Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders have come up with a plan to freeze tuition rates at California's public universities if voters approve a tax hike in November, the Senate leader said Monday.
Under the plan, lawmakers would move a budget-related bill that appropriates an extra $125 million each for University of California and California State University systems in the 2013-14 academic year, according to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.
The money would be made available to the UC system if the regents decide not to increase fees this year. CSU would have to rescind a $500 increase that is going into effect this fall.
"Our message is pretty clear: Middle-class students and their families have given enough and we want to provide them relief," Steinberg said. "It's contingent of course on the taxes passing in November. And if the taxes don't pass, then all bets will be off."
Brown and Democratic lawmakers are trying to create incentives for voters to support the tax hike because they are relying on taxes to erase much of the state's $15.7 billion shortfall. The measure would raise the sales tax statewide and income taxes on high earners.
The proposal doesn't require Republican support because GOP votes aren't necessary under the state's majority budget vote.
The governor's office didn't immediately return a request for comment.
UC is considering a 6 percent tuition hike, or $731, for the next academic year. If approved, in-state undergraduates would pay $12,923, nearly double what students paid five years ago.
The UC board held off on making any decisions in May.
Steinberg said details still have to be worked out for the CSU system. Its board of trustees has already approved raising tuition at the 23-campus system by 9 percent this fall, or $498, bringing the annual bill to $5,970.
CSU also plans to close most enrollment for spring 2013, a move that will affect about 16,000 students.
"The challenge for us is that we've already instituted the increase and some students have already paid their tuition," said Mike Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for CSU.
He said the system would be risking the loss of even more funding because the state budget already includes a provision to cut $250 million each from UC and CSU if the taxes don't pass.
"We've already budgeted for the increase and if the taxes don't pass, we'd be up to nearly $400 million in loss of funding," Uhlenkamp said.
Student workers cheered the proposed bill as a first step to stemming recent tuition hikes that have made California public universities more expensive than ever. Under Brown's tax plan, California would temporarily raise the state's sales tax by a quarter-cent and increase the income tax on people who make $250,000 or more.
Brown's tax hike is projected to raise $8.5 billion through mid-2013. Of that amount, the administration projects $5.6 billion will benefit the general fund.
"This is a good first step to refunding higher education with taxes on the 1 percent instead of tuition increases on the rest of us," said Charlie Eaton, a sociology doctorate student at UC Berkeley and a member of the UC Student Workers Union.