Debate about Cailfornia's budget has begun to turn in an interesting if dysmal direction: How should we dismantle our most important state institutions?
The argument is depressingly real because the state's revenues aren't nearly enough to meet its expenses, and revenue increases are a non-starter under California's governing system, which gives anti-tax Republicans an effective veto on taxes.
Mac Taylor, the non-partisan legislative analyst, recently made a provocative suggestion: eliminate the research function at some of the University of California campuses. He argued that some UCs could remain research universities, while others could become liberal arts colleges, which can be run more cheaply.
He told the Sentate's budget committee last week, according to The Daily Californian: "Not every UC campus has to be a full-blown research institution. We could have University of Californias that are liberal arts colleges, and we could maybe focus our research so we're not duplicating the same type of thing at each of the 10." Obvious targets would be younger, smaller campuses in inland Republican areas of California -- such as UC Merced (where students are shown in the accompanying photo meeting First Lady Michelle Obama when she spoke there two years ago).
That could produce significant savings in the UC budget, though the money would be a tiny fraction of the state's $26 billion budget shortfall. Why make such a radical change to an institution so central to California to save relatively little money?
There's a silver lining to this suggestion: it's the sort of thing that might awake many Californians from their civic slumber, and help people recognize the seriousness of the state's budget and governance problems.