Students must stand together against corporate America’s attack on middle class

What do Chrysler, General Motors, International Paper, Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble all have in common? Besides being major, out-of-state corporations, they have banded together to create a deceptive campaign against California’s middle class families by attempting to stop the passage of Assembly Bill 1500. The bill, which is a component of Speaker John A. Pérez’s Middle Class Scholarship Act, would require these corporations to pay a uniform tax rate, rather than the current policy, which enables them to choose a lower tax rate.

Despite corporate America’s opposition to the Middle Class Scholarship Act, young people from all walks of life, who attend private schools, CSUs, UCs and community colleges are uniting together behind the act, because it has the potential to benefit students across the state. This joint op-ed and our teamwork in advocating for this legislation is reflective of this unification, as it is authored by a Cal State student active in Democratic Party politics and a leader in UC Berkeley’s student government and progressive community.

This unification is in response to the inherent need to revitalize our public higher education systems. The facts are simple: the state of public higher education in California is absolutely deplorable, as tuition rises exponentially and services are continually slashed.  We stand in solidarity, opposed to the state’s massive divestment from public higher education.

In reaction to the need for higher education reform, more than 10,000 students from all over California flooded the State Capitol on March 5 to stand up for our right to an affordable higher education. Just days after the march, a state Assembly panel voted to reject further cuts to the Cal Grants program.  Students, such as ourselves, who lobbied legislators to reject cuts to Cal Grants, heard those same legislators use the same arguments we presented them in the committee hearings. The decision to reject cuts to Cal Grants is an example of the success and political clout California’s college students can carry.

At a broader level, we believe that our best shot at changing course is increasing affordability and access to higher education. By closing a wasteful corporate tax loophole, the Middle Class Scholarship Act will reduce fees in the CSU and UC systems by two-thirds for students with family incomes of less than $150,000 that do not already have their fees covered.

However, some out-of-state-corporations are unsurprisingly mobilizing against the scholarship, rejecting any alteration of their tax rate. In fact, the corporations behind the attack on the scholarship are known for being unscrupulous.  According to Consumer Watchdog, some of the corporations working against the Middle Class Scholarship Act  are among the top U.S. tax evaders.

Despite opposition, closing the loophole so that out-of-state corporations don’t get to pick their preferred tax rate has broad bipartisan support in the California state legislature and from California businesses, as it would equalize the playing field for businesses while generating about $1 billion in revenue to help middle-class families.

As dissatisfaction with our public higher education systems continues to grow, the tides have finally begun to turn in Sacramento. Recently Nathan Fletcher, a Republican state legislator representing San Diego, decided to dump the Republican Party. This decision bodes well for the Middle Class Scholarship Act, which to pass, must be supported by two-thirds of our state legislature. Upon his departure, Fletcher remarked that he is fed up with the partisanship and “petty games,” indicating that increasingly our state is exhausted by inaction and wants to bring about real change.

We urge you to join your fellow college students across California as we continue to advocate for the Middle Class Scholarship Act in the wake of corporate America’s attacks. If we can convince our state lawmakers to pass this legislation, we will prove that student voice is valuable and more important than corporate interests. Students should share their higher education stories and sign the Middle Class Scholarship Act petition. Together we can ensure that UCs, CSUs and California community colleges are accessible and affordable for all Californians. Together, we can do anything.

Andrew Albright is an ASUC senator. Paul Murre is the president of the California College Democrats.