State college coalition continues lobbying efforts
Chancellor Reed praises college leaders, members for ‘unprecedented collaboration’
May 1, 2008 2:31 PM
The three branches of California’s public higher education system made a joint visit to the Capitol building April 28 to urge legislators to resist budget cuts totaling $1 billion to higher education.
Leaders and members of the California Community College, California State University and University of California systems attended the annual legislation day. CSU Chancellor Charles Reed briefed representatives from each of the 23 campuses before a series of meetings with delegates from their district.
“This unprecedented collaboration among our three institutions underscores the severity of the proposed cuts and their potentially devastating effects on the people of this state, now and for years to come,” Reed said in a statement.
Student groups, faculty and staff unions, and alumni from SF State represented viewpoints from all levels of the university during meetings with legislators including State Sen. Leland Yee and Assembly members Fiona Ma and Mark Leno, all San Francisco Democrats. SF State President Robert Corrigan was not in attendance.
“Every single office we went to made a huge impact,” said Lisbet Sunshine, director of government relations for SF State. “We have direct relations with all of the delegates from San Francisco and San Mateo.”
The legislation days have been the next step in a series of attempts to urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to protect education funding when the May 15 revised budget is released. The CSU held town hall meetings at each campus for weeks leading up to the April 21 “March for Higher Education” in Sacramento, which had more than 2,000 students, faculty and staff members in attendance.
For the past few months, the three college systems have joined together in a statewide effort to put pressure on the governor and policymakers to seek alternate methods of funding while the state grapples with an estimated $20 billion budget deficit.
Currently, campuses are also conducting mass e-mails, faxes and calls to the governor’s office in what is known as the “Gov., Can You Hear Us Now?” campaign.
“We can’t look at this from the perspective of one campus,” said Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association. “A lot of CSU campuses are in Republican districts, where it is going to be tougher to reach an agreement. The more we continue, the better chance we have of reaching these policymakers.”
“Having all these lobby days, one right after another, is important,” Taiz said. “In the wake of all our actions, this demonstrates a drumbeat. Repetition makes an impact.”
Democratic legislators have urged a tax increase, which Republicans have flatly rejected.
“From our perspective, the SF State and greater CSU lobbying has been a lot of preaching to the choir,” said Adam Keigwin, spokesperson for Yee. “The last thing we want to see cut is education.”
A recent study commissioned by the Campaign for College Opportunity analyzed the cumulative impact of the proposed budget cuts on the three public higher education systems and the citizens of California.
Higher education representatives believe the report will play an important role in securing funding.
According to the report, the cumulative impact of California’s declining investment in higher education would “diminish opportunities for students and hinder the state’s ability to enroll and graduate the number of students necessary to meet the ever-growing need for an education workforce.”
The CSU has a $13.6 billion total annual spending impact statewide and generates more than $760 million in local and state tax revenue. According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, if 1 percent more Californians earned a bachelor’s degree, the state’s economy would grow to $20 billion, state and local tax revenues would increase by $1.2 billion per year, and 174,000 new jobs would be created.
Sunshine said that although Bay Area legislators are generally “on our side already,” campuses from parts of California under Republican delegates face the real challenge.
“We are blessed in San Francisco to have legislators who are already convinced that this is what we need to do,” Sunshine said. “They get it. We’re not going into hostile offices at all.”
Taiz said the response from legislators has been positive, although the critical person to reach is the governor.
“I think people are listening to us,” Taiz said. “And we need to bear in mind that we are not imprisoned by the May 15 deadline to change things.”
If the proposed cuts go through, the CSU will lose $312.9 million in funding. Last year’s cuts have already forced the 23-campus system to deny enrollment to as many as 10,000 qualified students for the fall 2008 semester, and an increase in student fees is likely. At SF State, President Corrigan has estimated that as much as $25 million could be lost from its budget.
“The CSU has a huge net benefit to the state,” said Keigwin of Yee’s office. “The budget problem is unfortunate, but the governor’s proposal only hurts. There are other places we can get rid of waste spending, and right now, the ball is really in his court.”
According to CSU spokesperson Claudia Keith, the system graduates about 90,000 students into the state’s workforce every year. It supports more than 200,000 jobs in the state, including 60 percent of the state’s teachers. And it awards more than half of the college degrees in agriculture—California’s largest industry—every year.
“Our public higher education system is the envy of the nation,” Taiz said. “In troubled economic times, why would you throw away this asset? What kind of sense does that make?”
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