California legislators reject cuts to Cal Grants, Hastings law school

June 06, 2009
By Jim Sanders
Published June 6, 2009. Sacramento Bee

Assembly and Senate members in a budget conference committee balked at derailing the Cal Grant program of college aid or stripping Hastings College of the Law of nearly all its state funding.

By rejecting the two proposals by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, however, the committee created a new $235 million headache in its bid to fix a gaping fiscal hole.

The panel is rushing to balance the state's recession-wracked budget by curing a projected $24.3 billion shortfall.

But the 10-member panel simply couldn't stomach the Cal Grant and Hastings proposals.

Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, said the state can't turn its back on 77,000 students who are poised to enter college this summer and are counting on the financial aid.

The Cal Grant program provides grants to low- and moderate-income college students to help pay for tuition, room and board, fees, books, supplies and other college expenses.

The portion of Schwarzenegger's proposal that was rejected Friday would have stopped the award of future Cal Grants, eliminated aid targeting vocational education, and ended competitive Cal Grants that often target older students who are not recent high school graduates.

The committee vote was 6-4, with Republicans expressing support for Cal Grants but voting against killing the governor's proposal without identifying $226 million in cuts elsewhere in the budget.

"The idea of eliminating Cal Grants is beyond comprehension to me - and I can't go there," said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills.

Schwarzenegger's Hastings proposal would have eliminated about $10.3 million in state funding for the University of California law school, leaving it with only $7,000 in general fund support and $153,000 from lottery revenue.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, argued Friday that the cut was much deeper than those targeting other UC programs and would raise Hastings' annual tuition from $28,600 to about $36,600.

Leno said the cut could launch a costly court fight over terms of the law school's creation, which called for Judge S.C. Hastings to donate $100,000 to support the campus - and for the state to pay his heirs that sum, plus interest, if the state ever abandoned its financial support.

Leno said the governor is attempting to "privatize" the law school, and if the Hastings heirs sued, the state could wind up owing more from 130 years of accumulated interest than it could save from its budget-cutting proposal.

The committee voted unanimously to cut Hastings' state funding by 10 percent, about $1 million, and to identify alternative savings of $9.3 million.