UC president backs Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increase

SAN FRANCISCO — University of California President Mark G. Yudof on Wednesday strongly backed Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increase aimed for the November ballot, warning of big tuition increases next year if it fails and offering hope that tuition would remain stable if it passes.

Yudof urged the regents, who were meeting in San Francisco, to endorse the governor’s tax plan at a future session.

“In my view, it represents the best opportunity I’ve seen in my four years in California for the state to clamber out of a sinkhole of fiscal uncertainty and move forward into a better, more prosperous future,” he said.

The UC president said it was too early to speculate about the size of tuition hikes in the middle of the 2012-13 school year if the measure fails and state funding is further reduced. He said budget cuts “would be bad for the students, bad for the university, bad for the faculty, bad for families and parents.”

UC officials said they also were discussing the possibility of a tuition freeze if the tax measure passes and the Legislature and governor move to provide some additional funding. Asked about the likelihood of that, Yudof said: “I’m an eternal optimist. You can’t hold my job without being an optimist.”

UC’s vague warnings contrasted with the Cal State system’s more concrete decisions earlier this month that spring 2013 enrollment at most campuses would be frozen and that all applicants for the following fall would be wait-listed if the tax measure failed. If it qualifies for the ballot and state voters approve it, the measure would hike the state sales tax by a quarter-cent per dollar for the next four years and create a graduated surcharge on incomes of more than $250,000 that would last seven years.

After years of increases, UC’s undergraduate tuition for California residents stands at $12,192, not including room, board and campus fees, which can bring the total cost to $31,000.

Also Wednesday, members of a regents committee said they were skeptical of a UCLA plan to build a $162-million conference center and 250-room hotel on campus and said they wanted much more information about its financial viability and location before they would approve the project.

In sharp questioning, some regents suggested that the school might instead buy a nearby hotel rather than build its own. The regents’ committee on grounds and buildings decided not to vote on the matter but to let the full board of regents take up the issue, possibly Thursday.

Earlier, the regents heard representatives of Westwood-area hotels complain that the UCLA project would hurt their businesses and be unfair competition. UCLA officials, however, said that the center would add greatly to intellectual life on campus by attracting scholars from around the world and that it would have little effect on nearby hotels.

Regent Hadi Makarechian, the committee chairman who is a developer with hotel investments, noted that the price of hotels had fallen in recent years and asked why UCLA did not purchase one. UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and other UCLA officials said it was important for conference visitors to interact with students and visit campus labs; plus, they said none of the Westwood hotels had enough conference facilities to meet UCLA’s needs.

Last year, alumnus and local businessman Meyer Luskin and his wife, Renee, donated $100 million to UCLA, giving $40 million of that total for construction of the conference center and $10 million for its programming. UCLA was seeking regents’ approval to finance an additional $112 million in construction costs with bonds, expected to be repaid with revenues from meetings and hotel guests; another $10 million would come from other campus funds.

Even if UCLA wins approval for financing, the project still would need agreement from the regents at a later date for its final design and environmental reviews.

Block said he was disappointed that Wednesday’s meeting had not gone more smoothly but said he was confident the project would be approved after UCLA provides more details.

“I think our analysis is valid. I think the need is there for the facility and I remain enthusiastic about it,” he said.

The center and hotel would replace a multi-level garage at the campus center. The project was moved from a previous site where it triggered protests because it would have replaced the beloved faculty club on the school’s eastern border and possibly increased traffic in nearby neighborhoods.