Sunday, August 25

Napolitano to bring experience to budget negotiation with Gov. Brown

University of California President Janet Napolitano is about to start a new round of higher education funding negotiations with the state amid possible tuition increases and Gov. Jerry Brown’s expected release of his budget proposal Friday.

This scene is different from the higher education funding negotiations she faced during her time as governor of Arizona.

She governed during an economically stable period for most of her tenure, which meant more funds were available for the state. However, the recession hit shortly before the end of her tenure, which was followed by sharp tuition hikes and budget cuts by her successor Jan Brewer.

As governor, Napolitano proposed and approved budgets for agencies including the state’s higher education system and reviewed budgets the Arizona Board of Regents submitted to the governor’s office. The Arizona Board of Regents, much like the University of California Board of Regents, is the 12-member governing body for Arizona’s public universities.

“As governor of Arizona, (Napolitano) was a strong supporter of higher education, and she backed up words with funding,” said Steve Montiel, UC spokesperson.

Under Napolitano, state contributions toward financial aid tripled, with the average aid package increasing by almost $6,000 for each student by the end of her term, according to reports from the Arizona Board of Regents. She also prioritized student retention rates, faculty retention rates and expanding campuses by allocating money to construct new campus buildings.

Robert Shelton, former president of the University of Arizona, said he thinks Napolitano worked with university presidents to make sure they got most of what they requested.

“(Napolitano) made sure the university part of the budget had a champion in the governor’s office and she wanted to see results, like graduation rates or economic impact,” Shelton said.

In her budget for the 2007 fiscal year, Napolitano proposed monetary incentives for universities that improved in certain areas, including $150,000 for each 0.1 percent reduction in the degree completion time and $75,000 for each 0.1 percent improvement in the number of full-time students who earn a bachelor’s degree in less than six years.

However, Shelton said he thought Napolitano left most higher education policy decisions to university officials.

“(Napolitano) expected results, but she didn’t get in and micromanage,” Shelton said.

Dennis DeConcini, a former Democratic U.S. senator for Arizona whom Napolitano appointed as regent in 2006, noted her having to work with a Republican-controlled state legislature and a budget deficit during the recession that started in 2008.

“(Napolitano) was relatively supportive of higher education (compared to Brewer). She wanted to advance research and helped in supporting biotech research that (Arizona) universities started to do,” DeConcini said.

Higher education funding increased or remained the same for most of Napolitano’s term, though the state cut higher education funding in 2008, the early year of the recession when tax revenue dropped.

Shelton also said he thought that increased enrollment and pressure from some legislators to cut the size of government meant that education was more vulnerable during budget negotiations.

Napolitano’s willingness to meet most of the universities’ requests on the budget during the recession led to occasional disagreements with members of the Republican-controlled state legislature.

Rep. Andy Tobin, R-Ariz., said he was disappointed with Napolitano’s overall budget process, saying he thought revenue from times of economic growth could have been spent better.

Tobin did not comment specifically on Napolitano’s higher education budgets, but noted that he and Napolitano supported different paths for higher education.

“Gov. Napolitano and I agreed on support for higher education. I just felt that many don’t go to college or finish. It’s not for everyone,” Tobin said. “I wanted more trade school and community college options and to keep textbook costs and student borrowing lower.”

Napolitano and the other UC Regents will discuss Brown’s proposed budget at their next bimonthly meeting from Jan. 21-22.

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