Higher education at the center of protests in Sacramento

150 150 Chris Nelson

Thousands of protestors took to the capitol in Sacramento Monday to rally against recent cuts to the higher education budget in California. From the Sacramento Bee’s coverage:

Speakers at a rally on the west steps of the Capitol blasted the budget cuts to higher education and the cost of tuition and fees at campuses throughout the state, framing access to a degree as a right that should be extended to students of all socioeconomic standings.

“Regardless of our backgrounds, we all have been wounded by these cuts,” said Sydney Fang, a student senator at UC Berkeley. “Today we stand in solidarity as students, as workers and as community members because we have had enough. We have had enough. UC regents have not heard our voices and it is time for our legislators to stand with us.”

What was notable about the protest is that several prominent Democratic lawmakers who voted to enact the cuts were present at the rally. The Bee’s Kevin Yamamura wrote an excellent piece that not only explains how the cuts to higher education came about, but why the same Democrats who were at the protest wound up supporting the cuts at the time:

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez say they would have preferred not to have cut higher education. But as state tax revenues dropped and Republicans rejected tax hikes, they looked for anything and everything to slash. University funding is an easy target because it lacks the constitutional, federal and court protections that other areas have, while they have a revenue stream in the form of tuition.

Without those education cuts, Democrats would have had to cut deeper in social services and health care, budget areas that Democrats rallied for and protected just last week.

We can’t help but think back to a third piece from the Bee that ran last week, written by the elder statesman of California political coverage, Dan Walters. In it he bemoans the rigid party lines that keep ideological, parisan gridlock intact and healthy in the Legislature.

Walters indicts Republicans and Democrats alike, saying that without any room for in-party dissention, we essentially have two stubborn heads competing for the steering wheel in California politics with little hope for compromise.

It played out like clockwork with the budget process. Republicans held fast on any tax increase. Democrats stood by safety net services. The education budget, as per the norm over the past few years, was the victim.

This is old news to anyone who has been following California politics recently. This is why Californians increasingly turn to the ballot iniative process to push through reforms that would otherwise die on the vine. 

It is a stark reminder that before anything, we must focus on process. To some extent, Repubicans and Democrats cannot be faulted for playing the game with the rules they have been given.

It is never a bad thing when people collectively exercise their democratic right to protest something they see as unfair. Protestors immediately picked up on rhetoric and chanted “Show us!” to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez when they committed to making increased funding to higher education a priority.

What no tax hike, spike in revenue or creative accounting will fix, however, is an inefficient budgeting process that has produced few positive results for the state or local municipalities in the past decade. We cannot expect a different outcome with the same infrastructure in place, cash infusion or not.

Only when the rules are changed does the evolution of the game become inevitable.


Chris Nelson

All stories by: Chris Nelson