Jan. 25, 2010

Dear Editor,

What if we lived in a world where your cell-phone carrier raised your bill and, at the same time, reduced your coverage? What if your landlord increased your rent by a third and then took away your bathroom? What if you took a flight and the airline raised the price while in midair?

These seem like ridiculous scenarios, but something similar is happening all across UC campuses right now.

The cost of your education is skyrocketing just as students are forced to endure overcrowded classrooms — due to the all-too-common predicament of full enrollment rosters and reduced course offerings.

If only papers and finals were the worst of your worries.

In the span of this next year, the UC Regents will raise your fees by over 30 percent, after more than doubling them in the last 10 years. When you speak out about these injustices, the best that administrators can do is blame Sacramento for disinvesting in the University of California — and then look to private funding sources.

And while it is true that public sources of funding for education have diminished due to state budget woes, the story is not that simple. The majority of California legislators know that California should be investing in its students and future workforce, not abandoning them and putting up even more barriers to a quality education.

That is why I have proposed that we adequately fund our community colleges, state colleges and universities by requiring oil companies to pay their fair share for the oil and natural gas they pump out of California’s land and water. We can no longer afford to be the only major oil-producing state that doesn’t levy such a fee. Texas, for instance, generates $400 million for higher education through a similar fee.

My bill, AB 656, would raise up to $2 billion for the UC, CSU and community colleges with a 12.5-percent tax on oil extracted within California. That’s considerably less than the 25-percent tax levied in Sarah Palin’s Alaska. The oil companies will tell you that they already pay enough taxes, and that this bill will result in jobs lost. Yet oil companies have been experiencing record-breaking profits for the past several years. Exxon Mobil, for instance, raked in a $45.2-billion profit in 2008, the most ever made by a publicly traded U.S. company.

The UC system is crucial to our state’s economy. It generates billions of dollars in economic activity and attracts billions more in research dollars, money that fuels key industries like agriculture, energy and biotechnology.

With big oil ready to spend lavishly to defeat AB 656, this won’t be an easy fight — but it’s a fight I’m confident we can win together. Please join me and thousands of other concerned Californians in fighting for higher education at www.facebook.com/fairtuition.

— Alberto Torrico (D-Fremont)

Assembly Majority Leader

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