New bill to fund UC, CSU and CCC systems by imposing tax on companies pumping oil in California

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A bill — introduced Feb. 14 by State Senator Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and backed by a coalition of UC Berkeley students — aims to reduce tuition at California’s public higher education institutions by imposing a tax on companies pumping oil and gas from the ground in California.

About 10 UC Berkeley students traveled to CSU Sacramento Wednesday to support Evans as she presented the bill, SB 1017, to students. The bill’s introduction comes amid California’s lengthy budgeting process, which has sparked a debate over the University of California’s own budget and the possibility of systemwide tuition hikes.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai — who spoke at the press conference at CSU Sacramento Wednesday — said the main appeal of SB 1017 is that it intends to channel funding to higher education by levying a 9.5 percent tax per barrel on companies.

“UC Berkeley students are generally very reactive,” Mecklai said. “What I love about an oil extraction tax is that it’s an innovative way to fund the UC proactively.”

SB 1017 evolved from both SB 241 — a previous iteration of SB 1017 also introduced by Evans that died in committee last year — and the Californian Modernization and Economic Development Act, also known as CMED, a proposal supported by the University of California Student Association since last year. CMED, authored by UC Berkeley senior Harrison Tibbetts, proposes taxing oil and gas extracted within the state and creating an endowment to provide funds for California public higher education, among other provisions.

In hopes of stabilizing tuition and eventually rolling it back to 2008 standards, SB 1017 would implement the endowment proposal in CMED, originally not included in SB 241. According to Tibbetts, endowments generally generate about 5 percent interest per year, which means that over about 10 years, SB 1017 could generate upward of $5 billion for higher education funding in California. That money would be allocated equally to the University of California, California State University and the California Community Colleges, under the terms of the legislation.

The ASUC Senate introduced SB 29 Wednesday in support of Evans’ legislation. Although the bill hasn’t yet been voted on, Matthew Lewis — legislative director to ASUC Senator Caitlin Quinn — noted that, if passed, the bill would reaffirm that the ASUC believes the cost of education across the university is unacceptably high.

Mecklai said, regardless of the outcome of SB 1017, “a seed has been planted,” and state legislators will be thinking about a tax on oil companies to fund education.

“We’re not going to just stand here and let these cuts keep happening,” said UC Berkeley sophomore Simmi Dhillon, who works in Mecklai’s office. “This is something we support and something that we will rally around time and time again. We’re not going to be backing down from this.”

Contact Zoe Kleinfeld at [email protected].

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