University of California students and civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit Wednesday with the State Supreme Court against Gov. Schwarzenegger asking the court to overturn the recent reduction of vehicle license fees and block budget cuts – particularly to University of California – in the governor’s 2004-05 budget proposal.
The suit argues that state law allows for reduction of vehicle license fees only when there is sufficient money in the state’s general fund to repay cities and counties for the lost revenue. The current general fund does not have enough money to cover the deficit resulting from the cuts to license fees, the suit states. It also says that the governor couldn’t circumvent the Legislature and cut programs because of a fiscal emergency that he created by lowering the fees. The University of California Student Association (UCSA), the Equal Justice Society, and Californians for Justice are plaintiffs in the case.
“Through his action to lower the vehicle licensing fee, Governor Schwarzenegger has placed the state in the current fiscal crisis, and insisted that all state agencies should contribute to solving the problem,” UCSA Chair Matt Kaczmarek said in a statement. “The students of the University of California refuse to accept that our concession should be the right to an education.”
HD Palmer, California Dept. of Finance spokesman, said the Schwarzenegger administration plans to wait and see what the courts decide to do with the suit before acting any further. But he said the governor acted within the law when he reduced the fees.
“We wouldn’t have recommended taking this action unless we were absolutely convinced that the governor was on solid legal ground – exercising his executive branch authority in the manner that he did,” Palmer said.
The Finance Dept. is not the only one to approve of the governor’s slashing of vehicle licensing fees, Palmer said.
“That’s not just our conclusion; that’s the legal conclusion as well of the state controller who is the Constitutional officer who is charged with actually cutting those checks to local governments,” he said.
The suit alleges that the budget cuts, if they were to go into effect, would “severely curtail or eliminate” higher education programs, such as enrollment outreach.
“The mid-year cuts imposed by the governor in December cut funding to essential University programs including educational outreach,” Kaczmarek said in a statement. “If the University is truly going to serve the state of California in the coming decades, then programs such as educational outreach must be maintained and enhanced.”