Some lawmakers call California's public university administrators tone deaf and want them to listen when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars.
The plan comes after trustees hired the head of San Diego State University from an East Coast school at $100,000 more than his predecessor, and raised tuition 12 percent at the same time.
"Clearly a portion of these tuition fee hikes are being used to subsidize that person's salary and during these lean budget times, it's simply the wrong thing to do," said Lieu.
Lieu's bill limits the pay of campus presidents to $343,000 per year. That's 150 percent of the salary paid to the chief justice of the California Supreme Court.
No raises or bonuses would be allowed if a tuition hike occurred within three years.
And internal California State University candidates must be given preference for the job.
CSU had no comment on the proposal because a new committee is investigating presidential pay and selection practices. But in the past, administrators said they need to pay well to be able to recruit the best.
The salary-cap proposal is popular among students who have been protesting a string of tuition hikes over the years. At one rally, they're saying it's "raining debt" because of all the loans they have taken out to afford a college education.
This year's $5,500 tuition price tag at CSU has become too much for some.
"A lot of my friends who don't have financial aid or can't pay for it, they're seniors as well and they dropped out. So it's kind of sad," said Cassandra Sysouvanh, a senior at San Jose State University.
"You have to think about the student's perspective. What families are going through too. Not every family can afford to send their student to a CSU," said Nicholas Gilmore, a freshman at California State University-Sacramento.
This bill doesn't apply to UC because the legislature has little control over that college system.
University of California President Mark Yudof announced $140 million in merit raises to keep faculty and non-union staff from leaving. UC students are paying 10 percent more in tuition this fall.