Vote 'yes' on Prop. 30 to save higher education

From debates to attack ads to those pesky emails from Joe Biden asking for a couple bucks, it’s been hard to step out of bed the last couple months without landing your foot in something political.

But as college students, there is one ballot measure that we can’t afford to ignore: Proposition 30.

If you haven’t heard, here’s how it breaks down. If Prop. 30 passes, sales tax will increase from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent and income taxes will increase on a sliding scale for those Californians lucky enough to be making more than $250,000 a year, all in an effort to close the

$5.9 billion gap in state education funding.

Beyond that, California State University students will have their tuition retroactively reduced to 2011-12 levels, entitling each to a $249 rebate check.

If Prop. 30 fails, the CSU and UC systems will each be subject to a $250 million trigger cut in state funds, essentially asking a financially malnourished system to go on a hunger strike.

There are a lot of reasons to vote “yes” on Prop. 30, some self-serving, some philanthropic.

If you’re the selfish type, you need look no further than the $400 swing in tuition to tell you how to vote. In these trying economic times, money speaks louder than ever and it’s hard to blame anyone for voting with their checkbook.

If you’re of a more altruistic bent, this proposition will serve to throw a life jacket to a sinking system.

The CSU has had their share of state funds cut by nearly $1 billion in the last five years. Enrollment has been frozen, class size has been expanded and tuition has been repeatedly thrust upward as students are asked to shoulder more of the financial burden as the tax revenues that feed our state coffers continue to shrink.

But Prop. 30 is by no means a perfect law.

First, the 0.25 percent increase in sales tax is a regressive answer to a lack of state funds, as it taxes the poorest of us at exactly the same rate as the wealthiest.

Though the income tax hike does aim to give a heavier share of the burden to the wealthy, poor families would be affected by sales tax increases to a much greater degree than those in higher tax brackets.

Secondly, Prop. 30 is not a permanent solution to problems facing California. The budget gap facing our higher education system is the product of a number of failed economic policies, starting with Prop. 13.

Prop. 13, passed by California voters in 1978, limited the amount of property tax the state can collect to 1 percent of the property’s assessed value and restricted annual increases to 2 percent annually.

Prop. 13 also required a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for any additional tax increases. While both of these measures were crafted with good intent — to keep senior citizens from getting priced out of their houses and from letting a simple majority run rampant in the legislature — they have have severely hampered the state’s ability to raise funds.

The fact that a two-thirds majority is needed to raise any additional tax revenue gives the minority the power to block any tax increase that gets put before the legislature. In a state like California, which leans liberal, we’ve given the power to tax to a minority of anti-tax Republicans.

The limit on property tax increases makes sense for homeowners, but has been abused by corporate property holders to avoid what would be hefty tax revenues that could go to things like funding public education.

Adding to the complications associated with Prop. 30 is that it’s been set up to directly compete with Prop. 38, another tax measure that would go to funding K-12 education. The way the two measures work, whichever gets more “yes” votes will pass, as long as they both receive more than 50 percent.

It’s ridiculous that these propositions have been pitted against each other, misleading voters into thinking that they must choose between funding K-12 or higher education. This is not the case.

The estimated $6 billion that Prop. 30 would raise in the first year would go to funding higher ed and K-12, whereas Prop. 38 leaves those of us in college staring down the barrel of a $250 million trigger cut.

While there are problems with Prop. 30, we find ourselves — as we often do when making political choices — deciding between the lesser of two evils. But the failure of Prop. 30 would have dangerous repercussions for California’s higher education system that could not be reversed.

Despite its imperfections, we urge and implore of each of you to go out Nov. 6 and vote “yes” on Prop. 30.

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