Tax Oil Companies, Not Students
By Robert Cruickshank
As protests unfold across the state and the nation yesterday against cuts to education and fee increases, more attention is finally being drawn to the massive crisis facing our students, our schools, and our future.
20 years ago a year at UC Berkeley cost just over $1,000 in fees. Even that was much higher than the $0 cost that the 1960 Master Plan pledged. The early 1990s saw a big rise in fees, and by the time I started at UCB in 1997 the cost had risen to over $4,000 a year. Now the cost is slated to rise to a whopping $10,000 per year, something many students and their families cannot afford to pay. And even as those costs rise, including at CSU and community colleges, classes are being cut as educational quality declines.
It's no way to run a state. California's current prosperity is owed largely to the investments Pat Brown made in the 1960s, building a public higher education system that was the world's envy - and that fueled our innovation and economic creativity. But instead of renewing those investments for a new century, Arnold Schwarzenegger is destroying them. The fee increases are a massive tax increase on the young and on the working- and middle-classes. They must be reversed.
The only way they will be reversed is to generate new revenue. That's why the Courage Campaign, where I work as Public Policy Director, is joining the California Faculty Association and the University of California Students Association in launching our pledge to support AB 656, the oil severance tax for California.
AB 656, authored by Assemblymember Alberto Torrico, would generate $2 billion a year for higher education by levying a 12% tax on the extraction of oil and gas in California. Texas uses this tax to fund higher education there, and Sarah Palin increased Alaska's oil severance tax in 2007 in order to buy the love of her constituents. Every major oil producing state in the union has an oil severance tax - except California.
The result of this massive tax break we give to oil companies is the destruction of our public colleges and universities. Fees have risen since the early 1990s only because of cuts in the amount of state funding the schools receive. The only way to make college affordable again is to increase that funding. An oil severance tax is a good place to begin.
Stand up for students, for faculty, for staff, and for higher education by taking the pledge to support AB 656 today. We will use these pledges to help convince the legislature to pass the bill, adding to the fact that 2/3rds of Californians said they'll pay higher taxes for education. Let's tax oil companies, not students.
Robert Cruickshank is a historian, activist, and teacher living in Monterey. He is a contributing editor at Calitics.com and works for the Courage Campaign, in addition to teaching political science at Monterey Peninsula College. Currently he is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in US history, on progressive politics in San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s. This article was originally published in Calitics.