Rescue Education California is spearheading a campaign to pass a public referendum to directly fund the state’s public education system with revenue from a severance tax on oil and gas companies operating in California.
The group’s proposal, “Tax Oil to Fund Education Initiative” Statute seeks to place Proposition 1481 on the November 2012 general election ballot. According to the proposed statute, the tax would generate roughly $3 billion dollars a year, of which 11 percent would go to the UC system.
Peter Mathews, the Los Angeles Director of Rescue Education California, said the proposition provides a fair and secure funding source for California’s faltering public school system.
“This is a solid source of revenue and it is coming from a fair source,” Mathews said. “The oil companies do not own the oil; it belongs to the people of California and it is a natural resource that is finite. In Alaska, Sarah Palin raised [the tax] to 25 percent [and] Texas brings in two billion a year on severance taxes on oil and gas. We are the only state letting this money run like a river out of California.”
Environmental Studies lecturer Gregory Graves said it is unusual that California has not already instated such a measure since it has historically been a progressive leader on environmental issues.
“As I understand it, California is one of the few states without a severance tax for oil companies,” Graves said. “This is unusual because California has been a historically progressive state and you see this in states like Texas and Oklahoma. I do not know why California has not done this yet.”
According to Mathews, the tax is a sensible measure as large-scale energy companies already rake in huge profits that fail to benefit the citizens of California.
“The oil companies are taking [the money], running with it and laughing all the way to the bank,” Mathews said. “They made $23 billion last year in crude oil and they do not want to pay $3 billion in severance tax. Most of [the money] went out-of-state to stock holders in New York who own the oil companies.”
Additionally, Prop 1481 has the potential to stimulate a green economy by forcing energy companies to look toward alternative fuel sources, Mathews said.
“We know that when we have this severance tax on them, it will make alternative energy more competitive,” Mathews said. “Wind power, tidal power, solar power — those types of alternative energies become more competitive when oil companies pay their fair share.”
After meeting with Mathews over the summer to discuss the measure, Associated Students On-Campus Representative Jonathan Abboud authored a Legislative Council bill in support of Prop 1481. The bill was subsequently approved as the first such endorsement to be passed by a UC student government.
According to Abboud, it would offer all students financial protection in the face of an unpredictable future.
“This proposition, if it is passed next November, will be guaranteed money for all education in California, and every school in California needs money right now because of the budget situation,” Abboud said. “So this would help every student in the state.”