SACRAMENTO – State Controller Steve Westly said Monday that every Californian is entitled to free community college – and the state can afford to pay for it. Westly, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, proposed to pay tuition for students who successfully complete a community college degree. He said the proposal would cost $100 million to $200 million a year, money he said the state should already be paying community colleges. The former eBay executive and millionaire announced his proposal at the annual legislative conference of the Community College League of California in Sacramento on Monday. “Community colleges are the most important part of the higher education system,” he told the group. “Too often, they’re also the most neglected.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card Westly said the cost of attending the state’s 109 community colleges has increased 136 percent in the last three years, to about $800 a year for a full course load. Attendance has meanwhile lagged, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. Westly said 180,000 students were priced out of education when fees climbed dramatically in 2003. But the legislative analyst found in 2003-04 about 40 percent of full-time students had their education subsidized and did not pay any tuition. Westly’s plan would let students borrow the full cost of their education, interest-free, and the money would turn into a grant if they completed their program. Students who dropped out would have to repay the loans as usual. The state has shortchanged community colleges in recent years, Westly said. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget this year is $255 million short of what colleges should be receiving, he said. Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating fee increases at colleges and universities in an effort to control the costs to students. “Fortunately our community college fees are among the lowest in the country and have not increased in recent years,” said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Katherine McLane. “Suggesting that we take funds from our K-12 classrooms to reduce fees already the lowest in the nation is an idea that would appear to hurt our K-12 students.” Westly’s Democratic rival, state Treasurer Phil Angelides, has an education proposal that includes reducing taxes on education, admitting 20,000 more students to state universities, expanding the state’s grant system and creating an endowment to boost funding by around $300 million a year. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!