Election Aftermath

Thanks to the 53.9 percent of California voters who approved the governor’s beloved Proposition 30 on Tuesday, we’ve dodged a bullet. But we’re not out of the woods yet. Because of this proposition our tuition will not go up this year, which will raise an estimated $6 billion in new revenues to balance the state budget through higher sales and income taxes. Proposition 30 spares us from more fee hikes for the time being, but, if the state government doesn’t work to end cuts to education in the legislature, the trend of tuition increases will continue.

Our tuition costs will stay the same as last year, thanks to a state government promise of $125 million in funding in exchange for keeping 2012 tuition at the 2011 level. While Proposition 30’s passage gives us some breathing room, California legislators should renew the $125 million promise of stable tuition next year to keep UC tuition affordable and prevent fee increases in the near future.

Gov. Brown gambled with our futures by tying trigger cuts to Proposition 30’s failure. Higher education in California is supposedly a priority, yet our state government is putting it up as collateral for balancing the state budget. Since prison spending now outpaces higher education spending and California is only the fourth-largest funder of the UC system (behind the federal government, private giving and tuition), it is clear that education is rapidly becoming the state’s trophy wife—nice to admire, but there isn’t necessarily a lot of substance to the relationship.

Fortunately the governor’s plan worked, but the burden of balancing the state’s budget should not fall on the backs of students. The state does not demonstrate a commitment to investing in UC and CSU students when it is willing to alienate thousands of lower-income students to punish anti-tax increase voters.

Gov. Brown formed and pitched Proposition 30 well. The sales tax increase that will take effect next year is relatively modest, and the income tax hikes on individuals making $250,000 and couples making $500,000 or more will only affect a small portion of Californians. The sales tax, even at the new level, will be lower than it was before a previous hike expired July 2011. Though the proposition was well designed, this does not excuse the fact that students would have paid the price had it not passed.

Proposition’s 30 passage marks the first time since 2004 that voters actually supported a tax increase. The governor bullied us into supporting the measure, giving voters an ultimatum by tying $375 million in trigger cuts to the University of California and California State systems to the measure’s failure. The cuts would have raised UC tuition by $2,400 in January, but after election results, UC affordability will live on through the spring.

And that’s the sad thing: The governor and his “allies” spent months campaigning, easing voter registration procedures, and pushing support for Proposition 30 (and the failure of civil rights attorney Molly Munger’s competing tax measure in Proposition 38). But Proposition 30 doesn’t mean the end of tuition hikes and budget cuts. By passing Proposition 30, we only temporarily halted the trend of rising tuition. According to Student Regent Jonathan Stein, we might see another fee increase of around 5 percent in fall 2013 and possibly more in the years to come.

Democrats in the state legislature picked up a few seats on Tuesday night, but not enough to have the two-thirds supermajority needed to pass tax increases in a state where Republicans have historically refused to vote in favor of any tax-raising bill. When he campaigned for the governorship two years ago, Brown promised not to raise taxes without voters’ permission. Tax-raising is left to the voters, whom without incentive might be disenfranchised in a weak economy. Therefore, it may have been necessary for Brown to use an ultimatum to get the necessary votes to pass the measure.

Congratulations, Gov. Brown. It took a major campaign of bullying state university and community college into supporting your plan to balance the budget. In hindsight, it worked and at long last the California budget is balanced, but state government will not always be able to gamble with tuition dollars. When the electorate decides to stop playing the governor’s games, the students will pay the price.