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Staring down the barrel of Proposition 30

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NOVEMBER 15, 2012

In the aftermath of Proposition 30, the ASUC cannot rest on its laurels. Education was held hostage by California lawmakers in the sights of a gun whose trigger would have been pulled if the proposition failed. Though the success of the proposition means that the trigger has remained locked, it does not mean that the fingers resting on it have relinquished their position.

The state of the 10 UC campuses without Prop. 30 would have been grim. Tuition would have likely increased by an estimated 20 percent, sending shock waves through the UC system. $375 million would be cut over the next two fiscal years. Faculty would be laid off. Classes would be slashed. Inevitably, the UC system would fall to all-time lows in world rankings, and the value of a UC Berkeley degree would sink.

But let it not be forgotten — this could still happen tomorrow.

As a central body on campus, the ASUC has power in numbers, funding and an organizational structure to make sure the reality of a world without Prop. 30 doesn’t come to be even after its passing. The proposition’s success allowed the university to avoid automatic triggers of financial destruction, but now that the proposition has passed, there’s no safeguard to prevent these same cuts and tuition hikes two or three semesters from now.

As of this moment, the ASUC has done exactly what state legislators wanted. Sacramento desired that the tax pass to secure its budget, and the ASUC helped it pass. So how do we explain to those governing the Golden State that although we listened this time, they can’t just use education as a pawn to pass a tax? How do we urge them to cut from prisons and not from the university?

The external affairs vice president’s office should go out on Sproul now in order to generate an effective lobby for education. It should make sure that every time lawmakers want to pass a tax via ballot measure, they do not leverage the state’s higher education.

Lobbying takes time and organization, and, frankly, the miniscule number of people trying to re-establish Occupy Cal will not a make the difference on this front. Some of those involved in the movement may make noise by breaking into buildings and perching on Wheeler Hall, but the Occupy Cal movement has lost political credibility and clout with the average student.

The ASUC must assume the baton. Last spring, our student government had a turnout rate close to that of Americans in the 2012 general election. No other organization on campus rivals the ASUC as a representative body of UC Berkeley students.

This should be the mission of External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi for the rest of the year. It’s been a while since the mainstream Berkeley community felt empowered in the fight for education — dare I say it, since 2009. Rallying the troops in an election year is easy, but it tends to put us in a defensive position. This is the time to become proactive so that next time, a Prop. 30 scenario doesn’t even exist in the first place. We need a concert like Rock the Vote not just before an election, but also before regents’ meetings. Our state must realize that investing in education is investing in the economy of California.

The ASUC Senate must join in as well. Endorsing or opposing a proposition through a senate bill is easy but frankly does not do much. Senators should pass bills on budget cuts, and they should lament the fact that Sacramento leveraged education to pass Prop. 30. However, even that piece of paper is close to meaningless and barely constitutes progress. Similarly, any letter that the executives send to Sacramento will do little more than give material for a politician to make a paper airplane.

The senators have much more power through their leadership roles in various communities than they do through any external legislation via the senate. Senators will spend around 30 minutes during meetings to discuss whether or not they should pass a bill that maybe 50 people will read. But senators should really be using this time to hold private conversations and meetings to garner true support for higher education, as well as travel to Sacramento in order to bring students together in this fight. This is as good a time as any to fund some fliers.

The ASUC has enormous strength. This strength was seen in the success of the ASUC Vote Coalition, the achievement of Measure R, the opposition to Measure S and the passage of Prop. 30. But these campaigns had successful student support because of the people that the ASUC mobilized — not because of the legislation it passed.

The political position of the ASUC Senate impresses few. Thousands of students rallying on campus and in Sacramento impresses everyone. The ASUC needs to use its actual strengths in order to stave off budget cuts rather than use the faux strength of a student government’s reputation.

Contact Noah Ickowitz at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @noahickowitz.
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NOVEMBER 15, 2012