For the first time in California's history, our state government spent more money on prisons than higher education.
It's a shocking figure - but not a surprising one when you consider that it now costs more to send a criminal to prison than a student to Harvard. Because we are now spending so much on failed prisons, we can't invest sufficient funds to create affordable colleges and universities.
Tuition at our public universities has skyrocketed as much as 30% nationwide - just as students are forced to endure budget cuts, slashed enrollment, impossible waitlists and reduced course offerings.
My own parents worked as janitors their whole lives so that I could be the first in my family to go to college. I know firsthand that the true spirit of California opportunity and optimism is nurtured in great schools, not failed prisons.
That is why I am fighting to fund California colleges and universities by requiring Big Oil to pay their fair share for the oil they pump out of our state's land and water. California can no longer afford to be the only major oil-producing state that doesn't levy such a fee. Texas, for instance, generates $400 million for higher education through a similar fee.
My bill, AB 656, would raise up to $2 billion a year for the UC, CSU and community colleges with a 12.5 percent tax on oil extracted within California. That's considerably less than the 25-percent tax levied in Sarah Palin's Alaska.
The oil companies will tell you that they already pay enough taxes and that this bill will result in jobs lost. Yet oil companies have been experiencing record breaking profits for the past several years. Exxon Mobile, for instance, raked in a $45.2 billion profit in 2008, the most ever by a publicly-traded U.S. company.
More money for higher education means more classes and more financial aid for more students.
Making sure students receive a quality education is the key to our future and to public safety. A quality education grants people invaluable tools to succeed. With 60% of inmates functionally illiterate, education is the best strategy to rehabilitate criminals and to empower people with the tools to succeed.
The fight to save higher education won't be easy. And AB 656 is a simple and fair solution to funding our universities and colleges in California. Please join me and thousands of other concerned Californians in fighting for higher education at www.facebook.com/FairTuition, and sign the petition here: www.albertotorrico.com/Fair-Share-for-Fair-Tuition.
Alberto Torrico is the Democratic Majority Leader and Candidate for California Attorney General. Learn more about his campaign: www.AlbertoTorrico.com