Students should not be used as political pawns

Jaime Chong/Staff

One of the surest ways to catch a weak argument is by noticing a pervasive ad hominem within it. An op-ed written by students Andrew Albright and Paul Murre titled “Students must stand together against corporate America’s attack on the middle class” is founded in this notion that some big, evil corporations are somehow out to raid the middle class of their hard-earned livelihood.

This style of argument is nothing new from those who want to demonize the 1 percent, as if the expensive car in their driveway somehow belongs to their less-wealthy neighbor. What do Chrysler, General Motors, International Paper, Kimberly-Clark, Procter & Gamble and thousands of other businesses really have in common? Collectively, they employ millions of middle-class families and they also reserve the right to pack up and leave when business becomes too expensive.

However, the fact that the California State Legislature has dealt destructive cuts to our public higher education system is undeniable. Students lack a real voice in the state budgetary process because much larger and more powerful interests, such as the California Teachers Association and California Correctional Peace Officers Association, spend millions in Sacramento to get their wishes met first. But all too quickly, California students may forget which party dominates the committees in both houses, which party dealt these cuts without any consideration of the minority view and which party campaigns for higher taxes but then only rewards those who help get them elected.

California Democratic lawmakers unilaterally passed nearly $2 billion in cuts to higher education this past summer. Not a single Republican legislator supported this budget. In fact, Republicans presented Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrats with a budget that did not take a dime from higher education, but the minority view was wholly shut out of the process. A statewide ballot initiative passed in November 2010 changed the vote requirement to pass a budget from two-thirds to a simple majority.

And indeed, on March 5, thousands of students from across the state gathered in Sacramento to voice their concerns over keeping public higher education affordable. And the very Democratic lawmakers who authored and carried out these cuts to higher education stood next to these students in support of their rally. California Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly released an open letter to student leaders, calling on them to not become political pawns in their fight for higher education.

When looking at the facts of California State Assembly Speaker John A. Perez’s Middle Class Scholarship Act let us suspend the ideas that 1) corporations in California are out to somehow destroy the middle class and 2) that Democrats in Sacramento are selfless defenders of affordable higher education.

Perez’s AB 1500 and 1501 essentially seek to change the corporate tax code in order to raise taxes on a wide range of businesses in California by $1 billion.

Elimination of the single sales factor would be a tax increase on businesses that employ Californians and would increase their incentive to do business elsewhere. Ranked 48 out of 50, California hosts one of the most hostile business climates in the nation, and one of the primary causes for this is attributed to the uncertainty of costs for businesses in the state.

Finally, this Middle Class Scholarship Act has zero statutory bite behind it in terms of guaranteeing the increased tax revenues be spent on higher education. It’s up to the Democratic legislature as to how these funds are ultimately spent, and we know their track record on defending higher education in Sacramento.

53 percent of recent college graduates are either unemployed or underemployed. What good is some extra financial aid, if it is at the expense of losing job creators? And why should students get excited about a mere $1 billion increase in state revenue, when our budget faces a $500 billion unfunded public employee pension liability which Democrats refuse to address? California students deserve better, and they ought not to be duped by Perez’s political ploy.

Shawn Lewis is the president of the Berkeley College Republicans.