Jan 21, 2020

Torrico: pass AB 656

What if we lived in a world where your cell phone carrier drastically raised your bill and at the same time reduced your coverage? What if your landlord increased your rent by a third and then took away your bathroom? What if you took a flight and the airline raised the price while in midair?

These seem like ridiculous scenarios, but something similar is happening all across University of California campuses right now.

The cost of your education is skyrocketing just as students are forced to endure overcrowded classrooms – all too common full enrollment rosters and reduced course offerings. It is the start of the semester and that means it’s time to worry about adding classes in order to graduate on time so you don’t have to take out even more loans, on top of the thousands of dollars you may already owe.

If only papers and finals were the worst of your worries.

In the span of this next year, the UC Regents will raise your “fees” by more than 30 percent, after more than doubling them in the last 10 years. When you speak out about these injustices, the best administrators can do is blame Sacramento for disinvesting in the university – and then look to private sources of funding.

And while it is true that public sources of funding for education have diminished due to state budget woes, the story is not that simple. The majority of California legislators know that California should be investing in its students and future workforce, not abandoning them and putting up even more barriers to a quality education.

That is why I have proposed that we adequately fund our community colleges, state colleges and universities by requiring Big Oil to pay their fair share for the oil and natural gas they pump out of California’s land and water.

We can no longer afford to be the only major oil-producing state that doesn’t levy such a fee. Texas, for instance, generates $400 million for higher education through a similar fee.

My bill, AB 656, would raise up to $2 billion for the UC, CSU and community colleges with a 12.5 percent tax on oil extracted within California. That’s considerably less than the 25-percent tax levied in Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

The oil companies will tell you that they already pay enough taxes and that this bill will result in jobs lost. Yet oil companies have been experiencing record breaking profits for the past several years. Exxon Mobile, for instance, raked in a $45.2 billion profit in 2008, the most ever by a publicly-traded U.S. company.

The University of California is crucial to our state’s economy. The UC system generates billions of dollars in economic activity and attracts billions more in research dollars, money that fuels key industries like agriculture, energy, and biotech.

With big oil ready to spend lavishly to defeat AB 656, this won’t be an easy fight – but it’s a fight I’m confident we can win together. Please join me and thousands of other concerned Californians in fighting for higher education at www.facebook.com/FairTuition.

Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, is a member of the California State Assembly, where he serves as the majority leader.

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