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Lawmakers Propose Limits On University Of California Power

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva-D-Fullerton, left, accompanied by Assemblywo...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva-D-Fullerton, left, accompanied by Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, right, discusses her proposed state constitutional amendment that would curb the University of California's autonomy during a news conference, Tuesday, May 22, 2018.

Several state lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled a plan to curb the University of California's power by limiting salaries and putting checks on the UC president's authority.

The proposed amendment to the state constitution would also shorten terms for regents who govern the public university system from 12 years to four.

The amendment would limit compensation for non-faculty employees to $200,000 per year. Higher salaries would have to be approved in a public hearing. Currently, the highest paid employees in the system are football and basketball coaches at the University of California Los Angeles and the University of California Berkeley, who make millions each year.

The proposed amendment would also require the president to report expenditure information to the regents, governor and Legislature and would strip the president's voting power on the board of regents.

"We have not yet taken a formal position on the amendment, though we have some concerns based on our initial review," UC spokeswoman Stephanie Beechem said. "UC is fully committed to transparency and accountability in our budgeting and accounting practices."

To be enacted, the amendment would require support from two-thirds of the Legislature and approval by voters via a ballot measure. The measure is co-authored by three Assembly Democrats. Two Assembly Republicans also spoke in support of the measure at a news conference.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva cited a state audit last year that found misleading and unclear budgeting practices by the UC president's office as evidence the president's power should be curbed.

"I do support full funding of the UCs," the Fullerton Democrat said at a news conference. "The focus for me is transparency and accountability making sure those funds get to our students and get to the professors that are teaching those students."

The audit of UC President Janet Napolitano's office found millions of dollars in reserves not properly disclosed to the public and high salaries. Napolitano disputed some of the report's findings but promised to make changes the auditor recommended, including developing clearer budget procedures.

The amendment unveiled Tuesday is the latest effort in a series of attempts by lawmakers to curb the UC's power. Last year, the Legislature and the governor set aside $50 million dollars for the system contingent on the implementation of recommendations in the 2017 audit.

That money will be released to the UC system this year contingent on the board of regents fully implementing some of the audit recommendations at their meeting later this week, Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said.

In his budget proposal for the next fiscal year, Brown has advocated reducing UC system funding if it raises tuition.

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