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Donald Wagner

Let the Games Begin

On April 1, the Democrats running Sacramento took a perfectly good bill and – in the spirit of April Fools’ Day – made fools of California’s voters and college students.

Voters approved the Proposition 30 tax increase on last year’s ballot in order to protect education. For too long, politicians in the legislature have been wasting dollars that should have been spent on our schools and colleges by giving them away to their own special interests. But with Proposition 30, voters said no to continuing that waste.

That’s why the Republicans proposed Assembly Bill 67. As originally written before the Democrats pulled their April Fools prank, AB 67 would have prohibited California’s colleges and universities from increasing tuition during the seven years that Proposition 30 raises taxes. Voters were promised that those taxes would go to education. A tuition freeze honors that promise. AB 67 assured that Sacramento won’t spend the extra money on lower priority things. It assured that our colleges and universities won’t be starved for cash again, and forced to raise tuition on hard working California families. And it assured that promises made by Sacramento politicians in the campaign are kept by Sacramento politicians in the budget.

Those assurances were too much for the party that controls Sacramento.

On April Fools’ Day this year, AB 67 was significantly amended at the Democrats’ insistence after the Education Committee chairman threatened to kill it in his committee if the amendments were not taken.

What are those amendments? First, the tuition freeze language was removed completely as to the Community Colleges. There are now absolutely no Proposition 30 protections in the new law for California’s 2.5 million community college students.

Second, the seven year prohibition on tuition increases while Proposition 30 is in effect has also been eliminated. Instead, at the CSUs, tuition would be held steady for only four years, not the seven of AB 67, and only if the Legislature each year increases funding otherwise to the CSUs by at least four percent.  As to the UCs, the Regents merely “are encouraged to refrain from increasing” tuition, and again, only if there is a minimum four percent yearly increase in funding. (While it is true that the Legislature cannot directly command the Regents to freeze tuition, the legislative power of the purse over funding could be used to do more than just “encourage,” the Regents – but that would not do for Sacramento’s ruling party, and so, the amendments are silent on this crucial point).  Why the reduction from seven to four years? So much for the Democrats’ Proposition 30 promises.

Finally, there is one more significant amendment to AB 67 which, if the foregoing is not enough, makes clear the Democrats’ partisan agenda. They forced a change in authors.

A bit of procedural and historical background: AB 67 was introduced by Republican Assembly Member Jeff Gorell. Then, virtually every other GOP Assembly caucus member, including me, signed on as a co-author. Thus, AB 67 was clearly a Republican bill designed to hold the Democrats accountable for their election promises. Moreover, the bill was particularly important to Mr. Gorell, as he is in a very competitive district. In fact, so desperate is the other party to pick up his seat that his Democrat challenger in the last election even tried to use Mr. Gorell’s military service in Afghanistan during the last legislative session against him. No doubt, the Democrats will again be fighting him fiercely, and they used the amendments to AB 67 as the first shot in that campaign, when the Democrats insisted on removing Mr. Gorell as principal author and substituting Assembly Member Kristin Olsen as the author in lieu of killing the bill. No surprise, but Ms. Olsen is in a safe seat. Then, every other Republican co-author was also removed from the bill in the amendment process. In short, a signature Republican bill to protect college students and their families has been hijacked, its protections for taxpayers weakened, and the stage set for more partisan electioneering.

Sadly, none of this is much of a surprise. During my first two years in office, I saw numerous legislative games from the Democrats designed to gain partisan advantage, kill good bills, pass bad bills, and otherwise deal cynically with the voters: They gut and amend legislation to circumvent the committee process and public scrutiny; they sneak substantive changes into routine procedural bills; they write laws behind closed doors and force votes without the time for us to read them or the public to comment on them; they steal good legislation from Republicans, which the willing press lets them get away with; they change election rules in the middle of the game….

And now, with the forced amendments to AB 67 on April Fools’ Day, the same old games have begun again.