Cuts in budget take their toll

by Leonardo Castaneda

Stop and open your wallet right now. How much do you have, five bucks and a Taco Bell coupon? Congratulations, you’re now approximately $15.7 billion wealthier than the California state government. To help breach this massive gap between what the state has and what it owes Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a tax initiative that would increase the state sales and income tax for upper-income earners. If voters approve the initiative this November, the state will receive an estimated $8.5 billion in additional revenue if it fails we face a slew of trigger including a potential $250 million cut to the California State University system.

Students cannot allow the CSU budget cuts. Our only hope is to rally around Brown’s initiative with the same passion with which we protested previous cuts and fee increases.

Even now, the pain from earlier cuts and the threat of future ones have had a chilling effect. The CSU recently announced only Spring 2013 transfer applicants with an associate degree from a California Community College, plus a few other students meeting very specific conditions would be admitted to any CSU. All applicants for Fall 2013 will be waitlisted until the fate of the tax initiatives and trigger cuts has been determined.

Aside from dramatically reduced enrollment, a failed tax initiative would probably herald more layoffs and furloughs. Classes would be cut and the ones left would see enrollment limits skyrocket. These aren’t empty threats; these are the CSU’s tried and true methods of dealing with the budget.

Long term, the trigger cuts would damage the CSU’s standing as one of the premier higher education systems in the country. The uncertainty from ever-rising tuition costs and the prospect of overcrowded and underfunded classes will scare away the top students the CSU needs in order to stay competitive. San Diego State has become one of the top colleges in the state and in the country.

Last year, the average freshman admitted to the school had a 3.78 GPA. High achieving applicants translate to better students, more research, more grants and the recognition of a degree from a selective university. Making sure SDSU and the rest of the CSU continue attracting the top scholars in the nation will benefit current and future alumni for generations.

For the first time, we have a chance to direct the financial future of our school. These aren’t protests and marches the CSU Board of Trustees can simply ignore. This is the democratic process at work. Passing this initiative will not solve the state’s financial crisis. It won’t even protect the CSU from further cuts in the coming years. But, it will show Sacramento and future CSU students we are willing to fight for the quality and affordability of our education.

This decision is in our hands. But it is the state’s responsibility to find a way to fund higher education in California while balancing the state budget. Even now we can see the root of many of our ailments and the steps to fix them are clear, if not popular.

Proposition 13, passed in 1978, continues to hamper the state’s ability to raise funds even as
the economy and the demands of the government grow. From the money the state has, a high amount goes toward criminals. Next year, the government expects to spend roughly $10.7 billion on corrections and rehabilitation – almost a billion more than it spends on higher education. This is because of the draconian three strikes rule, which sentences repeat minor offenders to decades behind bars, draining state resources.

In the long run, we must demand that the state legislature address these structural flaws. But for now, we have no choice but to bail out the state government; not because it’s fair, but because of who will suffer if we don’t. If we reject this initiative, we aren’t punishing the legislators who created this mess; we are passing the burden onto students, the elderly and the very poor who depend on state assistance for food and medicine.

It is time for students to show the state what we are capable of when we rally behind a cause. We have done it before, and we will likely have to do it again before this financial debacle is done. The future of our education is at stake.