A welcome protest

Students are standing up for higher education, but where’s business?

The mass student protest at the State Capitol on Monday was a welcome indication that students are going to fight hard to stop the privatization of California’s public colleges and universities. They understand that state leaders, by cutting $2.7 billion, or 21 percent, from the higher-education budget since 2007, have made attending college increasingly difficult for the children of the middle class and seriously damaged what until recently was the greatest higher-education system in the world.

Of the four main categories in the state’s general-fund budget—K-12 education, health and welfare, prisons and higher education—the last has suffered the deepest cuts as a percentage of funding. That’s because, for reasons political and/or legal, the others are more difficult to cut. Higher education is the low-hanging fiscal fruit in Sacramento, and those who suffer as a result lack the political wherewithal to keep it from being picked.

That’s why it’s important that the business community stand up for higher education. Amid all the grumbling about regulation and taxes, business seems to have forgotten how much it benefits from the state’s “conveyor belts of talent,” as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom put it during his recent visit to Chico. When it comes to generating well-trained people ready to move the economy forward, no state does it better than California.

Recently, as Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Walters reported, the Legislature’s budget analyst issued a report stating that the state’s tax codes are riddled with loopholes, with the largest ones costing the state treasury about $45 billion a year, equal to about half the general fund. If legislators were serious about ending the budgetary dysfunction that has plagued the state in recent years and led to the decimation of higher education, they would go to work tomorrow on tax reform.