JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

Bee file, 2012. Both Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, pictured, have introduced a pair of bills that would freeze tuition at the University of California and California State University for the seven-year duration of the higher tax rates mandated by Proposition 30.

California GOP sees role to protect education funds

Published: Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 - 1:21 am

What's a marginalized minority party to do?

It's a key question for Republican lawmakers staring down a newly enshrined Democratic supermajority. Part of the answer so far seems to be a renewed emphasis on higher education.

Both Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, have introduced a pair of bills that would freeze tuition at the University of California and California State University for the seven-year duration of the higher tax rates mandated by Proposition 30.

Since voters approved the tax measure last fall, the authors say they have a role to play in ensuring that an influx of new money from Proposition 30 is exclusively used for education. They say failing to do so would betray voters to whom the initiative was sold as a vehicle for averting more education cuts.

"A lot of people made a lot of implied promises to college students that everything would be OK if Prop. 30 passes," Cannella said. "If anyone thinks the state of California will just keep that money in a bank account," he added, "it's just not going to happen."

Democrats are more skeptical of Republican lawmakers' motives, given that they resisted putting such a measure on the ballot in the first place. Had it failed to pass, resulting cuts in higher education would likely have spurred a tuition hike.

"They're in a situation where they have been fundamentally irrelevant to most of the public policy discussions in Sacramento for quite a while now, and their first step to have some credibility is to say something in the public policy debate," said Democratic strategist Bill Carrick. "So what they've done, obviously, is say, well, people care about education, let's get out front on this."

The fact that Republicans went from opposing Proposition 30 to casting themselves as responsible stewards of the money it raised is a move born more of expedience than of principle, said Steve Maviglio, a Sacramento political consultant who worked for two Democratic Assembly speakers. He called the emphasis on higher education "a post-election gimmick."

"It's like they woke up the day after the election and decided they have a commitment to education," he said.

The focus on higher education was evident in GOP responses to Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal last month, which Brown trumpeted as a testament to the new-found fiscal stability Proposition 30 is set to provide.

While many Republican lawmakers praised Brown's budget, they also exhorted Brown and Democrats to ensure that the influx of new funding goes to schools.

In a written response to the budget, Republican Connie Conway, R-Tulare, called the tuition freeze bills an effort to "ensure that this revenue goes to boost higher education funding and prevent tuition and fee increases at our public colleges and universities, just as the voters intended."

In a follow-up interview, Conway affirmed that "we see our role as a watchdog."

"I believe that promises made should be promises kept, so if you're out there telling people 'if you vote for this to raise taxes then it's going to go to education,' then it should," Conway said.

Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, has also introduced a pair of higher education bills. They would create pilot programs enabling students to obtain a degree for $10,000 and $20,000, respectively, an effort to hold down ballooning tuition costs.

"We're pricing kids out of a good education, especially the middle class," Logue said.

Democrats campaigned heavily for Proposition 30 on college campuses, mobilizing student voters by saying the ballot measure would prevent a tuition hike.

Logue is also promoting his measures to the young voter bloc, which had some of the highest turnout rates of any age group in California during the November elections.

In a recent press release, he said students have "some of the most powerful voices when it comes to getting involved in government" and called his bills "the beginning of a revolution to the very pressing issue of the rising costs of education."

The 2012-13 budget promised the University of California and California State University $125 million each in 2013-14 if Proposition 30 passed, and the schools agreed to hold tuition steady for 2012-13. Dianne Klein, a spokeswoman for the University of California, said the funding levels in Brown's budget should be enough to prevent a tuition bump this year.

Pushing to ensure that remains the case is one way for Republicans to exert influence when they otherwise have little room to maneuver, said Aaron McLear, political consultant and former press secretary to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"They have limited leverage, no question about it," McLear said. "So I think they're using what power they have to try and effect change in the state instead of just curling up and moaning about being in the superminority."

Cannella did not publicly take a position on Proposition 30. But now that the voters have spoken, Cannella said, "the equation has changed." New revenues are coming, and that presents a chance for Republicans to make the most of their diminished status.

"On a political landscape in which support for education is measured predominantly by the amount of money you're willing to spend, Republicans don't get many opportunities to play the education issue to their advantage," said Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California's Unruh Institute of Politics. "By arguing about how the Prop. 30 money is going to be spent, they get a chance to look like the big guys."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Jeremy B. White



Sacramento Bee Job listing powered by Careerbuilder.com
Quick Job Search
Sacramento Bee Jobs »
Buy
Used Cars
Dealer and private-party ads
Make:

Model:

Price Range:
to
Search within:
miles of ZIP

Advanced Search | 1982 & Older

TODAY'S CIRCULARS