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This November, Vote for Your Tuition

On November 6, citizens across the United States will be casting their votes for the next President. Californians will have a second decision to make, that will significantly affect the face and shape of their state’s public higher education system for years to come.

Proposition 30, a measure developed by Governor Jerry Brown to temporarily raise income taxes on high-income individuals, as well as the state sales tax, in order to fund various state services will be on the ballot.

In effect, if the proposition passes, California’s three public higher education systems will receive an annual injection of $6 billion. If it fails, however, $800 million will be slashed from their already depleted operational budgets. Higher education leaders statewide have warned of tuition hikes, programming cuts and enrollment restrictions in the event that Proposition 30 fails, and supporters of the legislation have been banging the drum, rallying students to vote and save their colleges and universities.

“It won’t be a panacea, but it means we’re not going to get out the hatchet and cut everything again,” Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association, told Inside Higher Ed’s Kevin Kiley. “This can be helpful in moving us in the right direction. It can stabilize things and make people more willing to invest.”

That sentiment was echoed by former President Bill Clinton, who spoke recently at UC Davis, and by Governor Brown himself, who told an audience at UCLA that students could avoid a tuition hike by voting for the proposition and convincing their family and friends to do the same.

“Proposition 30 is an opportunity for the people themselves to not only fix California, but to send a message to the rest of the country that we as a people can invest together in our schools, our community colleges and this great University of California,” Brown told the crowd.

However, the passage of the measure is not a given. A recent poll found that 54 percent of respondents would vote for the measure, which dipped significantly from the 64 percent of respondents who were in favor of the bill earlier in 2012. Moreover, once respondents were given the opportunity to watch advertisements for both campaigns, the percentage of those in favor fell to 52 percent.

Proposition 30 is also competing against other measures that are proposing tax hikes for different areas of the education system. One measure, Proposition 38, aims at encouraging a similar tax increase to increase investment in the state’s K-12 system. Proposition 30 backers fear that individuals will be confused by the similarity of the two measures and, moreover, may only want to vote in favor of a single tax increase rather than two.

“Students are frustrated with the state legislature, particularly in terms of the disinvestment from higher education,” Meredith Vivian, director of government relations for the California State Student Association, which represents students in the CSU system, told Kiley. “They’ve cut so much from public higher education and left it up to the CSU to make these difficult tuition increases.”

Voter registration ended on October 22, and now all that’s left is for the boxes to be ticked and counted as a state will wait with baited breath.