California State Treasurer Phil Angelides brought celebrity power with him when he came to the MultiCultural Center Theater on Monday to speak at a town hall forum.
Political commentator and former gubernatorial candidate Arianna Huffington, ‘Kill Bill’ films producer Lawrence Bender, UC Regent George M. Marcus and “American Idol” judge Randy Jackson accompanied Angelides on his visit. The treasurer came to UCSB to speak against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget – specifically the cuts made to the University of California under the plan. A crowd of about 30 people, including students and community members, came to hear the panelists speak and to ask questions.
Angelides said education should be a primary focus of the state. A better-educated workforce helps to build a better state economy, he said.
“There are cheaper places were we could all live, but if California has the best schools for their kids [and is the] best place to get a college education, people will continue to come here throughout the world,” Angelides said.
Angelides criticized Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal and the budget compact reached May 11 between the governor and the UC.
“Be clear about what this compact is,” Angelides said. “… The problem with that promise is the legislative analyst, the nonpartisan person who looks at the budget, has said if the governor stays with his present plan not to affect any taxes, we’re going to have an $8 billion budget deficit within a year and a half. How’s he going to pay for the compact when the state is $8 billion under water?”
Under the agreement, fee hikes would be slowed and future enrollment caps would be avoided, and in exchange UC would absorb next year’s proposed spending cut.
The loss of funding given to UC could be softened, Angelides said, if the governor would cut corporate tax loopholes. He said his office has identified eight specific tax loopholes that could save the state $6 million if they were closed, but Schwarzenegger lacks the political motivation to do so.
“The governor does not want to take on anyone except young people and children aid services,” Angelides said. “It’s his definition of fairness. We know what he said about the [budget] compact, ‘Everyone is happy; no one gets hurt.’ Translation: ‘Students get hurt; everyone but students are happy.'”
Angelides compared annual student fees in the 2002-03 school year to what the rates could be in 2007 under Schwarzenegger’s proposal. In-state undergraduate fees would increase by 71 percent, while graduate students would face an 89 percent increase.
“No increases in taxes is what the governor says, unless you’re a student or middle-class family trying to send your kids to college,” he said.
Marcus, a UC regent and chairman of Marcus & Millichap Comp., said the regents, like students, want to protect the quality of the University.
“The research that comes out of this University is critical to the future of California,” Marcus said.
But he said the budget compact limits UC’s flexibility.
“The compact is a one-way option,” Marcus said. “The governor commits the University, but the University cannot commit the state.”
Huffington said people who care about access to higher education for all students must work to make sure the budget proposal does not pass.
“It is completely contrary to the promise of California that every qualified student can go to college,” Huffington said.
Schwarzenegger is not prioritizing access to education through the compact, Huffington said.
“His priorities are protecting his personal interest – they fund his campaign,” she said.
Jackson called the budget cuts to higher education “ridiculous.”
“It’s hard enough trying to make it through school,” Jackson said. “I just feel it may just discourage a lot of kids from even wanting to go to school. If you’re going to try and work two jobs plus do the schoolwork, it’s going to discourage a lot of people from wanting to attend college.”