University of California academic employees will be receiving a smaller living wage increase this year because of a downward trend in the economy, with the possibility of additional budget cuts in the near future.

Each year, the state budget is passed during the summer, and UC salary increases take effect on October 1. This year, the living wage increase for faculty was 0.5 percent – significantly lower than in more prosperous recent years, when it reached as high as two percent.

The 0.5 percent increase is indicative of the state’s budgetary problems, said Pat Sheppard, UCSB Director of Academic Personnel.

“This [living wage increase] is pretty low,” she said. “You can tell when the university is having a budgetary problem. For example, in 1991 through 1994 the living wage increase was zero percent. Then in 1997 through 2000 there was a two-percent increase every year. It’s been pretty consistent. The California budget has been hurt, and we’re expecting cuts.”

The living wage increase applies to professors, lecturers, assistant professors, teaching assistants and all other academic personnel.

The budget should not affect the University’s ability to hire guest lecturers or new professors, Sheppard said. In addition, it will not affect the merit system, which is a system of bonuses for those faculty members who have reached the top of their pay ladder. The merit system rewards the faculty with bonuses on an individual basis for that year.

“This increase applies to all UC academic employees, except those who are under negotiations with the union,” Sheppard said. “But this is separate from the merit system. People who are eligible for merits are still able to get that.”

Many UC faculty members will receive performance-based merit bonuses in addition to the living wage adjustment, UC Spokesperson Brad Hayward said.

Hayward said that changes in the budget next year would be likely.

“We do know that next year is likely to be another difficult year,” he said. “Preliminary indications are that the state’s fiscal condition has worsened. We are hoping for a quick recovery, but will likely face the reality of another difficult year.”

Academic employees are aware of the precarious financial position of the state, Communication Department Chair Dave Seibold said, but further decreases in the living wage and/or actual budget cuts may lead to a further decrease in morale among faculty.

“Campus leaders and UC system administrators have made every effort in the past and this year to do the best for us,” he said. “Chancellor Yang’s memo to the faculty signaled his regret and his commitment to try to improve the situation. The faculty and the campus as a whole is aware of the difficult financial situation the state faces.”

“Nonetheless, the very small range adjustments are painful, especially given the high costs of living locally and the very healthy increases that have been granted at many other universities around the country,” Seibold added. “Those two factors … lead us to worry about faculty losses from this campus due to rating by our competitors.”

Although the small increase comes at a time when the country’s economy is struggling to maintain itself, UCSB Budget Office Director Todd Lee said there is no connection between the events of the past month and the unusually low wage increase for UC faculty.

“Funding for the cost of living/salary increase was approved before September 11, and the amount took into account what was known about the downturn in the economy at the point the budget was approved by the governor,” Lee said. “So it was really based on what the economic situation was for the state last spring.”

The Board of Regents, which met Wednesday, discussed budget cuts for the next fiscal year in response to the economic downturn.