Students rally on Earth Day in support of tax initiative

Gracie Malley/Senior Staff
ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi spoke at an Earth Day rally in favor of an oil severance tax initiative.

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About 25 students gathered on the steps of Sproul Hall on Earth Day to rally support for an oil-tax initiative that would generate funds for education, among other government programs.

The California Modernization and Economic Development Act, drafted by UC Berkeley students in January, would implement a 9.5 percent severance tax on oil and natural gas extracted in California and could create anywhere from $2 billion to $2.5 billion in revenue.

The revenue from the oil severance tax would be dedicated to increasing funding for education, the environment, small businesses and county governments, according to UC Berkeley junior and campaign manager for the initiative Harrison Tibbetts.

The initiative expects to provide about $1.2 billion a year for education, with funds being apportioned evenly among the state’s public education systems.

“We have the right to an education,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi at the rally. “By passing CMED, we can ensure we have that right.”

ASUC Executive Vice President-elect and current senator Nolan Pack spoke about the initiative at the Earth Day rally and criticized the state’s treatment of vulnerable communities and trends of deregulation.

“Help us repent Reagan’s launch into national politics and reinvigorate California’s economy,” he said.

Pack was among seven senators who helped pass an ASUC bill in support of the CMED initiative in February.

Tibbetts said the oil initiative’s campaign has gained momentum since he initially created the policy proposal earlier this semester.

He said that in the last three months, the campaign has doubled the size of its central team and recruited around 60 volunteers.

“The more people hear about the bill, the more positive feedback we get,” said campaign communications coordinator Kevin Singer.

Additionally, the campaign has received endorsements from high-profile figures, such as 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Distinguished Chair in Energy at UC Berkeley Daniel M. Kammen; former U.S. Secretary of Labor and UC Berkeley public policy professor Robert Reich; and state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who proposed a similar bill in February.

Evans’ office endorsed the CMED Act on Friday, shortly after the campaign attended the California Democratic Convention in Sacramento last week.

“If we don’t have revenue, we have cuts,” said Evans’ communications director, Teala Schaff. “We are cutting to the bone and cutting off limbs now. If we don’t identify new revenues, we will see more programs cut.”

ASUC External Affairs Vice President-elect Safeena Mecklai said her office will aid the campaign’s outreach efforts and more directly work toward encouraging students to vote this November, despite the fact that it is not a typically large election year.

“We hope to get students engaged in the issues and use Prop. 30 as a jumping-off point for doing so,” Mecklai said.

Alex Berryhill covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @berryhill93.