AFT Guild

Funding public higher education, or “starving the beast”?


By Jonathan McLeod, AFT Guild Governmental Relations Committee Chair

The AFT Guild is working to minimize cuts to public higher education funding, particularly in the community colleges, and to turn the tide for the future.  While Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, promotes a libertarian anarchist agenda of tax cuts across the nation that would “starve the beast” of government, the AFT Guild holds that restoring California, after years of under-funding public services, will require the restructuring of taxes.  Only by augmenting General Fund revenue, will Californians be able to sustain our public community college and university systems, educating upwards of two million students each year. 
Members of the Guild’s Government Relations Committee (AFTG-GRC), this year, have been studying the state budget and funding mechanisms for the California Community College and university systems.  Working with the California Federation of Teachers, our statewide affiliate, we have been urging the expansion of the tax base, especially through such means as the reintroduction of the vehicle license fee (VLF) and the reassessment of property taxes for corporate-owned property, often taxed at below average rates, because of loopholes in current tax codes.  Years of tax cuts, especially after 2000, and corporate subsidies, papered over with governmental borrowing, have jeopardized the ability of our colleges to offer education to our students, as well as having depleted resources for other vital public services and infrastructure maintenance. The future of California requires real tax reform to fund public education and vital social services, as well as to fund infrastructure needs; we cannot afford tax cuts that subsidize corporate interests.  Moreover, as AFTG-GRC member Mike Byron, a navy veteran stresses, the decision made about the investment of tax dollars to fund educational opportunities in public community colleges and universities for those who serve in the military offers tangible proof of support, going beyond mere bumper sticker sloganeering that frequently has been used by the anti-tax propagandists.
Meanwhile, the AFTG-GRC has worked to support bills for funding public higher education issues that now are in the legislative process.  Among these is ACR 91 (Mendoza) that would strengthen the expectation that community colleges hire tenure-line faculty, rather than relying disproportionately on adjunct faculty.  This Assembly Concurrent Resolution also would mandate that community college districts fund benefits for adjuncts at a proportionate level comparable to those earned by tenure-line faculty.  Another urgent bill is AB 2277 (Eng), which would shift $80M from the state general fund to the CCC to fill a gap caused by declining property tax revenues.  Funding shortfall for expenses already budgeted is necessary to prevent a $2.95 cut in the SDCCD alone, for the 2007/08 academic year.
As part of our advocacy, the AFTG-GRC is conducting meetings with lawmakers.  We have met with Assembly Member Lori Saldaña and her staff twice recently to address budget issues and the importance of increasing tax revenues for the funding of higher education.  In reviewing the funding shortages and the need to sustain our colleges, Lori agrees that the values of our culture are reflected in the budget priorities.   Meetings also are planned with State Senator Denise Ducheny, Assembly Member Mary Salas, and State Senator Christine Kehoe. The committee continues to reach out to other San Diego-area legislators, as well, stressing that the investment in public higher education today also is an investment in the future.