At noon on January 11, students and State Assembly candidates gathered in Storke Plaza at UCSB to discuss and debate Governor Schwarzenegger’s newest proposed budget plans. Attendance was low, but Campus Democrats were sitting front row while a few stragglers scattered on the steps. Speakers included former Faculty-Senate president Dr. Gayle Binion, Assembly candidates Das Williams and Susan Jordan, and the president of Campus Democrats Amanda Wallner. There was unanimous encouragement from all speakers urging students to stay angry and not buy into what the governor is proposing.
Governor Schwarzenegger’s Chief of Staff Susan Kennedy recently stated that student protests at UC campuses have been the “tipping point” in the governor’s decision to focus energy on protecting funding for higher education. In his State of the State Address on January 8, the governor admitted that California needs to decrease the amount of money it is spending on prisons and increase the amount of money given to public higher education. According to a statement UC President Mark Yudof gave on January 8, the governor proposed to restore $370 million in funding to the UC system and proposed a constitutional amendment that would assure that 10 percent of state funds go into higher education, while only 7 percent will go to prisons. The resounding opinion during the press conference at UCSB today was that this is not only a lie, but according to Susan Jordan, is “mean-spirited and cynical.”
Although Jordan and Williams are running against each other in June’s primary election for State Assembly, the focus was not on their respective campaigns, but on the common devotion they both feel about higher education and the UC system. Jordan argued that the initiative doesn’t have a chance of getting through to the ballot, and that Governor Schwarzenegger is only trying to save his reputation before he leaves office. She criticized Schwarzenegger, arguing that he wants to take money away from state parks, MediCal programs, “poor children and the elderly and sick.” Jordan argued that Schwarzenegger simply has been cornered into a wall and has no room to get out, leaving him no choice but to make it seem like higher education is a higher priority.
Williams’s argument echoed Jordan’s, and he claimed that in the governor’s State Address, a problem was merely pointed out, with no real solutions offered. When asked where he proposes the governor get the money to dedicate to the UC system, Williams suggested higher tobacco tax or a “dime a drink” tax. While he realizes that these solutions aren’t “wonderful,” they would make a more positive “impact on the collective humanity” than taking money away from state parks and programs like MediCal. Jordan was not only adamant that the governor not take services away from those in need, she was downright angry that he would think of taking money away from state parks when he hasn’t even offered an oil severance tax, which, according to Jordan, would put $1.5 billion back into the budget immediately. Jordan also emphasized the need for an increased corporate tax rate.
In a January 11 press release, Campus Democrat President Amanda Wallner said, “[T]he state has balanced the budget on the backs of students for too long” and compared the student fee hikes to a tax on students. Wallner spoke during the press conference, arguing alongside the Assembly candidates that none of Schwarzenegger’s recent budget proposals support anything that he has stood for throughout his entire term. While Schwarzenegger says that he is going to work with the Legislature to pass the constitutional amendment, Wallner says that the governor is “tieing Legislature’s hands by refusing to raise taxes.”
Speaker Gayle Binion recalled a bumper sticker that she has seen that reads: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” The reality, she argued, is that the more education is supported by the state, the more college graduates California has, and the less violent crime we will see as a result. All of the speakers echoed this dedication to the UC system, but not at the expense of important state-funded programs and parks. Jordan encouraged students: “Don’t lose your momentum — when Yudof praises the governor’s proposals, don’t let him get away with it.”