California legislators are working on a deal to limit tuition increases deal to limit tuition at California colleges.

It is, however, a very complicated deal, one about which California colleges are understandable wary. According to an article by Anthony York in the Los Angeles Times:

California’s public universities could lose out on an extra $125 million in state funds if they hike tuition in the fall under a budget agreement that legislative leaders have reached with Gov. Jerry Brown.

Lawmakers and the governor have no authority over tuition. The deal represents a bold attempt to use the state budget in their ongoing effort to force the University of California and California State University systems to keep the price of higher education in check.

Basically, this is what happened: California legislators agreed with the governor to give $125 million to state colleges. But in order to get the money colleges can’t raise tuition.

The money would be available next summer, but only if voters approve billions of dollars in tax increases in November; otherwise, there would be no cash infusion beyond the money already in the budget for the campuses. The proposal thus gives Brown and his fellow Democrats another selling point in their campaign for higher levies.

Right, because the other part of this deal is that voters have to approve gigantic tax increases to pay for a whole bunch of other things.

The other problem is that, thanks to the $500-million reduction in state funds since last year, some college have already hiked tuition to cover the difference. The board of trustees at Cal State raised tuition more than 9 percent for the fall. Some students have already paid. Does the institution have to give the money back?

“We haven’t actually seen the final budget language, but if it’s as described, we’re being asked to do the impossible here,” said Cal State spokeswoman Claudia Keith. “We passed a tuition increase that goes into effect this fall. We’ve already collected that money from our continuing students.”

So basically, the universities can have slightly less money than they used to, provided they agree not to raise funds in the most direct manner possible, and only if taxpayers agree to a huge tax increase to pay for a whole bunch of polices with which they might disagree.

Also college starts in like two months, and the deal is incomplete; all of those California families struggling to pay tuition (those ostensibly helped by the agreement) can’t reliably plan their budgets for next year.

I’ve said before that I actually think tuition limits can be good for public universities, forcing them to cut cost without necessitating a move into unproven, risky technological experiments. The benefits of such polices go away pretty quickly, however, if the idea has to pass through the almost structurally incompetent California legislature.

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer