can make it a reliable budget guarantee is if you have plan B, which is what we call the trigger cuts and that plan is part of the budget architecture and is inexplicably linked to the fate of Proposition 30. That’s why it is absolutely crucial for every person who cares about the University of California to make sure that Proposition 30 passes.

UC Irvine: How important is the relationship between the state and public higher education in California and how could it be changed if Prop 30 potentially fails?

GB: If Prop 30 fails, the regents have already said they’re going to raise tuition $2,400 in the beginning of the near year. The reason is, the state has been reducing state support for years, that’s why tuition has doubled and you might say “Why?” Well if you just compare when tuition was $125 bucks a semester, well that’s when I went to a UC, but here it wasn’t that much higher when I was younger but at that time, in 1975, in 1977, 1978, 1980, the percentage of the general funds that went to prisons was over 3 percent. It was between 2 and a half and 3 percent. Two years ago, prison spending went to 11.5 percent. In my budget program, it is slated to drop to 7.5 percent because of reducing prison population so we’re on the move there.

Another expenditure that has grown is health and human services—aging population, more expensive medical care, in-room support services—these are all important, but they’re expenditures that didn’t exist at the level that they do now back when tuition was virtually non-existent. So what’s happened is that there are more needs as the population ages, as more needs are generated then there’s only so much money that you can get and you might say, “Why don’t you cut something else?” Well the fact is, we’ve cut the elderly, the blind and the disabled, their pensions, which were $857 a month, we’ve cut them down to $835 a month. They’re the poorest people we have. Mothers who get CalWorks because they have two little children, her stipend under state and federal money is what it was in the 1980s. We’ve also cut Cal Grants, particularly for the private and for-profit colleges. We’ve cut out new development. We’ve made bigger cuts and so we look around to where to cut next, it just so happens that education is such a huge part of the budget and it is less protected by federal law.

So when you have a shortfall, people look to UC and Cal State and K-12 and the community colleges because they’re more totally in control of state authority. But when you go to Medicare, because they’re half federally funding, the condition for getting half of that money requires certain services be provided and if the state attempts to cut them, the state will lose federal funding and therefore, it doesn’t cut as much. So the only people left on the chopping block are the CSU, UC, community colleges and K-12. The answer is to get more revenue and it’s also for the UC to be as efficient as it can and not spend money on any low priority items if such can be found.

UCSB: If Prop 30 fails in November will you insist on new solutions and veto any other legislative alternative…and insist on cuts to new solutions to the budget deficit or will you pursue another tax increase?

GB: I’d like to think that there is an alternative in case of Proposition 30 failing but there isn’t. The state only has so much money. For the last 10 years, the state has borrowed money through caring maneuvers, gimmicks, inflated revenue projections and inflated expenditure reductions and that has created for California the worst credit rating of all 50 states, roof to bottom. When I became governor, the deficit was $26 billion and because a billion of the revenue was coming from selling out-of-state buildings at a ridiculously low price, I cancelled that and the deficit went to $27 billion. Now we have to cut away at that, billions and billions of dollars, and we’re getting close to balance which I believe will happen if Prop 30 passes, but if Proposition 30 doesn’t pass, I can’t conjure money out of thin air. There’s only so many cookies in the jar and the gimmicks of the past are not acceptable going forward. We’re in an unserved world economy. We want to keep our debt in proper relationship to our revenue. So yes, the trigger cuts will go into effect and they’re part of the budget and it’s automatic so there’s nothing for the legislative to do because the trigger cuts are already enacted subject to not going into effect, if Prop 30 passes.

UCSB: In your ideal situation if Prop 30 passes, what needs to happen in the future to continue a more sustainable higher education system?

GB: I believe the correlation between community colleges, high schools, and the UCs has to be intensified, number one. Number two, I think online learning has to be part of the package has to be looked to where it can be usefully and creatively introduced. Thirdly,  I think the UC leadership has got to find ways of reducing resources that are less valuable than the core mission of the university, which is to educate students and to do fundamental research. Now, I believe the university administrative leadership already claims and believes that they’ve cut administrative costs to the maximum. I would say that’s a question that should be looked at and not closed because there are things that…I mean you got to find out what is basic and what is nice in the enmity category because the problem in higher education as I see it is probably twofold.

