Brandon Ocegueda / The Collegian
State Assembly majority leader Alberto Torrico visited the Fresno State campus Thursday afternoon, speaking at a rally aimed at gaining student awareness and backing for his “Fair Share for Fair Tuition” bill, Assembly Bill 656.
Approximately 60 students gathered in the Peace Garden, rallying to support AB 656. The measure would impose a 12.5 percent severance tax on oil that is extracted from California. It is estimated that the bill would raise $2 billion annually.
The proceeds generated will fund the California Higher Education Endowment Corporation, which would annually allocate revenues to the three-tiered college system in California. Fifty percent would go to the California State University (CSU) system, 25 percent to University of California schools, and 25 percent to community colleges.
Torrico said he is disappointed in the way the state chooses to spend its money, and said this bill would give students a break in tuition costs.
“What do we get for all the money we spend on prisons?” Torrico said. “Total and abject failure. There is a direct correlation with all the money we spend on prisons and all the money we spend on higher education.”
Torrico added that California is the only state in the country that does not tax oil companies for extracting the valuable natural resource. He said that he was given a chance to go to college, and this is a way to give the current generation the same opportunity.
“I was the first person in my family to go to college,” Torrico said. “California gave me and my brothers a chance to go to college. Those doors of opportunity are closing.”
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The bill has yet to gain Republican support, Torrico said he is going to college campuses around the country to build up a grassroots movement for the bill.
“Politics are broken in Sacramento,” Torrico said. “That’s why we’re trying to get people involved in the campaign. They need to hear the struggles of the people.”
Whitney Thompson, a member of Students for Quality Education (SQE), helped organize the event supporting the bill.
“We just want to bring awareness about the bill and educate the public,” Thompson said. “This is a cool opportunity to join Central Valley students and education funding.”
Mayra Miranda, also with SQE, said she is hopeful, if the bill passes, it will take some of the burden of tuition off students’ backs.
“With 50 percent of those proceeds coming to us, it means we wouldn’t feel the impact of budget cuts if there were any more,” Miranda said. “We still want funding from California. This bill just means more people can get access to an education.”
Newly elected Associated Students, Inc. President Pedro Ramirez was also on hand to show his support for the measure.
“It is important because it’s going to bring more money into the CSUs and more money to all systems of higher education,” Ramirez said. “The only drawback I see is that it isn’t enough. I wish they would have gone for more but you always have to compromise somewhere. Any money we can get is for the better.”
Ramirez said many state programs are in need of more funding, but feels that more support for higher education is a near necessity.
“Everybody is going for a piece of the pie,” Ramirez said. “There are prisons, health care, pensions and stuff like that, but we have to fight for our share. I think it’s fair that we get this. We are the future of California.”
Torrico said there is still a lot of work to be done before students can start feeling AB 656’s impact.
Students and their parents, Torrico said, need to tell the stories of their personal hardships to legislators.
“People need to talk to their legislators, both democrat and republican,” Torrico said.
Torrico added that with the extra tax, some oil corporations may try to raise the price of gasoline, but the bill has a clause in place to prevent that.
“Because we don’t trust the oil companies, we put a provision in the bill that says that the Board of Equalization has the authority to oversee and monitor the prices of gas,” Torrico said. “If they jack up the price first of all, it’s illegal under the bill, and second of all they can get their profits taken away.”