Fifteen years ago this week, I began my first semester of classes as a UC Berkeley undergraduate. At the time, student fees were about $2200 a semester, or $4400 a year. Here in 2012 that would not even cover a single academic term at a UC school. My four years of UC education cost just under $18,000. A four year education would cost nearly four times that today.
As a product of Southern California’s lower middle class, I’m not sure I could have afforded to attend UC Berkeley if I had to start today. I could take out loans that would total nearly $60,000, which would leave me struggling even if I were to graduate in 2016 and find a good job right out of college.
The difference between 1997 and 2012 is that over those 15 years, state funding for higher education has been gutted, largely to pay for tax breaks. Speaker John A. Pérez’s Middle Class Scholarship proposal would help reverse the trend, closing tax loopholes for big corporations and use the money to help make college more affordable.
As the 2011-12 legislative session wound to a close last night, hopes were high that AB 1500, would find the Republican votes it needed in the State Senate to pass and head to the governor’s desk. In a development that will probably surprise nobody, Republicans and some corporate Democrats refused to support the plan. Despite a majority of Senators backing it, a 2/3 vote is needed to raise a tax, even if it’s just closing a loophole, and so the plan was shelved, although Governor Jerry Brown and legislative leaders have vowed to revive the plan next year.
The stalling out of the Middle Class Scholarship is a classic example of how the 2/3 rule actually works in practice – it protects the rich at the expense of everyone else. While California Republicans believe that a rabid anti-tax ideology helps make them electable, the reality is that most middle class families see the rising cost of college as a direct threat to their financial security and their family’s future. The four-fold increase of the cost of going to UC over the last 15 years is a massive tax increase on working families. Republicans have vowed to protect that tax increase so that wealthy corporations could get a tax break.
Democrats need to hang this around Republican necks over the next two months leading up to the November elections, especially in the swing seats. I’m sure that Ventura County Democrats, for example, will waste no time in letting people know that Tony Strickland and his party want to make it unaffordable for local kids to go to college so that big businesses can get a tax break.
Ultimately, this is another example of the need to get rid of the 2/3 rule for tax increases, which protects the rich while destroying what remains of California’s middle class.