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10/29/2012 01:03 pm ET

Prop 30's Passage In California Could Depend On College Student Turnout

With support for Proposition 30 sliding among California voters, the decision to approve the initiative, which would raise taxes on the wealthy to increase funding for public education, could fall to students at the state's public universities.

Championed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), Prop 30 would raise state income taxes on individuals making over $250,000 and temporarily raise the state sales tax by one quarter of one cent. California stands to gain $6.8 billion in revenue annually if it passes. But if it fails, K-12 schools, community colleges and state universities will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in appropriations and college students would face massive tuition hikes. Students at the University of California, for example, would suffer a mid-year $2,400 increase in tuition.

The most recent poll, from USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times released on Oct. 25, found support for Prop 30 has plunged to 46 percent of registered voters, down from 64 percent in March, with 42 percent of voters opposed to the measure.

But a majority of those polled -- 61 percent -- were over the age of 45, and other recent polls suggest young voter turnout could be a critical factor in Prop 30's passage or defeat. A Public Policy Institute of California poll released on Oct. 24 found 70 percent of voters age 18 to 34 support Prop 30. That's higher than a Field Poll released earlier in October that found 60 percent of likely voters age 18 to 39 supported the measure.

But getting those voters to come out to the polls remains a struggle. While 60 percent of young voters aged 18 to 29 supported a marijuana legalization proposition on California's ballot in 2010, only 20 percent of them showed up at the polls and it was defeated. In 2008, the last presidential election year, California's youth voter turnout was 53 percent.

Pedro Ramirez, vice president of legislative affairs for the California State Student Association, said he feels "students will be the margin of victory in this election" on Prop 30, largely because the measure directly affects them. His organization is actively registering student voters.

"Given how close polling for Prop 30 is at this point, every vote matters," Ramirez told The Huffington Post. CSSA recently completed a major, system-wide voter registration effort, adding 31,372 new voters to California's rolls. The organization is now working on a voter mobilization effort on the 23 California State University campuses to get students to the polls.

"The record-breaking number of young voters taking advantage of the online voter registration system shows how much impact students will have," Ramirez said.

Gov. Brown is also encouraging young people to vote and spent the last two weeks campaigning for Prop 30, speaking at student rallies at UCLA, UC-Santa Cruz and at Sacramento City College.

Meanwhile a flood of money has been pouring into California to oppose the initiative.

Opponents of Prop 30 have raised a combined $53 million. Americans for Responsible Leadership, an Arizona-based non-profit, has spent $11 million against Prop 30 and in favor of Proposition 32, which would restrict how labor unions raise money in California. Molly Munger, a conservative billionaire, has spent more than $30 million of her own fortune trying to defeat Prop 30 and to pass Prop 38, an alternative tax initiative to fund education.

Prop 30's supporters, however, have raised $62 million, paying for television commercials and other advertising.

Shahryar Abbasi, external affairs vice president of the Associated Students of the University of California, told HuffPost he remains cautiously optimistic and committed to continuing the campaign, explaining, "Voters don't start to really start to become aware of the [ballot initiatives] until two to three weeks out from the election."

Abbasi hopes voters will grasp that Nov. 6 represents a historic election for students in California. "I don't think necessarily everyone understands the significant impact on our education this will have to the quality, to the way we receive an education," he said, adding, "this is really, really more than just politics."

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