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Lt. Gov. Newsom opens fire on Cal Grant cuts

February 9, 2012 |  4:19 pm

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is taking aim at the governor’s proposed cuts to higher education, calling on lawmakers to reject them as unfair and shortsighted.

Newsom, who has consistently staked out political territory to the left of Gov. Jerry Brown, said in a letter Wednesday that reducing financial aid by $308.4 million would place the “burden of our fiscal problems on the very students who will help lead California out of this morass.”

In particular, Newsom criticized the proposal to raise the minimum grade-point average needed to receive a Cal Grant. Brown’s administration says an estimated 26,600 students wouldn’t make the cut, saving $131 million and focusing “limited financial aid resources on those students who are most likely to complete their degrees.”

Newsom said that will only further handicap disadvantaged students.

“If we keep cutting higher education funding and increasing the cost of getting a degree, that student is guaranteed not to complete a degree because we have priced them out of public education and told them they are not worth our support,” he wrote.

The Legislative Analyst's Office, in a report released Wednesday, also said Brown's proposal is too drastic.

The lieutenant governor has praised Brown’s efforts to tackle the state’s financial problems but has criticized his decisions on a few occasions, most recently in a radio interview with KQED last week.

Newsom said he discussed proposed cuts in Cal Grants with Brown’s administration. Asked what he would cut from the budget instead, Newsom said he replied, “You give me your finance team, give me the controller, give me your department heads, and give me 48 hours, I’ll come up with them.”

Earlier in the interview, Newsom said he was opposed to cuts to childcare programs, which would lose $446.9 million under Brown’s proposal.

“It’s very disappointing,” he said. “What’s equally disappointing, perhaps more so, is that we have a Democratic governor proposing to cut welfare support."

In a television interview the next day on KGO-TV, Newsom pointed out how former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez pumped more money into higher education despite the deficit in 2007.

"They added $750 million to the budget deficit," he said, adding: "If you value something, invest in it."

Gil Duran, a spokesman for Brown, said Newsom was advocating the wrong approach.

"Bigger deficits are not the answer,” Duran said. “That kind of thinking is what got us into this mess.”

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for Brown's Department of Finance, pointed out the governor wants to increase overall high education spending by 4% a year for three years.

Photo: Gavin Newsom campaigning for lieutenant governor in 2010 in East Los Angeles. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times


Assembly speaker wants to trade tax breaks for scholarships

Budget plan would raise the bar for Cal Grant financial aid

Second round of tuition hikes likely at UC and Cal State systems

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento

Twitter: @chrismegerian