Right up until the end, Mr. Garamendi was looking for another way. He called on the Regents instead of acceding to the demands of the economic downturn to join a coordinated effort with CSU and the Community Colleges to Abolish the two-thirds majority requirement and pass an oil severance tax.
“I think there are two specific angles of attack that we should pursue. The two-thirds vote issue is extremely important. We basically have minority rule in California on everything that’s important. That’s not democracy. […] It is possible for us as Regents for this university to join with the other two segments of higher education in a concerted immediate effort to pass Assemblyman Torrico’s bill, AB 656, that would institute an oil severance tax in the state of California.”
AB 656 is a bill sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (also a candidate for Attorney General). The bill would generate roughly $1 billion for higher education by implementing an oil several tax.
Lt. Gov. Garamendi, an ex-officio member of the board of regents went on to argue that the Regents, “have extraordinary power that we have not yet used.”
“Every person on this board is a leader in California, each person has their own constituencies, and all of you are opinion-makers.”
The Lt. Gov. was not available for additional comment on Friday, however in his comments from Thursday he suggested to his fellow regents, citing general’s statement as the Chinese entered the Korean War:
“You misunderstood, this is not a retreat. We’re just fighting in the other direction.”
“And in fact the university has been in full retreat now for some years, and I would highly recommend that we fight in the other direction. In other words, we take the offense. I think we can. I am very impressed by the people who spoke earlier today and their willingness to fight for the university and the future of California.”
Much has been made about the two-thirds rule, but not nearly enough has been pointed out that California is actually the only major oil producing state in the nation that does not tax the oil that has been extracted from its state. This would not cause our gas prices to go up, because it only taxes oil that we export from the state.
As the Lt. Governor pointed out, not only are we the only state that does not tax oil extracted from the state, but Governor Sarah Palin, that anti-tax conservative Republican raised her state’s oil severance to 25 percent.
Said Mr. Garamendi:
“If that was the rate in California would this year raise $4 billion. But let’s just take the average of six percent which is over a billion dollars of revenue. And if that bill were signed this session, this year, would raise a billion dollars plus for higher education.”
The bottom line for Mr. Garamendi is simply that we can either continue to retreat or we can fight back in a different direction.
“So my point is this: we can fight fiercely in retreat as we have for more than two decades now. Or we can stop, turn ourselves in the other direction, and fight fiercely for the future of the university with two very specific tasks. One of which is fundamental to the whole state and the university, and that’s the minority rule issue in California. And the second is immediate revenue. And by the way, Governor Schwarzenegger, seven months ago, supported the oil severance tax. It would be interesting to put a bill on his desk.”
On Thursday however, his fellow Regents by a 20-1 vote decided to continue to retreat.
Back in October of 2008 when he spoke at a rally at UC Davis he lamented the declining public support for higher education in California.
“In 1990, the state, the economy of California, the people of California supported the University of California students to a tune of $15,000 per student. Last year, the people of California, the economy, the seventh largest economy in the world, supported the students at the University of California at a rate of $10,000 per student. A full one-third decrease in the support that the people of California provided to the students who will be the future economy.”
He called that a “stupid economic policy.”
“Starve the education system and you will starve the future of California.”
And in that way had he done anything but fight for a different path, he would have been untrue to his own words. At that time, he was lamenting the fall budget deal where the legislature and governor refused to raise any sorts of taxes except for a tax on students.
“The taxes that were increased in this budget were minuscule except for one… The single biggest tax increase was a tax on students. It is called a fee indirectly because it is nothing but a very direct tax on students.”
Mr. Garamendi has never been able to translate his vast ideas and willingness to fight for those ideas into an effective statewide campaign. His campaign for Governor languished with the inability to raise the necessary funds as others such as Attorney General and past Governor Jerry Brown amassed a huge war chest, Mr. Garamendi’s efforts never really seemed to get off the ground. But on Thursday, we saw a glimpse of Mr. Garamendi the fighter who would not back down in the face of near certain defeat. He was not only saying no to the President’s proposal, but he came forward with an alternative proposal himself.
We can of course argue if it could have worked. But at some point we need to stop taking money from education. We have taken billions of dollars from education this year. That is an investment in the future of this state. That is an investment in the future of this workforce. And for the last twenty years we have allowed that investment to slip.
The legislature and the Governor have a deal in place for a budget except for one thing–what to do about education. Last night they announced they have a tentative deal which would pay schools an extra $9.5 billion in future years without permanently changing the state constitution. Democrats are now predicting that they can have a final budget agreement by Sunday.
At some point we are going to pay a huge price for failing to invest money education. Keep in mind it costs less than $10,000 per year to educate a child but nearly $50,000 per year to put someone in jail. Given the fact that the failure to educate a child will lead them to a much greater likelihood of seeing the inside of a jail cell, it would seem cost effective to do everything possible to educate them to help them avoid such a plight.
Everyone recognizes the severity of the current budget situation and the economic downturn. The question is how best to solve that problem and from my standpoint we have put far too much of the burden on children and education. It is fortunate that we have leaders such as Mr. Garamendi to remind us that there is another path if we are willing to take the risks to take it. Unfortunately no one was willing to follow the lead of the Lt. Governor this week, but perhaps he can re-kindle that debate.
—David M. Greenwald reporting