10,000 Strong March to the Capitol

UC Irvine students made up just a small segment of the estimated 10,000 protestors who marched to Sacramento’s state capitol on Monday, March 5 to speak out against rising fees in higher education and urge politicians to address these issues.

 

This march was the closing event of the 10th Annual UC Student Lobby Conference (SLC), where students from all of the UC campuses gathered in a Sacramento hotel the weekend prior to learn about bills supporting higher education and how to lobby decision-makers.

 

The workshops and content of the conference served as preparation for Monday, when UC students participated in about 100 pre-arranged lobby visits with legislators after they marched to the capitol.

 

ASUCI Executive Vice President Patrick Le explained that one of the main goals of the conference, protest and lobby visits was to create a coalition of students across California because problems such as rising tuition cannot be faced alone.

 

“The second goal of this conference was to make a statement to California: that students were not as apathetic as decision makers believed,” Le said.

 

“SLC was an opportunity to prove that we are involved, quite seriously, in the political process. But we also wanted to show that our activism went beyond protesting and marching, and that we were ready to meet with legislators eye-to-eye to offer thought-out solutions.”

 

The three main pieces of legislation that UC students focused on during their lobby visits were the Middle Class Scholarship Act (AB 1500 and 1501), The Working Families Student Fee Transparency and Accountability Act (AB 970) and Same Day Voter Registration (AB 1436). Students made sure they were well-versed on all aspects of each bill over the weekend so that they could effectively lobby during Monday’s visits.

 

AB 1501, sponsored by Speaker of the Assembly John A. Pérez, establishes the Middle Class Scholarship. This fund would cut student fees by two-thirds for UC and CSU middle class students whose families earn less than $150,000 a year. Additionally, more funding would go toward California Community Colleges in order to make them more affordable.

 

The funds for the Middle Class Scholarship would become available after closing a tax-loophole on out-of-state corporations, which is established in AB 1500. This bill proposes to modify the Single Sales Factor corporate tax law in order to reverse the $1 billion tax benefit that out-of-state corporations received in 2009. With the modification of this tax law, the money that out-of-state corporations once received would instead go to the Middle Class Scholarship fund.

 

“The Middle Class Scholarship Act is something that really resonated with students and myself,” Le said.

 

“Cutting tuition by two-thirds by closing a tax loophole on out-of-state corporations just makes sense. It’s a long term solution to a deeply and widely felt problem by students, and it could really get the UC accessible and affordable again.”

 

Even though this plan may seem like a good solution for students and families, opposition for this bill has come from politicians who believe that pension reforms and the state budget should be addressed before tackling education reform.

 

Another bill that activists were pushing for was AB 970, which would give students an 11-month timeline to plan for fee increases. This bill calls for a student consultation at least 90 days prior to publically noticing a proposed increase in fees, followed by a 60-day public comment period before acting on any proposed fee increase.

 

There would then be a six-month wait period before the fee would be implemented, and then the fees would go into place. This act would give students an ample amount of time to plan for student fee increases, instead of having to cope with last-minute fee hikes and possibly not being able to afford them.

 

Although this bill would help students plan for their education, opposition has been expressed by politicians who have said that it is not always possible to plan fee increases. Sometimes the institution needs access to the fees in a timely manner and there is no option for earlier notice, regardless of how much they’d like to tell students ahead of time.

 

Lastly, students emphasized AB 1436, which would allow for same-day voter registration. The activists think this is important because students often move more often than other voters, and many do not know that they need to register again every time their address changes.

 

Activists believe that same-day voter registration would lead to greater student turnout during election time, which would give them more of a voice on higher education issues. However, several politicians are worried that this policy would increase the risk of fraud while registering to vote, which makes some skeptical to see this bill move forward.

 

Out of the 100 lobby visits that occurred at the capitol last Monday, the New University was able to observe a visit with Republican Assemblyman Allan Mansoor of the 68th District, which represents Anaheim, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Garden Grove, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, Stanton and Westminster.

 

UC Irvine students Megan Valladao, Victor Ibarra, Gerardo Enriquez, Justin Chung and Karina Camacho discussed various aspects and different political perspectives of the three bills with Mansoor.

 

Although Mansoor could not make any official statements indicating whether he supported these three bills or not, the Assemblyman did say that he would take a look at the legislation and would further consider the issues then.

 

“You guys are approaching this from a very balanced view … I appreciate that,” Mansoor said when telling the students how he liked the open-mindedness of the conversation.

 

By the end of the weekend, UC Irvine students left the conference with a greater understanding of issues pressing higher education and concrete exposure to student activism.

 

The UC Irvine delegation also left the conference with the title of “Campus of the Year,” which was awarded at the UC Student Lobby Conference Awards Banquet on Sunday, March 4.

 

“Our advocacy really shined this year, thanks to all of our students and activists,” Le said. “This award is for all of them.”

 

The Sacramento trip was just one aspect of the many advocacy efforts of UCI students.

 

“We are continuing to engage with our own representative to get their buy-in on bills,” he said.

 

“At the same time, we are starting an education campaign on our campus so Anteaters know what we are lobbying for and what they can do to get involved. This is a truly historical time, and everyone needs to be involved.”