By Michael Allen
As the final session of the 2012 legislative calendar came to a close last Friday, the members of the State Assembly, having completed all business before the midnight deadline, remained in the chambers awaiting word of one final piece of legislation.
Meanwhile, across the Capitol in the Senate chambers, the bill, which would have saved middle class families more than $1 billion in college tuition fees, was declared dead after a protracted, eight-months-long fight.
By eliminating a corporate tax loophole that actually incentivizes outsourcing, the “Middle Class Scholarship Act” would have brought immediate relief to California families, who for years have struggled to keep pace with escalating college tuition fees. Families making less than $150,000 annually would have seen an instant two-thirds reduction in fees. 200,000 CSU and UC students and their families would have benefitted.
The bill would have also provided $150 million annually for career and technical education for California’s community colleges, a vital investment needed to better prepare our workforce and grow our state’s economy.
Closing the corporate loophole, however, requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature. And, Republicans in the State Senate, fearful of being accused of voting to raise taxes, have been unwilling to put California’s families first.
We have been here many times before, most recently just last year. Democrats attempted to close the single sales factor to prevent cuts to public education and services for our seniors. After several failed attempts, Democrats sat down with our colleagues across the aisle and reached a compromise where both parties would vote to support the measure, to maintain critical funding for public education. Momentarily, it appeared Republicans were willing to put aside their rigid “no tax” ideology in favor of public education. But after passing the Assembly with bipartisan support, the measure ran into problems.
As with the budget battles of old, the bill attracted the attention of many of the state’s power players, eager to try to score a victory for their constituencies. One rumor had big tobacco promising to deliver two Republican votes in exchange for being exempted from the tax code changes. Another had moderate Republicans being courted with the promise of CEQA reform. Ultimately, all the political wrangling and jockeying among various interest groups grabbing feverishly for any slice of the pie killed the measure in its entirety.
The resulting message was very clear: well-funded special interests have a longer shelf life than any member of the legislature. They can afford the gridlock.
Middle class college students and their families cannot. While the students are struggling to afford rising tuition costs, CSU and UC campuses are cutting classes. Community college students are finding it harder than ever to earn the credits they need to attain their degrees.
This time of year, it is customary for lawmakers to celebrate the bills they succeeded in passing before the close of the legislative session. While I am extremely proud that 21 of my bills were approved by the legislature during my first term in the Assembly, I feel it is more important to discuss our failures and plan a course to move forward toward renewing our efforts to save middle class families thousands of dollars each year.
In January, my colleagues and I will reintroduce the Middle Class Scholarship Act in the state Assembly. As a proud co-author I will fight to see that it is passed and that we provide immediate relief to California’s students and their families. Above all else, we must maintain proper funding for public education and ensure our children have the tools necessary to compete in the 21st century economy.
I have great hope that we can be successful. Next year, roughly half of the state Assembly will be comprised of new members. Together, we can make sure they understand that the Middle Class Scholarship Act benefits students, families and businesses, and invests in a better future for California.
Michael Allen currently represents California’s 7th Assembly District.