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Big Fight Coming Between Legislature, Higher Education

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Big Fight Coming Between Legislature, Higher Education

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Students study outside their classes on the University of California at Irvine campus.

Why is the legislature mad at the University of California and California State University systems?

Because state lawmakers found more money for the system in this year's budget -- and got something they didn't want in return.

That something was more fee hikes. Gov. Scharzenegger and the legislature, by coming up with $584 million in the budget to compensate partially for years of cuts in state aid to the universities, seemed to believe they would stop a steady stream of increases in student fees. Instead, both systems have raised fees again. Darrell Steinberg, the top Democrat in the state Senate, has been very critical of the universities for doing that.

So the legislature is preparing to respond -- by moving to give lawmakers more power over how the systems spend its money. The University of California could be stripped of its autonomy, according to the Los Angeles Times.

How might the universities respond? They may well be tempted to try to remove themselves even further from legislative oversight and the budget process. One way would be for the university systems to pursue a ballot measure that gives their state funding constitutional protection -- in the same way that K-12 schools, community colleges and local governments had.

Such an initiative would make it even more difficult than it already is for the state legislature to balance the budget. Which is why the legislature might be wise to swallow its anger.

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