In November 2012, for the first time in more than two decades, Californians elected to directly raise taxes on themselves by passing Proposition 30 by a healthy 10-point margin. By passing Prop. 30, Californian voters affirmed their commitment to fully fund public education by sacrificing more of their paycheck with higher taxes.
The tax increases in Prop. 30 were approved in the spirit of safeguarding public education funding; however, just months after Prop. 30’s passage, we already see its funds being spent elsewhere. Although the UC and CSU systems were able to avoid a midyear tuition increase, painful tuition hikes still loom in the near future.
Pending legislation in the California State Senate and Assembly, Senate Bill 58 and Assembly Bill 67, would freeze tuition at its current rate for all campuses of the UC, CSU and community college systems for the seven-year lifetime of Prop. 30.
Prop. 30’s hefty 3.45 percent increase in sales tax and establishment of the highest top personal income tax rate in the nation will generate roughly $50 billion over the next seven years. Although Prop. 30 revenues are estimated to reach $6 billion this year alone, Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget includes just $2.7 billion in additional funding for public education. (Only $125 million of that amount will go to the UC system).
If less than half of Prop. 30 revenue is being spent on public education this year, where is the rest of money going?
Because Prop. 30 did not include a statutory requirement or guarantee that the additional revenues would be committed to public education, it’s difficult to know exactly where Prop. 30 revenue goes. We do know that Brown’s initial budget proposal included a $1.3 billion increase in wage and benefits for California public employees.
Californians voted to keep education affordable for students, not to give public employees a pay raise.
In an op-ed I wrote for The Daily Californian last October, I expressed my concern that exactly this would happen. Based on the vague language of Prop. 30, the fear tactics used to pass it and legislative precedent in Sacramento, several critics had no confidence that Prop. 30 funds would be fully committed to public education.
While I, along with many others, opposed Prop. 30 on the November ballot, we can all agree that now that we have these additional tax revenues, we must do everything we can to hold Sacramento accountable and to commit Prop. 30 money to public education in California.
One ‘Yes on 30’ television ad featured California State Controller John Chiang claiming, “With strict accountability, money must go to the classrooms and can’t be touched by Sacramento politicians.” There currently exists no such accountability.
By knocking on doors, making phone calls and registering tens of thousands of new voters, student leaders fought to secure additional tax revenue for public education from Prop. 30. Is this where students’ efforts are supposed to stop? Get Prop. 30 passed and let Sacramento politicians do the rest? Last November, students demonstrated that their actions can make a difference — but what we decide to do with our voices now can have an even greater impact on the future of public higher education in California.
Fortunately, there exists a proposal in the California State Legislature that would hold politicians in Sacramento accountable and further commit Prop. 30 funds to public education.
The UC, CSU, and community college tuition freeze proposed by Republicans addresses the two critical weaknesses in Prop. 30: 1) Currently, there is no way to ensure these new tax revenues are being spent on public education; and 2) even if the state budget committed 100 percent of Prop. 30 funds to education, issues like excessive executive salary compensation and risky Wall Street investments very well may receive this money rather than students.
AB 67 and SB 58 simply remove tuition hikes as an option to bail out poor budgeting in Sacramento or financial mismanagement by the UC, CSU and community college administrations. With this new law, legislators would have to finally get serious about finding sustainable ways to keep public higher education affordable and accessible to all Californians.
Remember that tuition at the UC and CSU systems has more than tripled over the past 10 years. Where do we expect tuition to be another 10 years from now?
Because students worked so hard to get Prop. 30 passed, it is now our responsibility to hold Sacramento accountable with these new funds, and supporting this seven-year tuition freeze is a first step that would have immediate positive effects on every student in California.
Shawn Lewis is vice chair of the California College Republicans and former president of the Berkeley College Republicans.