UC Berkeley students lobby in Sacramento for bill to tax oil to fund public higher education

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A group of UC Berkeley students joined forces with supporters from various California colleges and universities Thursday morning to lobby for a state Senate bill that aims to reduce tuition at California public institutions of higher education.

About 20 UC Berkeley students were among the 70 supporters who went to Sacramento to bequest members of the Senate Education Committee to support  Senate Bill 1017, which would impose a tax on oil and gas extracted from California soil. The revenue from the tax would be funneled into an endowment — established by the bill — that would generate funds for California public higher education. The proposal ultimately aims to stabilize tuition and roll costs back to 2008 levels.

“We all teamed up and went into the meeting, where we pretty much lobbied,” said UC Berkeley junior Elias Saigali. “I think it was very effective.”

Those who attended the Senate hearing had the opportunity to vocalize through testimony either their support of or opposition to the bill. According to Saigali, about 60 people spoke in favor of the bill — including students and supporters from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a grassroots organization that aims to empower ordinary citizens to take action in their communities.

“Our physical persistence showed that students really care,” Saigali said. “It’s a way for them to understand what we’re going through. It’s important to us.”

Also at the hearing, representatives from the Western States Petroleum Association enumerated their qualms. Particularly, they argued that the legislation would cost the oil industry about 10,000 jobs and would raise gas prices.

SB 1017, which was introduced two months ago by State Senator Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, has long been supported by a coalition of UC Berkeley students. The bill is a development of both Senate Bill 241 — a former iteration of SB 1017 that failed to pass in committee last year — and the California Modernization and Economic Development Act. Authored by UC Berkeley senior Harrison “Jack” Tibbetts, CMED is of similar sentiment to SB 1017 and, in fact, inspired the bill’s provision of an endowment fund.

In a February interview, Tibbetts said SB 1017 could generate upward of $5 billion for higher-education funding in California. He added that California is the only major oil-producing state that doesn’t impose a tax on extracted oil.

On Thursday, SB 1017 passed the preliminary vote in the Senate Education Committee. As a result of this, the state Senate Governance and Finance Committee will review the bill May 9.

“My hope is that if this does pass, it will inspire students to take legislation into their own hands,” Tibbetts said. “There is more to being reactionary. You can actually lead the discussion.”


Contact Zoe Kleinfeld at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @zoekleinfeld.