By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - University of California president Janet Napolitano would back off a proposed tuition hike if the state increases funding by $100 million next year, a spokeswoman said, the latest in a very public battle over higher education in the most populous U.S. state.
Napolitano, the former U.S. Homeland Security chief, has been trying to get Democratic Governor Jerry Brown to roughly double the state's commitment to higher education for months, to no avail, finally writing a newspaper column touting a plan to raise tuition if the money doesn't come through.
"To completely buy-out a 5 percent tuition increase for next year, we will need an additional $100 million from the state," Dianne Klein, a spokeswoman for Napolitano, said in an email. "To put it another way, each $20 million would reduce the increase by 1 percent."
Brown, a fiscal moderate widely credited for righting the state's finances after years of deficits, has pledged to increase funding for the cash-strapped university system - but only if tuition is held steady at 2012 rates.
He vetoed a bill passed by the legislature that would have added another $50 million, saying that tax revenues were not great enough to support the spending.
To get more money, Brown has said, the university needs to be run more efficiently and become more affordable, by doing such things as lessening the time it takes for students to complete a degree.
Napolitano, who was brought on as president last year with a mission to use her political savvy and fund-raising prowess to restore a system racked by years of budget cuts and turmoil, has argued since January for an increase of about 10 percent in state funding per year, about twice the $500 million over four years that Brown has promised.
"At some point you either need to get more money from the state general fund or you need to get more tuition," Napolitano said in a televised interview with KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.
Napolitano's demand has raised hackles in Brown's administration, where an official said they knew nothing about it until Napolitano's op-ed column ran two days after the November election.
On Monday, Brown appointed two new members to the university's Board of Regents, which will consider the proposal on Wednesday, including a lawmaker with whom he has worked closely. Brown, himself a member, is expected to attend the meeting and oppose the plan.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler)