With just under a week to go before Proposition 30’s outcome decides the future of public higher education in the state, Gov. Jerry Brown offered two choices for voters in California: increase taxes or increase tuition.
But opponents like the California Taxpayers Association (CTA) and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association argue against the looming surge in taxes that Proposition 30 will bring, maintaining that Californians are pressured enough by the burden of high taxes.
“We are number one in the nation in sales tax. We are number two in income tax rates,” said Kris Vosburgh, executive director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “We have the third-highest unemployment rate, and it’s a third higher than the national average.”
Proposition 30 is a bill that would fund K-12 schools and community colleges first, with public universities and other social programs taking what remains.
The measure would increase personal income taxes for earners over $250,000 for the next seven years and raise sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years. It aims to raise $6 billion to stop automatic “trigger cuts” that would take place if the proposition is not passed.
The automatic cuts, which are built into the law to compensate for another budget cut, will raise tuition another $150 per student.
The trigger cuts were put in place as buffers to keep universities and schools running at the minimum, with no faculty raises and continued pas in the educational system that Vosburgh claimed it was their own doing.
“The fact is they put the trigger cuts there themselves, and they can undo them,” Vosburgh said. “There is no reason that they have to cut money for schools—either K-12 or higher education.”
If the measure is approved by voters next week, student tuition will “roll back” to fall 2011 prices and reimburse students nearly $500 for the 9 percent tuition hike decided by the CSU Board of Trustees.
Brown said it is unlikely that any groups disagree with the measure, as the consequences for not passing it would be detrimental to the public higher educational infrastructure that has seen tuition and fees rise more than 150 percent in the last five years.
He sourly estimated that a total of 25 people oppose the bill, who he called “financiers who don’t want to pay” the relatively low tax increase.
“It’s a very unbalanced equation with a vast weight of authority on the ‘Yes’ side with a few obviously self-interested business guys who say, ‘Hell no, I don’t want to pay,’” said Brown.
School officials are eager for the proposition to pass because college presidents earn over $400,000 a year and half the state budget is spent on education, Vosburgh said.
The state has “already increased spending by 6 percent,” he said. Proposition 30 states, “we’ve been counting on spending this money we don’t have yet, and if you don’t give it to us we’re going to have to cut back.”
Vosburgh contends that the state’s real progress should come in reforming how K-12 teachers are evaluated, an idea that union officials rally against.
According to Vosburgh, Golden State citizens dish out more taxes a year than just about every other state and that they shouldn’t bear the burden of another tax uprush.
“A lot of people are leaving California because it is so miserable to live here, and we’ve got to get the legislature to stop focusing on things like raises for (state employees),” Vosburgh said.
However, Brown said taxes under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year were twice as high as what they would be under a “rather modest income tax, and of course a sales tax.”
Brown argued that Schwarzenegger’s tax policies were $14 billion more brutal than they are now, and that he simply wants to “recapture” some of it to fund the dire situation facing public education from kindergarten to college.
He reminded reporters in a conference call that he had a less volatile solution for taxpayers last year that would have taxed the top earners less and still provided for education. But he said that every Republican in the state senate and assembly voted against him and resorted to cuts.
The top 1 percent of filers in 1975 earned 10.5 percent of all income in the state, Brown said. Last year, he said, they earned 22.5 percent of the income, doubling the amount from 36 years earlier.
“The stakes are high. If we don’t pass this thing, tuition is going to go up—no question about it. If we do pass it, not only will (we hold tuition down) but I think you’ll also get a rebate,” Brown said.
Either way, voters have the opportunity to decide the fate of higher education in the state with the outcome of Proposition 30.
Voting booths open Tuesday at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. statewide.