Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday began laying out the possible consequences of balancing California's remaining $15.4 billion budget deficit solely through spending cuts — including a doubling of University of California tuition — as he pushes for a compromise with Republicans on his proposal for a special election on taxes.
In an address to the California Hospital Association, Brown said UC undergraduate fees could hit $20,000 to $25,000 a year if the Legislature approves and he signs an all-cuts budget.
Current fees are nearly $12,000 for in-state students, plus thousands of dollars more for books and other fees. They are scheduled to rise by more than $900 a year next fall.
Brown said California's universities and colleges are its "engine of creativity and wealth and well-being."
Tuition that high would make the UC system the most expensive public universities in the world, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Council on Education.
"I think it's an awful prospect. The University of California has been a beacon of hope, the state's best mechanism for economic growth and social mobility for two generations," he said.
UC regents are calculating the possible effects on fees of various budget scenarios and haven't come up with an estimated figure if the governor signed an all-cuts budget, said Steve Montiel, a spokesman for UC President Mark Yudof.
The presidents of the UC, California State University and California Community College systems met Tuesday with Brown after leading a rally at the state Capitol to preserve funding.
Brown already signed into law budget bills that reduce California's $26.6 deficit by $11.2 billion. That includes a $1 billion cut to higher education programs that officials say will lead to larger class sizes and lower enrollment.
Despite ending talks with Republican lawmakers last week, the Democratic governor said he still hopes to strike a deal for a special election to ask voters to extend temporary increases to the sales, personal income and vehicle taxes. The remaining tax increases will expire by June 30, but Brown wants them renewed for five years.
He had hoped to ask voters to extend the taxes in a June special election, but he couldn't get the two Republican votes in each chamber of the state Legislature needed to approve the plan.
Later Wednesday, Brown asked the state's top law enforcement officials to encourage Republicans to support his budget proposal, repeating that he only needs four votes in all.
"We've got to get them. If we don't get them, we are going to crash," he said of the GOP votes. "Because I'm not going to sit here and paper it over, and kick the can down the road."
Republicans are seeking rollbacks of public employee pensions, reduced regulations and a spending cap. They also oppose Brown's plans to eliminate redevelopment agencies and enterprise zones that benefit developers.
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office has said closing a deficit smaller than the remaining $15.4 billion shortfall would require nearly $5 billion in cuts to K-12 schools, another $585 million in cuts to community colleges, $1.1 billion from universities, including a 10 percent student fee increase at California State University campuses, and $1.2 billion in cuts to health and social services.
Brown has said he will push for his plan in appearances around the state. Senate Minority Leader Connie Conway, R-Tulare, said that she doesn't believe there's any appetite for a vote on taxes.
"God bless the governor, and I hope that when he's out there, he doesn't just talk to a select audience that wants to hear what he says. I hope he listens to everybody that's out there," Conway said.
Brown excoriated Republicans for what he said was a failure to "own the budget," saying they shouldn't take a paycheck or a state-paid vehicle if they aren't willing to act.
"In fact, I'm going to go up and down the state to see if I can't hug Republicans and say we love you, but give us a break, let the people vote," he said. "I mean, it's really extraordinary to say I won't cut, I won't tax, I won't let the people vote, and I'm not going to tell you why."
Conway and other GOP lawmakers announced their own tour on Wednesday — to Texas. They will travel there next week with Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to hear from businesses that have left California about how to encourage job creation.
Brown told reporters that he met Tuesday with four Republican lawmakers who could provide the possible votes. He declined to name them, but Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said he arranged a meeting between Brown and Sens. Tom Berryhill, of Modesto and Anthony Cannella of Ceres, two of the five GOP senators who had been negotiating with Brown before talks collapsed.
Pazin, a Republican, is president of the California State Sheriffs Association, which endorsed Brown's plan. He said he hopes "pragmatism overcomes politics" and the budget gridlock can be solved.
"This is really an epic battle that I've never seen. This is really some tough stuff. Nobody's budging," he said of the budget talks.