Abhishek Shetty: UCSA should not advocate for increased taxes in hopes of free tuition
October 30, 2017 10:30 pm
The University of California Student Association is one of the primary groups advocating for UC students, but it might need some help focusing on what to advocate for.
UCSA, an organization composed of UC student leaders, voted during its board meeting earlier this month to include the goal of eliminating all UC tuition and fees in its Fund the UC campaign, which aims to increase funding for the University.
Chloe Pan, external vice president for UCLA’s undergraduate student government and member of UCSA, said the amendment was made to take into account other programs run by some UC campuses’ student governments, such as the “$48 fix” campaign, which aims to increase taxes on all Californians to eliminate tuition for the UC, the California State University system and California Community Colleges.
The $48 fix was created by an organization called Reclaim California Higher Education, which is supported by a number of unions, faculty associations and UCSA itself. UCSA’s amendment to its Fund the UC bylaws was essentially an endorsement of this campaign. Under the proposal, each California household would have to pay about 12 percent more than they currently pay in income taxes.
Unfortunately, the campaign doesn’t actually provide an easy fix for the UC’s funding woes.
Eliminating all tuition and fees at the state level, especially by imposing a massive tax hike on California taxpayers, is not realistic in a cash-strapped state that already imposes relatively high taxes on its residents. Californians pay the fourth-highest income tax per capita in the nation. A more-than-12-percent income tax increase would be an excessive burden.
Moreover, even though a tax increase would boost the size of the state’s budget, the plan does not take into account Proposition 98, which would require about 40 percent of the state budget to go toward K-12 schools.
If UCSA wants its Fund the UC program to be fruitful, it needs to stop focusing on unrealistic long-term goals and instead focus on the more achievable long-term goals it has already started working on, such as expanding CalGrant, a state program that awards aid to students based on financial need.
This isn’t to say that attempting to eliminate or reduce tuition for public universities shouldn’t be a long-term goal for activists. However, there’s a stark difference between advocating for tuition-free college at the national level and through a state government – especially one that can’t debt-spend, unlike the national government.
Parshan Khosravi, treasurer for UCSA and vice president of external affairs for UCLA’s Graduate Students Association, said the funds UCSA allocates toward its Fund the UC budget usually pay for educational campaign materials. These campaigns advertise and advocate for the plans that form the Fund the UC program.
He added the association hasn’t decided how specifically it would spend the Fund the UC budget on the component campaigns. However, even if UCSA does not spend any money advocating for the $48 fix, it has already endorsed the campaign through its bylaw amendment. Seriously considering such pie-in-the-sky tax increases is a naive move on the association’s part.
UCSA must reorient its priorities. Long-term UC funding goals can form parts of student governments’ programming, but UCSA needs to ensure the plans it’s advocating for are at least semirealistic, and attempting to eliminate tuition and fees by imposing higher taxes on California residents just isn’t.
Instead, UCSA should ensure that its Fund the UC campaign focuses mostly on expanding CalGrant funding, a goal which is already a part of its program. Such an expansion would require relatively minor changes in California’s budget allocations toward the UC, as opposed to a massive tax increase. It would also ensure more financial aid for low- and middle-income students, rather than eliminating tuition entirely for all students regardless of their income and need.
After all, idealistic initiatives won’t help the association much when it comes to fighting for lower tuition.