November 20, 2014 / 8:25 PM / 6 years ago

University of California regents approve tuition increase amid protests

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - The governing board of the University of California voted on Thursday to increase tuition by more than 25 percent over the next five years, setting the stage for a rancorous fight with state lawmakers who control funding for the 10-campus system.

As students protested outside, the Board of Regents voted for the rise, defying Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, who had promised to increase funding for the university only if officials agreed to freeze tuition.

“If I were to underpay my staff as much as the university is underpaid, I would lose my staff,” said Regent Richard C. Blum, an investment banker who is married to California Senator Dianne Feinstein, arguing for the increase during debate on Wednesday.

Many in state politics view the tuition rise as a hardball tactic to persuade Brown and the legislature to increase funding for the university, which suffered dramatic cuts and turmoil during the recent economic downturn.

But top lawmakers say it is a tactic likely to backfire, as Brown digs in his heels and politicians hear from constituents who do not want tuition - already above $12,000 per year - to rise further.

“What is being proposed today is going to hurt middle class students,” said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, a Democrat from San Diego who sits on the Regents board along with several other politicians, all of whom voted with Brown against the proposal.

Atkins said she was already in discussions with the governor about a funding increase for next year when University of California President Janet Napolitano released the tuition increase proposal just two days after the Nov. 4 elections.

Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona and homeland security chief under President Barack Obama, has pushed Brown for months to roughly double the state’s contribution to the university system.

Her tuition increase plan amounts to the first volley in a public fight over higher education funding in the state budget, which will begin in January when Brown releases his spending proposals for next year.

The tuition measure passed by a vote of 14-7, a spokeswoman for Napolitano said. Napolitano has said that if the state were to add $100 million to the $120 million in additional funding Brown has already committed to for next year, the tuition increase would not go into effect.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

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