A proposed statewide ballot initiative would make public college tuition-free for California residents.
The 2018 California College for All Act is collecting signatures to get a proposition on the November ballot that would tax individuals with more than $3.5 million of inherited property to raise about $4 billion to pay tuition for in-state students. The campaign needs to collect at least 800,000 petition signatures by April 24 to include the initiative on the ballot, according to the campaign’s website. Volunteers at more than 40 California campuses, including UCLA, are gathering signatures.
Gabriela Garcia, the lead organizing coordinator for the campaign in Los Angeles, said more than 20 community-based organizations, including the University of California Students Association and Teachers 4 Social Justice, are endorsing the initiative.
Garcia said she thinks taxing inherited wealth would help reduce income inequality in California.
“Generations are passing on wealth, which creates disparity,” she said. “So we want to find a good use for the money, like funding education.”
Garcia added she hopes that if the initiative gets on the ballot and passes, other states will push for similar legislation.
“We are seeing our campaign spreading out to other parts of the country,” she said.
Dora Costa, chair of the UCLA economics department, said she thinks the initiative does not take into account the differences in size and funding among public universities in California. Costa added that larger campuses, such as UCLA and UC Berkeley, may need more funds than smaller campuses like UC Riverside.
She added taxing inherited wealth is an unreliable source of funding, and could result in the University cutting staff and faculty in a low tax year.
“One issue with the tax itself is that it is likely to vary a lot from year to year, which isn’t what you want for a tax that supports education” Costa said. “We need something that’s … more secure to account for low years.”
Costa said she thinks the UC needs a reliable source of funding that will help it improve its infrastructure and hire talented faculty.
“We do need to shore up the UCs not just in terms of accessibility to in-state students, but to be able … to make the UC prestigious,” she said.
Shane White, chair of the UC Academic Senate, said he is skeptical the initiative will pass if it gets on the ballot, and added he thinks the state should provide more funding for higher education from its existing revenue sources.
“It is not that legislators don’t know how to raise taxes. It is more that higher education has become a lower priority for legislators,” he said.
White said the initiative ignores the high tuition out-of-state students pay and does not provide support for them.
“I want a diverse and vibrant student body,” he said. “When we get diversity in all of its forms, we enrich the University.”
If the initiative passes, it could release the state from its responsibility to fund the UC under the Master Plan, White said. The Master Plan was established in 1959 by the UC Board of Regents and the California State Board of Education to make higher education accessible and affordable for all California residents.
White added he thinks small and steady tuition increases that offer stable funding for the UC make it easier for students to plan their finances.
“The University grows gradually, and steady tuition increases make it less likely (tuition) will spike up in the future,” he said.