By California Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield
I was thrilled last week when thousands of students from across California rallied around the State Capitol to speak out against further budget cuts at our public universities. I share their frustration with these cuts and encourage you, the students and university community of Northridge, to keep it up!
As chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, my goals for education have been compromised by a disappointing lack of political courage in the Capitol to balance the pain of cuts with revenues. By working together, we can pressure wavering legislators to protect education this year.
More than anyone else, you know that budget cuts to California’s state colleges have consequences. These cuts have reduced course offerings, making it more difficult to graduate in four years. And, tuition has skyrocketed. CSU tuition is a jaw-dropping 191 percent more expensive now than during the 2003-2004 school year. As costs go up, the dream of a college education forces many students to take on crippling debt or give up on their education altogether.
This is a vicious cycle that must be reversed. Up to now, low-income students have been able to rely on Cal Grants and Pell Grants to weather this storm. That is why, last Wednesday, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance rejected the governor’s proposed $302 million cut to Cal Grants. We did not want to make a bad situation at our state universities even worse.
By continuing to speak out, you can help us ensure that this proposal stays dead. You can also help the Legislature pass ground-breaking legislation to make college more affordable for middle-class students who, without urgent action, will continue to bear the burden of today’s growing higher education costs.
I’m proudly co-authoring a bill called the Middle Class Scholarship Act, Assembly Bill (AB) 1501. Under the proposal, CSU and UC students from families with annual incomes up to $150,000 that do not already have their tuition covered through other forms of aid will have their tuition reduced by two-thirds. That is over $4,000 in savings per year for 150,000 CSU students, starting this fall if the Legislature passes the measure this year. This real tuition relief is something to be excited about here in Northridge. And, all that students must do to be considered is fill out existing student aid forms.
Given our current state budget challenges, there is no reasonable way to propose such an expensive new program without first knowing how the state can pay for it. We plan to expand student aid by closing an outrageous tax loophole called the “elective single sales factor.” This loophole lets out of state companies choose the method for determining how much tax they owe the state. In essence, companies can assess their tax liability based on the combination of employment, property and sales in the state or just on their sales. In the end, they game the system and cheat the state out of $1 billion dollars each year. On top of that, the loophole perversely rewards companies for creating jobs in other states.
It sounds like a no-brainer. Close a tax loophole, just as over 20 other states have done, that takes much needed jobs away from California. Then, invest the money in students to revitalize the power of our public universities and to help ensure the competitiveness of our future workforce.
Unfortunately, what may seem so obvious in Northridge is not so simple in the Capitol. We have a fight on our hands and it won’t be an easy one. For starters, the companies taking advantage of this tax loophole, including tobacco companies, have already dispatched their army of lobbyists to kill the Middle Class Scholarship Act. We also have procedural challenges. Closing a tax loophole requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. That means both Democrats and Republicans must support the measure. This provides many opportunities for lobbyists to pick off crucial votes.
But we have great cause for hope and that is because the Legislature nearly closed this tax loophole before. Just last year, the State Assembly voted by a two-thirds margin to eliminate it but the effort narrowly stalled in the Senate. That’s why we need your help. Your passion and your personal stories will break through this political logjam.
The fight ahead of us strikes at our society’s core belief that hard work should be rewarded with opportunity. Victory in our cause will revitalize the role of our state universities as the great equalizers in our state, where dedicated students from working families can get a world class education.
For more information, please visit my website at www.assembly.ca.gov/blumenfield.
–Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield was elected to the State Assembly in November 2008. He represents the 40th Assembly District, which spans the northwest portion of Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley, including the communities of Canoga Park, Encino, Granada Hills, Lake Balboa, North Hills, Northridge, Reseda, Sherman Oaks, Tarzana, Van Nuys, West Hills, Winnetka and Woodland Hills. Bob serves as Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, and was the first, first-term Democratic Assemblymember to be named to this position. He is the first Assemblymember ever to serve as Budget Chair and a member of the Appropriations Committee simultaneously. He also serves on the Governmental Organization, Transportation, and Water, Parks and Wildlife committees, and the Select Committee on Revitalization of the Los Angeles River and Pacoima Wash.
Courtesy of www.assembly.ca.gov/blumenfield