State government has had its revenues cut because of the mortgage meltdown and that whole catastrophe coming out of Wall Street and the silly recession. Secondly, the university has been forced to compete with new social needs that absorb spending. Thirdly, universities are taking on more and more activities and that cost money. Then finally, the availability of student loans, which now approximates in an accumulated number, $1 trillion dollars, and student loans, which I think are properly denominated “student aid,” should be very clearly labeled “student indebtedness” without benefited possibility of bankruptcy, have become a source of growing funds that because the money is almost infinite, then the discipline on spending that money is reduced. We just know for a fact that if you can always get more money, you will look to the more money rather than to alternative spending practices and that is difficult because the student indebtedness is growing faster than mortgage indebtedness and faster than credit card indebtedness. So it is a growing source of capital that feeds into every school or every college in the country and that then requires real vigilance to ensure that those who don’t spend all this money don’t become too comfortable on the student’s future, which they’re basically extracting from even though you’re all supposed to make so much money and pay it back. That was never the story when I went to school; nobody told us that and when my mother went to UC, nobody told her that. This particular student indebtedness issue is a recent phenomenon and it can be very difficult to control but I believe we’ve got to find ways of expanding college opportunity and finding the most elegant and efficient way of making that opportunity available.

UCLA: All right so as you discussed previously, higher education always seems to be on the chopping block. So in the long run, do you think there is a way to guarantee sufficient funding for the UC every year and from the state every year?

GB: The long term model is we should get more money from the state and what I’m doing in Proposition 30 is a major step in helping the university and I might say that this didn’t come very easy. Last year, there were certain taxes worth about $10 billion that were set to expire and I tried to get the legislature to put it on the ballot to see if we could extend it for another five years. There’s a sales tax, there’s a car tax and there’s at least two exemptions that had been suspended. I couldn’t get the two votes in the senate and I couldn’t get two votes in the assembly, so I had to go out and get an initiative. My first initiative was a 2 percent tax but then the federation of teachers came up with a millionaire’s tax with a 5 percent on millionaires and that was polling so much better, I knew I had to form a coalition by creating a compromise, so we then came up a third idea, which is Proposition 30. I just retraced that history to show how difficult it is. So it’s difficult to get taxes that is true and by the way, Prop 39 will provide some tax money too to the general funds.

When we look at these things, you have a lot of built-in requirements. For example, in reducing the prison population through what is called realignment, where you have less serious criminals dealt with on the local level, that realignment policy didn’t get one republican vote and in fact some republicans say that blood will be running in the streets because the felons who aren’t in state prisons, they’re in local prisons or local rehabs or some alternative sanction. What I’m saying is it’s hard to reduce the prisons so much more, although we’re still working on that because the courts are telling us to do that, but there is no easy path whether it’s less money in health and human services, less money for corrections, less money for all the other things in government. It is just a prowl, as you go from a state with 24 million [people] to a state with 38 million [people]. You have a lot of low income people and you have a lot of people getting older with more needs, medical needs, it’s more costly. When you have more people, 38 million, driving cars, it’s more crowded. You have more transactional costs and that comes up in government spending needs and yet the skepticism of government rules right alongside with the needs that only government can satisfy.

So we have a dichotomy between a growing need and a growing skepticism about paying any tax money to alleviate the need. We are in a cultural contradiction that we wrestle with and I wrestle with everyday and even if you look at some of the ads, they point to, “You can’t trust elected officials.” So I guess the corollary would be let’s have unelected officials or let’s not have elected officials, so how do we have trains, or freeways or buses or schools. So there is a serious issue here of conflicting perceptions and desires that make it difficult to arrive at a majority consensus on strengthening public sector activities. So as public funding declines, schools are forced to rely more on research and private funding, as the alignment provisions for the public sector decline, the state will have to rely more on private sector funding?

The university has taken the path of more and more fundraising because of the decline in state support also because of the increased perceived need that the university finds for itself. It’s even become the practice when interviewing possible deans or chancellors, the first question is, “How much money can you raise?” Now that really has little to do with intellectual depth or moral leadership or creativity, which I would identify with university leadership. But there is this need for fundraising, there’s this need for making money through patents and other activities that the university can engage in and I would say all of that needs to be very carefully looked at because it can alter the character of the university, in ways that I don’t think would be good.

Having said all that, the money is needed so I would like to see the state giving more money, but for the state to give more money, you have more money, and the only way the state gets more money is if the economy grows. Now because of the mortgage meltdown, California lost 23.4 million jobs. Those people are collecting money through unemployment, through Medicare and they’re not producing. So If we get all those people back to work, that would put money back into the state, and we’d be in a better position to fund colleges and universities. That goes into the question of macroeconomics and what’s the federal government doing and even the federal government is not alone and in charge.

You’ve got the effects of Europe buying exports from the United States and there is this meme infecting leaders around the world about the need for austerity, and there’s another group of economists that say, “No, what is needed is investment and stimulus,” and I would identify with the latter and not the former.

