By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - The University of California will delay implementing a tuition hike, the latest move in a test of wills that has pitted U.C. President Janet Napolitano against state Democrats including Governor Jerry Brown.
Napolitano announced the delay at a speech in Los Angeles on Wednesday, even as a committee of lawmakers, many of whom oppose the tuition hike, convened a hearing on the university's budget in the state capital, Sacramento.
"Because these discussions are still ongoing, and because the legislature is still at work putting together the state budget, I am announcing here today that UC will not implement a previously approved tuition increase of up to 5 percent for the summer quarter," Napolitano said, according to a written text of her remarks provided to Reuters.
"We are doing this as a good faith gesture, optimistic that the ongoing negotiations will bear fruit."
Napolitano won approval last autumn from the university's Board of Regents to raise tuition at the 10-campus university by 5 percent a year over the next five years unless the state spent twice what Brown had planned. The move angered the fiscally moderate governor, who had said he would increase funding for UC only if tuition were held stable.
Brown said the university needed to find ways of saving money before seeking to raise tuition for students, and he and Napolitano last month formed a committee of two to seek a solution.
On Wednesday, a budget subcommittee of the State Assembly started hearings on the university's funding for next year, but took a hardball approach.
Instead of starting with last year's budget amount as a baseline, lawmakers used what they call "zero base budgeting," in which an agency starts with nothing and must make an argument in support of every dollar, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins said.
Atkins, who has gained the support of Republicans as well as fellow Democrats in efforts to increase funding for the university if tuition remains stable, said late on Wednesday she expected to be able to identify areas in which the university could save money in its budget.
“I am pleased President Napolitano is beginning to walk back UC’s reliance on fee increases," Atkins said, promising a "top-to-bottom review of UC's budget."
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Cooney)