After a year of protesting outside UC Board of Regents meetings and firing insults at UC President Mark Yudof, student activists have turned their attention — and well-honed flyering skills — toward Sacramento, with a ballot initiative called the California Democracy Act.
The initiative, drafted by UC Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff, would reduce the two-thirds legislative majority required to make any budgetary decision to a simple majority.
According to Lakoff, if budget and revenue proposals require support from only 50 percent of legislators in the assembly and senate, much of the budget gridlock would be alleviated, and the government would be able to increase statewide revenue more easily.
Lakoff said he hopes that some of that extra revenue would make its way to the UC system. Chris Ah San, Student Organizing Director of the California Democracy Act Coalition, agreed.
“There’s a systemic problem with the way budgets are made that leads to the fact that we can’t get any funding for education,” Ah San said. “Basically, the way we understand it, none of the problems that students are facing right now can be fixed without fixing this first.”
The two-thirds majority clause first became law with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978. The main purpose of Prop. 13 was to reduce the high property taxes that accompanied the real-estate boom of the 1970s, and cap the percentage by which they could be increased each year.
According to Ah San, the two-thirds requirement — intended to inhibit both the raising of taxes and the imposing of new ones — is partially responsible for California’s current economic strife.
“The majority of legislators … want to be able to raise the revenue that is necessary to fund higher education,” Ah San said. “[But] just 34 percent of state legislators in either house in the state legislature, all they have to do is just say “No” until they get a budget that they want.”
Last year, legislators faced off for months – largely along party lines – over whether they should combat California’s economic crisis by raising taxes, resulting in a record-setting 85-day delay in the budget’s release.
Though Lakoff’s proposal would help avoid such setbacks in the future, there is no guarantee that the initiative would ensure financial support for public higher education. Instead, the CDAC is appealing to students on the grounds that if new sources of revenue are found, more money will become generally available — and some of that will most likely be devoted to colleges and universities.
The coalition is working in conjunction with nonstudent organizers in the larger California Majority Rule campaign, and currently has a chapter at every UC campus except Riverside. Students from schools all over the state — including UC San Diego — have begun the hunt for public support and, more importantly, signatures.
The initiative can be passed by voters with no legislative input, but requires 694,354 signatures in the planning stages in order to make it onto the November ballot. Additionally, a verification process — during which many of the signatures can be thrown out — means the coalition must aim for 1.3 million signatures by the April 15 deadline.
Currently, according to Ah San, they have around 3,000.
“We’re just organizing now,” Lakoff said. “This is a last-minute grassroots effort. It was not planned in advance; there is no big money behind it … It’s just going to take a while.”
The UCSD chapter of the CDA began organizing earlier this week, when a total of 15 members gathered 75 signatures on their first day of collecting. Chapter director Wafa Ben-Hassine said the chapter is aiming to contribute 2,000 signatures to the overall campaign.
Opponents of the act argue that removing the two-thirds majority would result in higher taxes amid an economic recession, and would negatively impact the growth of industry.
“The two-thirds rule is the thin blue line protecting California from ruination,” Chris Reed, columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, said.
Should the campaign gather enough signatures by mid-April, the act will await voter approval on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Ah San said he is optimistic about the initiative’s chances of passing.
“People know that it’s time for a change,” Ah San said. “This is the year where we have to pass it. Otherwise we’re just going to be facing a bigger mess in California — as if it can get any worse than it is.”
Readers can contact Hayley Bisceglia-Martin at [email protected]