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The Riggs Report: A lackluster election season

Gov. Jerry Brown moves to block tuition increases

This week marked Janet Napolitano’s biggest and most significant challenge since she left her Homeland Security post in Washington D.C. and took over as University of California president a little more than a year ago.

Napolitano is engaged in a political showdown with Gov. Jerry Brown over her proposal to boost student tuition by up to 5 percent a year over the next five years.

Napolitano, who established a strong education record as the governor of Arizona, says the tuition hikes are needed unless the state Legislature agrees to cough up more cash for the UC budget.

Brown moved to head off that tuition proposal this week, using his powers as governor to fill two vacancies on the UC Board of Regents with allies who are expected to join him in voting no.

Former Assembly Speaker John Perez has likened Napolitano’s call for more legislative funding to hostage taking. The other appointee, Long Beach City College President Eloy Ortiz Oakley, hasn’t talked publicly about his opposition to the tuition hikes, but you can bet he and Brown have discussed it privately.

Both Oakley and Perez are scheduled to be at the meeting this week and to cast a vote. Their appointments are in effect, since the state Senate has a year to hold an up-or-down confirmation vote.

So, it comes down to twisting arms and counting heads for the vote by the full Board of Regents some time on Thursday.

Brown, who argues that UC can do more to speed up graduation rates and cut administrative costs, can count on the support of a loud brigade of student protesters at the UC San Francisco meeting site. The optics are on his side.

Napolitano makes the case that scheduled tuition hikes are preferable to short-term decision making that leaves families facing budget uncertainty.

In the end, whatever the Regents decide, it’s still up to the Legislature and the governor to create funding levels for the University of California system when they design next year’s state spending blueprint. Napolitano could win this battle, but lose the budget war.