In a letter to business leaders, University of California President Mark Yudof argues forcefully for California to abandon budget cuts for higher education and fulfill the promise it made to state residents 50 years ago.
What’s unique about this communication is that instead of pursuing a UC-first strategy, Yudoff and his counterparts at the California State University and community college systems appear to be presenting a united front in the battle to preserve perhaps the most important legacy of California’s golden era.
The timing of this campaign could not be better. On May 3, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger got the bad news that the all-important tax revenue haul for April was $3 billion below an expected $10 billion in receipts. Moreover, the governor has dug his hole $100 million deeper — or $1.6 billion over the next decade — by spurning the compromise between Plains Exploration & Petroleum and environmental groups that would have ended offshore drilling off Santa Barbara’s coast in the next 15 years.
The Legislature is now reeling as it contemplates a budget shortfall in the $20 billion range for the rest of this fiscal year and 2010-11. Gone are the faint hopes that revenue might rebound sharply; lingering high levels of unemployment mean that millions of former taxpayers aren’t earning enough to pay anything at all.
In the tri-county region, the impact of higher education is obvious. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and UC Santa Barbara are the economic behemoths that drive the economy in both counties. In Ventura County, three community colleges and CSU Channel Islands represent the best hope for training the workforce of the future — a point recognized in the fact that Channel Islands has escaped the worst of the cuts.
Moreover, as Yudof’s presentation points out, there’s a huge multiplier effect for higher education. Every dollar invested in higher education returns $3 in tax revenue from higher income and reduced social services costs.
California is at the leading edge of a transition to a new economy that’s more energy efficient and that embraces new technologies that are emerging every day. Drawing a line in the sand on higher education funding is the best way to get there — by creating entrepreneurial opportunities that give people a chance for a better future.