Are you a prison inmate or a California Highway Patrol Officer? Great! The Golden State Budget will be spending more taxpayer dollars on you. If you’re a college student, an individual with a mental illness, an automobile driver or have no health insurance, sorry, you’re out of luck this time.
Last week, our senators finally gave Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger the thumbs-up on his $145 billion budget. Fortunately, I only fall into the category of a college student, and the future might not be so bleak for me.
In its recognition of “the significant contributions and benefits to society from broad access to higher education” at community college, Cal State University and University of California campuses, the new budget decided to reward the higher education system with a 7 percent increase of undergraduate fees at UC schools and a 10 percent increase for Cal State universities. This raises CSUN tuition for full-time students to $3,685 a year. Not much of this recognition appears to be extended to the students since our fees will be raised yet again.
The additional $175.50 in tuition per semester might not seem like a big deal when considering that we’re investing in our futures. The budget is also providing funding for a 2.5 percent annual increase in enrollment in colleges, so from that prospective students can also reap the benefits of the new tuition hike.
With the increase in the number of students, does this mean more classes will be offered to support current and incoming students? One can only hope, as the budget is setting aside $64.4 million to do so at “marginal (read: minimum) cost of instruction” for CSUs. One trip to the long lines in Bayramian Hall at the beginning of the semester is enough to hear complaints about there being few class spots and the fear of the CSUN six-years-until- graduation plan.
Just the other day, I spoke with a fellow student, a business major, about how her department’s classes were constantly full. But just like the past couple of semesters, I’m not counting on any classes opening up anytime soon. Only $23.3 million will be spent on retirement costs for teachers, so let’s hope that the lower amount of funding for our respected professors is only because less of them are retiring as student enrollment will be increasing.
Schwarzenegger is also spending more money on education on prisons. He’s also improving health care in jails, but only because he was sued and forced to improve health care and ameliorate overcrowding by the Plata and Coleman la, suits that placed the blamed for inmates’ deaths on California’s poor prison conditions. Does the criminology major teach the best way to apply criminal behavior to your own life? I highly doubt it, but if it did, I might be reconsidering my major. At least with a felony under my belt, I might get a free college education and health care under this new budget.
Several Health and Human services programs are also facing cuts in order to meet the governor’s plans to eliminate the deficit. Among those affected is the Integrated Services for Homeless Adults with Serious Mental Illness, which is losing $55 million in funding, and Medi-Cal, which loses $332 million. No problem. Throw the homeless, those without health care and bipolar Californians in prison. Not only will they have a roof over their heads, but they’ll get their meds, too.
I do applaud the budget’s support of anti-gang projects. More than $14 million will be invested in gang prevention and intervention programs. But if our state took more fiscal measures to promote these types of programs, perhaps prisons wouldn’t be overcrowded.
An additional $231.5 million will be spent on the CHP, bringing the grand total to $1.8 billion. I don’t see the point in adding about 11,200 positions if Schwarzenegger has also decided to cut spending on local transportation. Instead of using revenue from gasoline taxes to improve roads, this money will go to the state’s General Fund. And since the freeways and streets won’t be fixed after all, commuters continue bottlenecking to work and school. With more drivers and less road space, who has the room to speed? Highways will have to endure scores scores of CHP officers twiddling their thumbs on freeway shoulders, waiting for something to do.
As a taxpayer, student and voter, I’m disappointed that the budget seems unfavorable to people my age, the same group that had the lowest voting and registration rates in 2004. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 53 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 didn’t vote in the 2004 election. Still, who’s listening to the other 47 percent? The outcome of the budget approval screams one thing to me: its issues were not enough to mobilize young voters or at least the 53 percent who could have helped make a greater difference.
Concerns about education were heard, and now the state is spending $66.8 billion on K-12 education. Perhaps this will give younger generations a head start.
If anything, I hope the numbers in California’s new budget are a wake-up call to urge today’s young voters to make their voices heard and ensure that the issues and presidential candidates they care about are not buried.
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