Tax Oil Companies, Not Students

As protests unfold across the state and the nation today 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 today by taking the pledge to support AB 656. 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. Our next steps will be to target specific legislators, but for now, we need a show of force for AB 656. Let’s tax oil companies, not students.

Below the fold is the email the Courage Campaign sent to our members today, supported by CFA and UCSA.

Today, students and faculty across California are marching to save public higher education. In support of their activism, the Courage Campaign today is joining the University of California Students Association (UCSA) and the California Faculty Association (CFA) to launch a campaign to restore affordability to our public colleges and universities. We’re excited to share this message from Tommy Le, a UCSA organizer and current student at UC Santa Cruz, about the devastating impact of recent budget cuts and fee increases on students like him.

Please read his message below and then join us in taking action to save Tommy’s dream of getting a college degree — and the dreams of so many students like him across California:

Robert Cruickshank

Public Policy Director, Courage Campaign

Dear friend —

When I was younger, a counselor told me I would never attend college.

My parents were immigrants — my mother worked in a sweatshop and my father made furniture. At times my parents didn’t have enough money to pay for food. Paying for college was something they could not afford. My background led that counselor and others to doubt whether I could succeed in school. But I persevered and, despite that counselor’s lack of faith in me, I became the first person in my family to go to college.

After all of the obstacles I’ve overcome to get to UC Santa Cruz, now I don’t know if I can stay — if I can even afford to finish my degree. Our fees have risen every year that I’ve been here. In 2010 students in the UC system are facing a 30% annual increase in fees that will bring the cost of attending UC Santa Cruz to over $10,000 per year. My friends at Cal State campuses and community colleges have faced similar increases, even as teachers are laid off and classes cut.

By drastically cutting school budgets at the same time they raise fees to unaffordable levels, California’s leaders are risking my dream — and the dreams of students across the state — of getting a college education.

That’s why students across California are participating in a nationwide day of action on March 4 to protest the cuts and fee increases. But that is just the start. If we are going to begin to fix to higher education so we can create jobs and lasting prosperity, we must bring in new revenues from the large corporations that aren’t paying their fair share to support our colleges and universities.

We can start by demanding that oil companies that drill in California give some of their profits to help students afford to stay in school. Please join me, the Courage Campaign, CFA and UCSA and support the Oil and Gas Severance Tax Act (AB 656) — a bill in our state legislature that can make higher education affordable again. Just click here to show your support:

California is the only major oil-producing state in the country that does not tax the extraction of oil from our land. Texas uses an oil severance tax to fund its public colleges and universities. Even Sarah Palin’s Alaska has an oil severance tax.

But we don’t. Instead we give big oil companies a multi-billion dollar tax break while students like me struggle to afford an education. That’s why it’s time to stand up for students by supporting the Oil and Gas Severance Act in the state legislature.

AB 656 would create a 12% tax on the extraction of oil in California. At current oil prices, that would generate over $2 billion a year in revenue that would go directly to the University of California, the California State University, and California Community College systems to roll back the fee increases.

I shouldn’t have to worry about whether I can stay in school just so big oil companies can avoid paying their fair share. That’s why I’m asking you to stand with me, Courage Campaign, CFA and UCSA in pledging to support AB 656, the Oil and Gas Severance Tax Act. Click here to stand up to the oil companies and show your support for students across California:

Thank you for taking a stand to help students like me afford to pursue our dreams.

Tommy Le

Senior, UC Santa Cruz

8 thoughts on “Tax Oil Companies, Not Students”

  1. I’m all in favor of an oil severance tax — if it’s good enough for Alaska and Texas, it’s good enough for California — and think that higher education needs more funding. But I’m disturbed by the direct connection of the severance funds and higher education. Isn’t part of California’s budget chaos a result of a large share of the state’s revenue being explicitly dedicated specific targets? Won’t this severance tax for higher education simply add to the problem and tie one more knot around legislators’ hands?  Or is this the only way?

    I feel the same thing about the initiative effort to increase the vehicle license fee and devote the funds to the state parks.  I love our parks, yet haven’t signed the initiative-qualification petition because it perpetuates a California dysfunction of targeted funding.

    There is an old saying that perhaps is worth considering as we try to fix California:  “if you’re trapped in a hole, stop digging.”

  2. It’s great that the protests are bringing a little attention to the slow motion CA education train wreck.  And an oil severance tax is a fine idea, bring more revenue to the state.

    But it would be greater (greatest?) if the educational protestors would see the biggest picture: revenues.  Sure, the oil severance idea comes at that angle.  But (as the previous commenter noted) it’s just another one of those crappy patchwork directed funds initiatives that has so ballocksed up our budget as it is.  If that’s the only way, then so be it.

    But doesn’t the real answer lie with Lakoff’s MAJORITY VOTE INITIATIVE ?  We need revenue raising power in this state to be based on the simple majority (just like the freaking U.S. Senate).

    We need labor, education, everyone else to realize that we need a bigger pie, not to fight amongst ourselves for the same damn piece.

  3. taking their jobs with them to other states, what will be your solution then?

  4. This is just a ridiculously bad idea.

    Let’s say you are successful, and you raise the needed funds. Guess where that money really comes from? The burning of more oil!

    Ironic – just above this post, you bemoan the funding of the anti-AB32 effort by oil companies, and then you turn around and basically make an argument for the continued success of the oil industry as the only hope for funding higher education? So what if students decide they want to shut down drilling because it, you know, causes global warming?

    If this effort were successful, you’d turn the entire California education system into a ward of the oil industry.

    Do you folks at Calitics understand the term “cognitive dissonance?”

    Repeal prop 13. End of political discussion.  

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