UCLA: I’m going to go back to the first question that the Daily Bruin asked, but I didn’t pick up on what you think the long term funding model should be?

GB: Now what is the funding model? It’s state funding, student loans borrowing and fundraising for wealthy individuals and maybe not-so-wealthy individuals. How that can be altered—I think you’d have to work it all and I think, getting back to Proposition 30, efore worrying about the long term model, I can tell you this, if Proposition 30’s defeated, then the notion of additional state money will be defeated with it.

So I think we have to douse the fire. We have to put the fire out now and right now the challenge with the no on 30 people is that money coming from taxes is being wasted and that’s their theory. It’s a meme. It’s an idea that circulates in people’s minds and it makes it very difficult to win more support. So in order to respond to that, I’ve done…what we can: cut the governor’s office by 25 percent, cut travel, state employees have taken a 5 percent pay cut, the governor and the legislature has taken a 23 percent pay cut in the last three years. So we’re trying to win public confidence by showing that we are responsible with the tax dollars, but no matter how much we do, there’s always a problem, there’s something shows up. There’s 23,000 employees, something’s going to go wrong. If you look at what’s going on with private business and their jet planes and their activities and their businesses, you can call that waste. But that is not the meme, not the idea being circulated. Government is somehow supposed to be pure and yet it has ordinary human beings.

So I respond by saying that the legislature, state governors, we all have to strive to be more austere to win the support of state people so as to have enough tax revenue to do what needs to be done. At the same time, there’s an ideological war going on between those who are comfortable with the growing inequality and stratification of society and the privatization and the diminishment of the public sector. So that’s really the contest and this election will deal with some of that particularly with Prop 30 and Prop 39.

UCLA: I’d like to ask the question that I wanted to ask. So there have been pressures on the regents to give more autonomy to the UC campuses, so do you see the UC becoming more decentralized?

GB: You know that’s a good question. I generally favor decentralized solutions under the notion of subsidiary, which is a fancy word but what it means is that organization or institution closest to the problem should have the most responsibility to deal with the problem. Under Catholic doctrine, which I was taught, the basic and primary institution is the family and as you go beyond the family, you get to the neighborhood, you get to the city, you get the university, the school and then you have the state and then you have the federal government. So all these different levels are involved in telling schools and universities what to do and in collecting and spending money. How that would apply to how much the central administration in Oakland should have and and how much should be in UCLA or Merced or San Diego, now that’s a very fluid topic and I would have to know what we’re talking about. Are we talking about course, tenure decisions, payroll, sports? I think there’s a variety of issues and I’m not prepared to pick one out, but if you have any specifics like should UCLA have this power or should it be in the hands of the president’s office, then I’d be happy to respond.

UCLA: Should campuses be able to set their own tuition levels?

GB: Now I know there’s a desire for UCLA and Berkeley to pull away from what they consider their lesser brethren out there and you know, I’d have to think about that. I guess there’s a notion that UCLA and UCB are the special institutions so therefore they can charge more. That hasn’t been the historic model. As a matter of fact, if you look at the last 50 years, the market as an idea has crept more and more into the public sector by way of bonuses. If you teach this course, then you ought to make more money than this course. Obviously, if you’re a computer scientist, you’re worth more than a Greek professor, or are you? And I think that gets to the question of what our society’s all about and I think the market intrusion needs to be limited because we’re all in it together, we’re all contributing and while incentives play an important role, I find it kind of ridiculous when people say, “Well if you give a teacher 25,000 bucks more a year or 5,000 bucks more a year, then they’re going to teach better.” I find that hard to believe. I assume a teacher or professor does what he or she does because they like doing it and they want to get a nice salary, but whether they make X amount or Y amount, as long as they’re in the job, I think they’re going to be professionally dedicated to what they’re doing. The market would say that the primarily motivation is money and therefore, the more you get the more you do. The less you get the less you do. Now that to me is a concept that needs to be challenged because I don’t think it’s true.

UCSB: What have you done so far to prioritize education spending in the budget?

GB: Realignment, by reducing the prison population by 40,000 prisoners. Secondly, we have put about $120,000 plus into UC and Cal State to bog down the proposed tuition increases, we did that this year, by actually financing and circulating Proposition 30. Proposition 30 didn’t just spring to life ex mileo, which is the Latin phrase for means for nothing. It had to be drafted, which was done in my office. Money had to be raised, and we had to deal with the competing measures, with the so-called millionaire’s tax, and also we’re working on making it easier and seamless for a community college student to go to UC and Cal State. I think that’s a very important part of prioritizing higher ed. And I would like to look into why so many students flunk remedial English and math. I think that is something we’ve got to figure out during their senior year of high school. More and more I have supported bills to provide state funding for high schools, even though the student is taking a course at a local community college or Cal State or UC. These institutional structures, their boundaries are more permeable. The notion of a college as a quadrangle with ivy and trees and lawns and plazas, that’s true, that’s historically what the ivy looks like. Now with the internet and the ability for a digital revolution where ideas can be encoded and transmitted across all sorts of formal boundaries, there has to be a reconceptualization of high school, community college, Cal State University, and UC. There’s room there for cross pollination and interchange that I would hope smart people would think of.

