25 August 2009

Pres. Yudof's appeal to "protect the UC"

In what I assume was a system-wide email delivered to every faculty and staff mailbox (also linked from UCOP's website), Pres. Yudof is encouraging UC employees to contact the Governor's office as well as their representatives in the legislature in order to convey the urgency of UC's situation and invite them to make higher education a budgetary priority.

While this is probably a good idea, once again Yudof declined to endorse any specific measures that would alleviate the financial predicament of the University, and specifically the oil severance tax that many are advocating.

The broader question, though, is why UCOP is now embarking on this PR campaign. There can only be one reason: they know the worst is yet to come. And they are probably right:
  1. State revenues are not going anywhere any fast — and especially not up — even if California were to experience a (modest) economic recovery next year.
  2. Re-distributing state general funds (from, say, the $11B in the prison budget) is politically difficult, and the Republicans in the legislature, in their infinite wisdom, would want to take that money out of social services for the poor, the sick and the elderly anyways.
  3. Finding new sources of revenues in the short term would run against the jihadist opposition to any new taxes.
  4. Fixing California's revenue structure is a long term proposition, which would at least require:
    • enacting re-districting reform (and perhaps open primaries);
    • exempting commercial properties and perhaps second homes from Prop. 13;
    • repealing the 2/3 majority requirement for budget items;
    none of which can be done in the next few months.
  5. And last but not least, the $600M in federal stimulus money that have kept the University (barely) afloat this year will not be renewed.
So the situation is bleak indeed. There might — but just might — be a small chance to push through A.B. 656 and put in place the same oil severance tax that Texas has been using since the 1800's to fund higher education. It would still require a 2/3 majority and the Governor's signature, but it seems like the best (perhaps the only) chance we have. But it's a narrowly-targeted measure for a very specific cause, widely used in other states for similar purposes. So it might get past at least a few Republicans and land on the Governor's desk.

So, yes, please do go over to the UC for California website, and write to the Governor and the legislature, but make sure to press the case for A.B. 656.

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