The middle class is dwindling.
Since the economic downturn, politicians have rallied behind the call to help the poor and middle classes. Political speeches are now about protecting the middle class. But, as experience has proven recently, political rhetoric about the middle class is nothing more than just that — rhetoric.
Over the past year the state Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, an ally of students and the middle class, has worked tirelessly with the University of California Student Association and others to pass his groundbreaking Middle Class Scholarship Act. As it stood, the scholarship would have lowered fees of UC and CSU students by 60 percent while also increasing the funding for community colleges. The scholarship program would have been funded by closing a corporate tax loophole for out-of-state corporations — effectively leveling the playing field for California companies while also building a strong foundation for the economic future of the state. The middle class would have been protected and California companies would have benefited.
With an ever-shrinking middle class, cuts to the social safety net and tuition increases of over 300 percent within the past decade, the middle class has been handed an unbearable financial burden coupled with stalled economic growth. During these difficult times, California needs legislators that are willing to be stalwarts for the middle class and courageous enough to develop innovative new ideas that force the ever-growing rich and wealthy to pay their fair share.
Speaker Pérez and most of the Democrats in the legislature were inches away from reaching a deal that would have made the Middle Class Scholarship possible. Passing such a monumental piece of legislation would have demonstrated to the nation and the state that California is a serious fighter for the middle class and the American dream. But some senators failed to step up to the plate.
The Middle Class Scholarship Act fell prey to back-door deals in the late hour that never materialized. Rumors of deals around the scholarship spread throughout the capitol and in the end the Senate failed to deliver the necessary two-thirds vote necessary for its passage. One thing is clear. There were those senators that stood with students and the middle class and there were those senators who stood with out-of-state corporations. Their votes speak louder than rhetoric.
The events surrounding the vote on the Middle Class Scholarship proved one very important point. The two-thirds vote requirement for any tax increase — in this case the closing of a tax loophole — hurts the middle class. Were it not for this requirement, the Middle Class Scholarship would have passed through the senate and been on its way to the governor’s desk. But it didn’t happen. The two-thirds requirement allows the tyranny of the minority to overwhelm the rule of the majority. In this case, as in most, regular hardworking Californians pay the cost.
So how do we fix this problem, and win the fight for the middle class?
Since 2011 UCSA has worked and will continue to work in broad coalitions with legislators like Speaker Pérez and along with organizations such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and American Chamber of Commerce Executives on reforming the two-thirds requirement and increasing overall state revenues by closing tax loopholes that only benefit the rich and corporations.
UCSA has made thousands of calls, sent tens of thousands of letters, lobbied in Sacramento, marched with 10,000 students on the capitol and protested throughout the state against the cuts to higher education. While we have won many victories, we need to push back against the forces demanding the continuation of the current status quo. We need every student in California to join this fight for equity and be heard by those who would stifle the pleas for help from the silent majority. We need to shift the conversation away from what is right for corporations and lobbyists to what is right for Californians. We need to win this fight before we lose our middle class.
Angelica Salceda is the president of the UC Student Association.
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