UC President Janet Napolitano welcomed SB15, the Senate Democrats' bill introduced by Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego).
"The bill introduced today is a promising first step toward making sure that public higher education benefits Californians today and for generations to come, and we look forward to working with Senate Democrats and other elected officials to secure the state funding essential to this end," Napolitano said.
The plan by de León (D-Los Angeles) follows one announced Monday by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. She called for implementing so-called zero-based budgeting for UC, a process that would force the university each year to justify its spending. Lawmakers have been critical of the UC system in part because they say its board has resisted efforts to reduce costs.
Atkins (D-San Diego) also released an earlier proposal calling for the repeal of the tuition increases. Her plan calls for adding $50 million to the UC system's budget from the state's general fund and increasing Cal Grant financial aid.
Tuition has been frozen at the University of California for the past three years following a series of increases that have nearly doubled rates since 2006. Under the new plan, the average annual cost for a California resident would increase by $612 next fall, to $12,804. The total cost would grow to $15,564 by fall 2019.
The issue has grown particularly contentious, with the Board of Regents' vote drawing criticism from Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, legislative leaders and students.
De León said he wants to improve access to colleges, make them more affordable and help students finish degrees because the California job market will face a shortage of 1 million college graduates in 10 years.
"It is absolutely clear that the future of California's economy depends on the vibrancy and the quality of our higher education system," he said. "This is also about access, and making sure our kids in fact graduate on a timely basis."
While his plan calls for increasing state funding, it also would redirect a middle-class scholarship account created by his political rival, former Assembly Speaker John Pérez, who is termed out of office but was recently appointed to the UC board by the governor. Atkins' plan calls for speeding up the implementation of the scholarship by more than 20 percent next year.
De León says his plan would use the scholarship money more efficiently to benefit a larger group of students. It would be put into the larger pool of higher education funding and could be used, for example, to add course offerings.
Too many California students are failing to graduate in a timely manner, according to the Campaign for College Opportunity, a coalition backed by business, labor and civic organizations to increase efficiency in higher education.