The recent student protests at the state Capitol were a welcome indication that students are going to fight to stop the privatization of California’s public colleges and universities. They understand that by cutting $2.7 billion, or 21 percent, from the higher-education budget since 2007, state education leaders have made attending college increasingly difficult for the children of the middle class. It’s also 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 do much about it.
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 has been known to say When it comes to generating well-trained people ready to move the economy forward, no state does it better than California.
Recently, 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 led to the decimation of higher education, they would go to work and unite around tax reform tomorrow.