|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, May 10, 2004
North County Times 5-8-04
Tax on wealthy pushed by higher ed advocates
SAN DIEGO ---- Leading Democrats in the state Legislature called Friday for a temporary tax on the rich to lift the state from a budgetary morass they say is hurting public higher-education far too much.
In what was billed as a town hall meeting on higher education, the lawmakers said that cuts being proposed for the public university systems will be the undoing of California's stated promise of college access to all qualified applicants.
"The proposed budget cuts we are discussing here today," said state Sen. Dede Alpert of San Diego, "threaten to push the (California State University system) over the edge and into a state of catastrophe."
As for what to do about it, the Democrats said they support any number of proposals floating around the Legislature that would impose a temporary tax on wealthy Californians.
They said they would aim to convince the governor and Republican lawmakers that a better budget picture for the colleges and universities is good for business.
In their view, as Alpert put it, "there is nothing more important than an educated citizenry to improve the business climate in California."
Setting the tone for a 90-minute meeting with about 100 people in Hojel Hall at the Institute of the Americas on the campus of UC San Diego, state Rep. Christine Kehoe said: "Once upon a time, all Californians, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, worked to make California great, and built a higher education system that became the envy of the world."
Adding that college is a basic right for students and an obligation of the state to provide, Kehoe, a San Diego Democrat, said that budgetary neglect has made a "shambles" out of the system. "We believe," she added, "that the budget would take a bad situation and make it worse, much worse."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected next week to reveal an updated state budget, the so-called May revise, but lawmakers at Friday's meeting were not confident that it would improve on what he proposed in January.
That January proposal would cut some $418 million from the current general fund appropriations to the universities ---- an 8.4 percent drop for the CSU and a 6.9 percent drop for the University of California, according to Alpert's calculations. It would mean that 23,000 otherwise qualified students will be turned away at Cal State campuses and some 3,000 freshmen at the UC.
Undergraduate tuition at both universities would go up 10 percent. Graduate students, including those enrolled in the one-year programs that lead to credentials to become public school teachers, face 40 percent tuition hikes.
Community college fees would go from $18 per credit hour to $26.
And, said Alpert, the chairwoman of the Senate appropriations committee, even though a proposed 7 percent increase in the budget for the state's community colleges looks good on paper, it fails to make up for the expense at the two-year schools for taking the thousands of students who will be "diverted" from the two universities amid enrollment curbs.
The pool of money for financial aid would shrink by $9 million, the senator said, while the eligibility requirements would tighten. Now, a family of four earning $67,000 a year can qualify for financial aid and the January proposal would lower it to $60,000, Alpert said.
Noting that prison budgets have increased while higher education budgets fell, Alpert said, "budgets are a statement of our priorities as a society." With the CSU, she added, the point perhaps had been made most clearly by the California Faculty Association when it said "long-term erosion" in support of the university has brought it to the "brink of crisis."
Responding to questions from the audience, Murray Galinson, who is board chairman of San Diego National Bank and a CSU trustee, said the higher taxes on the wealthy is "one of the things that has to be considered."
If lawmakers agree to one proposal in Sacramento to tax the income above the $500,000 mark at a 1 percent higher rate, he said, it would amount to $10,000 in extra taxes for a person with a $1.5 million annual income. "I can't believe," he said, "that that's going to change their lifestyle or affect them adversely in any way possible."
Asked after the session for her reaction, a student, Susan Higgins, who is in the doctoral program in educational leadership at the University of San Diego, said it's a contradiction to aim to build a healthy state economy and reduce higher-education budgets at the same time.
"Increased taxes for the wealthy would seem to be the most logical solution," she said.
Alpert said some movement in that direction by Schwarzenegger may convince at least two Republicans in the Senate and a handful in the Assembly to pass a higher tax levy on wealthy Californians. Those votes are needed to gain the two-thirds majority required to pass a state budget in the Legislature.
The San Diego session was the fourth of five being held around the state by the Senate majority caucus to call attention to higher education budget issues. The next is set for May 21 in Long Beach.
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