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AB 656: 74% of the students, 10% of the funding?


October 16, 2009

Dear Colleagues,

Re: AB 656 (Torrico): Severance Tax for Higher Education

Many of you are being contacted by Assembly member Alberto Torrico (D-Fremont) about his bill to institute an oil and gas severance tax and dedicate the funds to higher education. The bill is sponsored by the California Faculty Association, CSU's faculty union.

Funds derived from the tax, estimated at $1 billion per year, would be allocated as follows: 60% to the California State University, 30% to the University of California and 10% to California's community colleges.

Lately, part of Majority Leader Torrico's campaign has criticized leaders, including community colleges, for not advocating for the bill. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote on Monday:

"A deafening silence has emanated from the leadership of the CSU, UC and California Community Colleges, despite the promise of having a dedicated source of public funds for the first time."

While we have had a "support, if amended" position on the bill, the proposal to provide community colleges with only 10% of the funds discriminates against the system that is serving 74% of California's higher education students. The author argues that the protections of Proposition 98 justify the small share, although community college state-determined funding per student is being cut most in this year's budget. Further, community colleges are being asked to serve the 40,000 students the California State University is "downsizing" next year.

Further, the governing board of the endowment created by AB 656 would consist of two UC Regents, two CSU Trustees, and one member appointed by the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges.

Please join me in e-mailing (assemblymember.torrico@asm.ca.gov), calling (916-319-2020), or faxing (916-319-2120) Assembly member Torrico and ask him to:

change the split of the proceeds of the tax to reflect student enrollment
provide an equal voice for community colleges on the endowment board

Also, if you are in the district of the following co-authors of the legislation, I encourage you to contact them to ask for their support of the changes. (Assembly Members Jim Beall, Marty Block, Bonnie Lowenthal, Fiona Ma, and Curren Price and Senator Mark DeSaulnier )

The prospects for the bill are unclear. It is strongly opposed by the Republican caucus and the oil and gas industry, and requires a two-thirds vote. Nevertheless, as Mr. Torrico continues a campaign and draws public attention to the bill, it is critical that the shortchanging of community colleges (both financially and politically) be corrected.

Scott Lay
President and Chief Executive Officer
Community College League of California
2017 O Street, Sacramento, California 95811
916.444.8641 . www.ccleague.org  

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Last Updated: 10/16/09