California’s Struggle to Save Higher Education Continues

college studentsOn April 13th California State University students and faculty are organizing demonstrations at all 23 CSU campuses across the state to protest the latest wave of brutal budget cuts. CSU students, faculty and staff, alumni and their families have a special obligation to make their voices heard in supporting pragmatic solutions to the state’s budget woes that have so adversely affected public higher education. We refuse to sit by passively and watch as the public sector of this state – most notably higher education – is systematically decimated.

California’s fiscal crisis, like that of many other state governments, is a product of the Great Wall Street Toxic Waste Dump of 2008. After the bankers’ recklessness ignited a financial hydrogen bomb, home values plummeted, life savings and retirements evaporated, jobs vanished, and California’s tax revenues dried up by about $20 billion a year. Lower valued homes shrank property taxes and unemployed people cannot pay income taxes. Yet, as in Wisconsin, we’re told that the crisis is somehow the fault of teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, social workers and other public employees.

The Republican legislative minority in California has killed every good-faith attempt to address realistically the state’s fiscal mess. After months of pretending to “negotiate” the “GOP 5,” in the name of the minority, conjured up 53 brand new demands before they would agree to allow California’s citizens the opportunity to vote on extending existing taxes. This blatant obstructionism came after Governor Jerry Brown and the Democratic majority sought bipartisan support by cutting the state budget by about $13 billion, including another whopping $500 million downgrade in the funding of the CSU system.

For Democrats, the late budgets, cobbled together budgets, and draconian cuts to programs (like higher education) that serve their constituents only make them look like hapless co-conspirators in the attack on the public sector. If we follow the Republican’ lead California will trail behind Mississippi in every social indicator save for the size of our prison population.

The California Republicans’ ultimatum was nothing but a cynical attempt to derail the possibility of negotiating a budget (except on the their terms). They are clearly willing to throw the state over the cliff, and Governor Brown cannot “shame” them by explaining how painful an “all-cuts” budget would be. These people know no shame. They hate anything with the word “public” attached to it, public libraries, public parks, public schools, public employees, public higher education.

The Republican minority skates by free of accountability enjoying the best of both worlds: they can tie the government in knots holding the budget hostage to demand their maximum concessions, while blaming the Democratic majority for not “being able to govern,” because, after all, they are in the majority. The logjam never seems to be broken, year after year, even amidst abnormal times of long-term high unemployment, a collapse in housing prices and a moribund construction sector. Still, the Republicans will not budge, even when the state faces an unprecedented crisis. Someone should ask the simple question: How can these men and women call themselves “public servants” when they are so failing in their service to the public?

What we’ve been witnessing in recent years is nothing short of the wholesale auctioning off, often to the lowest bidder (or no “bidder” at all), of the public commons right under the feet of the majority of California’s citizens who never signed on to this long-term project of not-so “creative” destruction.

California’s economy has little chance of recovering from the Great Recession if we remain mired in a politically generated fiscal crisis that prevents us from investing in our future. Unwise public policy today has a tendency to come back and haunt us later. The decision to de-fund higher education amidst prolonged high unemployment and underemployment and record home foreclosures will go down in the state’s history as one of the stupidest public policy choices ever taken.

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