Here in California, students just marched on Sacramento in outrage that state-subsidized tuition at the UC and CSU campuses keeps climbing. It is true that per-unit tuition costs are rising, despite even greater exploitation of poorly paid part-time teachers and graduate-student TAs. But the protests are sort of surreal. The California legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic. The governor is a Democrat. The faculties and administrative classes are largely Democratic. Who then, in the students’ minds, have established these supposedly unfair budget priorities?
Sales, income, and gas taxes are still among the highest in the nation (and are proposed to rise even higher) — prompting one of the largest out-of-state exoduses of upper-income brackets in the nation. The state budget is pretty much entirely committed to K–12 education (whose state-by-state comparative test scores in math and science hover between 45th and 49th in the nation), prisons, social services, and public-employee salaries and pensions. Whom, then, can the students be angry at?
Perhaps the students don’t want billions to be committed to high-speed rail that might rob Berkeley of needed funding, or environmental efforts to introduce salmon into the San Joaquin River, in which the $70 million spent so far in studies and surveys might have come from nearby CSU Fresno? Are they mad at state social services, whose medical expenses have skyrocketed to address the health-care needs of millions of illegal aliens, and thus in theory could curb the choice of classes at CSU Stanislaus? Are they angry that some $10–15 billion a year probably leaves the state as remittances to Mexico?
If one cannot blame the wealthy for “not paying their fair share” (the top 1 percent of Californians now pay about 37 percent of all income-tax revenue — and their numbers have decreased by one-third in recent years, as the state has come to rely on the income tax for half its revenue), or Republican majorities in government, who, then, is left to blame?
We are at a sort of Greek-like existential paradox here, and so the students cannot quite focus on any remedy that would lower their tuition burden, because in some sense the state’s current obligations are liberal-created and protected sacred cows.