UC Irvine: Now this next question stems from your passing of AB 970. Are you working on any other efforts to increase transparency and affordability?

GB: No, but I am open to your suggestions. Maybe you can send me some.

UCR: You made it very clear that your goal for this term is to balance the budget. Despite this, you have made some priorities like high speed rail and other investments. Do you have a particular vision for California? Where is your focus, especially once the budget is balanced? Do you have a certain goal in mind, or a certain endgame?

GB: An endgame, that’s kind of ominous. I don’t think we have an endgame, except to stay healthy and alert and learning. Vision is a word that’s thrown around. Now in fact the first George Bush used to refer to it as “that vision thing,” because people didn’t think he had much of a vision, so he got kind of frustrated and he kind of poo-pooed that vision thing. But I do have a sense in California and a growing sense for California since I’ve been around for a while. My great grandfather came to California in 1852, head of the stagecoach, so I have served the tradition. My mother went to a UC and my father was the governor, of course, and I see California as a very unique place. It’s uniqueness is not appreciated in some quarters like in Texas or New Jersey where they create an elusively utopia of low taxes, low regulations, plentiful low wage jobs, which they are by the way. They have far more low-wage jobs than California. California is still the heart of creativity in the world. The new businesses coming out of the internet, the microprocessor… California’s a place that whether it’s in agriculture, whether it’s in movies or television or internet or biomedical research or computer sciences, it’s an amazing place and my vision is to, or my hope and my commitment is to, preserve and enhance this special place with its unique attributes. Another part of California is its environment, that’s why California alone as a state has a goal of renewable energy by 2020. We have a goal of a high speed rail, which is a more efficient way to move people now across sixteen countries. The high speed rail will be [built] across a 20-year period and, by the way, the funding will go over a span of 40 or 50 years, and I want you to think if we look back at time, what are the things that last? If you look at a bridge or a dam or the transcontinental railroad, these were big decisions, but they were often made during depressions. The transcontinental railroad was started by Lincoln during the Civil War, the Golden Gate Bridge was built during the Depression. So just because we’re under fiscal stress doesn’t mean we don’t build new things. A one-ton vehicle was built in Pasadena that was landed on Mars, that costs three billion dollars. Some people say, “Why don’t we spend that money on reducing tuition or something else like feeding the homeless,” but we got to do lots of different things. We got to make sure we have a reliable water supply, we got to make sure that our transportation infrastructure is moderate and elegant with our kind of advanced state.

So I would just say that I see California as both a trendsetter, but also as a state that deals and grapples with the big issues, and the big issues are inequality, climate change and promoting and handling the innovation that both adds to our quality of life but also underlines our sense of our traditional identity. That puts us in kind of a hot-house of experimentation but I think California needs to look to its past and also pave the way for its future. By the way, the author Carrie Mcqueens wrote in 1948 the book “California: the Great Exception,” and in that book…he talked about how the gold rush, in a matter of a couple of years, brought hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world…everywhere. China, Russia, Italy, Germany, everywhere, people just came out, got their picks and shovel or their pans and they started extracting all this gold. A hundred billion dollars, in a very few number of years, and you might ask who owned the land, who owned the gold? Well, whoever got there. These mining towns had no government, but somehow it worked. But it supercharged California to the detriment of the native peoples that were here and to the environment to an extent. But that stimulus and that surge of human activity has been replicated many times since and I would say the internet, the computer revolution, the sequencing of the human genome and the Pasadena Jet Propulsion Lab—there’s a continuing gold rush of human imagination and collaboration, so that’s also the way I see California.

UCR: What kind of outcome will the upcoming presidential race have on California?

GB: Well, I would say that Romney buys into the idea that more privatization is the way to go. Its more of a hyper individualistic perspective that is at odds with our understanding of what happened when these big banks weren’t regulated and were in fact too big, so they all had to be bailed out. So it’s pretty clear to me that President Obama represents a commitment to our common path through public service, through helping the less fortunate, through dealing with climate change and through, I think, a more enlightening foreign policy. Now, none of these presidential choices are black and white because they’re all within the American consensus, but I do think that for California, and for the way I see the world, President Obama is the clear choice.

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