Capitol Alert AM Newsletter

Student debt is lower in CA + Carbon emissions lawsuit + Business coalition forms to fight taxes

Happy Monday morning to you, California! I’ve got a little presidential walkout music for your ride to work today. The California Budget and Policy Center sent me their team’s playlist. It includes a personal favorite, “Not Ready to Make Nice” by The Dixie Chicks, “Baila Esta Cumbia” by Selena and “Children of the Revolution” by T. Rex. I asked a few months back what your theme song would be. It’s not too late to join in on the fun:


California has an expensive reputation: housing, transportation, child care, gas, food...they all carry a high price tag.

There is at least one affordable expense, however, and that’s public university tuition, according to a new study.

The average student who graduates in the United States leaves school with $29,200 in loan debt, according to a Wednesday report from the The Institute for College Access and Success. But Golden State students leave with $6,600 less than that average — $22,585 — the study shows, which earned California a third-place ranking on the list of low-debt states.

Utah and New Mexico squeezed California out for the top spots. Their students graduate on average with $19,728 and $21,858 in debt, respectively.

Among the most student debt-ridden states are Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, whose students all graduate on average with more than $36,000 to pay back.

“Many of the differences can be clearly tracked back to state policy choices,” said Debbie Cochrane, executive vice president of the institute. “I think it really shows California has a lot of strengths going for it.”

Cochrane said Cal Grants and the drive for state natives to attend California State institutions and University of California schools help keep the costs low.

Northeastern states tend to rely pretty heavily on their private, nonprofit colleges more so than western states,” she said. “And of course, private, nonprofit colleges tend to be more expensive and don’t have discounted, in state tuition.”

However, California schools’ lower price tags don’t mean there isn’t room for policy improvement, Cochrane said. A good place for policy reform would be expanding Cal Grant programs to make sure the students who need the help have access to the limited funding.

Slightly less than half of California graduates have debt, the report shows. Low-income graduates and students of color also face greater debt burdens than their white and wealthier counterparts, data show.

“There’s also relatively little aid available to help students with non-tuition costs, like food, textbooks, housing and transportation,” Cochrane added. “Those are the types of costs that students are often left to pay themselves and for which they have to borrow. And those are the same types of costs that can hold students back from graduating at all.”


We all knew it was coming, and on Friday California’s 60th legal challenge against President Donald Trump arrived in the form of another climate action lawsuit.

Back it up — Last week, the federal government revoked California’s ability to set its own greenhouse gas emission rules. The move was a direct response to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s summer deal with four automakers that would give them another year to cut carbon emissions by about 30 percent by 2025, Sac Bee reporter Dale Kasler writes.

Trump originally wanted to roll back the standards, a move he said would make cars cheaper and safer.

The higher price tags, Trump aides say, will push consumers to “stick with their older, more accident-prone cars as a result,” Kasler explains.

“California officials, however, say those higher costs will be more than offset by huge savings on fuel purchases over the life of the new vehicle.”

The four car companies agreed to stick to their California agreement, and during a press conference last Wednesday, both Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra vowed to challenge the administration’s decision.

“California won’t bend to the President’s reckless and politically motivated attacks on our clean car waiver,” Newsom said. “We’ll hold the line in court to defend our children’s health, save consumers money at the pump and protect our environment.

The cities of Los Angeles, New York and the District of Columbia joined California and 22 other states in the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Newsom simultaneously signed an executive order on Friday “to leverage the might of the state’s $700 billion public pension funds and its purchasing power as a highway builder in a campaign to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Capitol bureau chief Adam Ashton reports.


A number of “small businesses, taxpayers, employers and services providers” announced today that they’re forming a coalition called the California Tax and Budget Research Project to highlight the “harmful impacts of imposing a new sales tax on services on the state’s economy, budget, consumers and taxpayers.”

The coalition said it’s responding to recent proposals to again increase sales tax on California services that they said financially burden consumers. Despite a solid state surplus, the members said, new sales tax will also exacerbate future budget question marks.

In its analysis, the newly formed group argues that the added taxes will increase the cost of a single-family home by more than $16,500, will hike school construction prices by more than $17 million and will raise public infrastructure payments by 3.2 percent.

“If the problem is budget volatility, then a sales tax on services is not the solution, no matter how it’s structured,” said Allan Zaremberg, president and CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce. “Once you strip away this pretense, you see that a new services tax is just another tax that will simply make services more unaffordable for all Californians.”


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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.