Guest Column: Fighting to save higher education in California

Democratic Majority Leader Alberto Torrico

For the first time in California’s history, our state government spent more money onprisons than higher education.It’s a shocking figure &- but not a surprising one when you consider how much education isbeing cut: close to $800 million from the University of California and over $1 billion fromthe budgets of Cal State University and California Community College systems combined.As a result, tuition at our public universities has skyrocketed by over 30% &- just as youand thousands of other students are forced to endure budget cuts, slashed enrollment,impossible waitlists and reduced course offerings.My own parents worked as janitors so that I could be the first in my family to go tocollege. I know firsthand that the true spirit of California opportunity and optimism isnurtured in great schools.That is why I am fighting to fund California colleges and universities by requiring Big Oilto pay their fair share for the oil they pump out of our state’s land and water. California canno longer afford to be the only major oil-producing state that doesn’t levy such afee. Texas, for instance, generates $400 million for higher education through a similar fee.My bill, AB 656, would raise up to $2 billion a year for the UC, CSU and communitycolleges with a 12.5 percent tax on oil extracted within California. That’s considerably lessthan the 25-percent tax levied in Sarah Palin’s Alaska.The fight to save higher education won’t be easy. The oil companies will tell you that theyalready pay enough taxes and that this bill will result in jobs lost. Yet oil companies havebeen experiencing record breaking profits for the past several years. Exxon Mobile, forinstance, raked in a $45.2 billion profit in 2008, the most ever by a publicly-traded money for higher education means more classes and more financial aid for you.Momentum continues to build for AB 656. We are more than halfway to reaching our goalof organizing over 100,000 supporters &- which will make it one of the most significantgrassroots efforts in California’s legislative history. AB 656 has also garnered the supportof the 700,000-member Courage Campaign &- a powerful online network of progressiveactivists.And, you’ve made your voices heard by organizing some of the largest and mostimpassioned on-campus protests in memory. Keep putting the pressure on Sacramento byparticipating in one of many events taking place across the state on March 4. Get involved&- AB 656 is a simple and fair solution to funding our universities and colleges inCalifornia and it needs your support.Please join me and over 8,500 Facebook supporters in fighting for higher educationat, and join 60,000 other concerned Californians whohave already signed a petition here: Torrico, D-Fremont, is the Democratic Majority Leader and a candidate forCalifornia Attorney General.