The Corner

In California, Whom Will They Blame?

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?

Are students angry at public-union salaries and pensions that are among the highest in the nation? Do they think the many highly compensated retired Highway patrol officers have shorted students at UC Davis? Are they mad at the 50,000 illegal aliens in the California prison system that might have siphoned off scholarship funds from CSU Monterey Bay? Or is the rub the influx of hundreds of thousands of children of illegal aliens who require all sorts of language remediation and extra instruction in the public schools, and so might in theory divert library funds from UC Santa Cruz?

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?

California either has to raise fees for state services; or cut services and compensation; or raise taxes even higher and risk losing even more of the critically needed, but shrinking, top-bracket taxpayers who are fleeing the state’s current 10-plus percent income-tax rate; or begin developing its abundant, but often off-limits natural wealth in timber, minerals, oil, and gas; or cease new projects whose costs probably will not result in added productivity or income (e.g., high-speed rail, diverting water from highly productive agricultural land to ensure fish ecosystems in the delta and rivers, etc.).

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.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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