CA Dems propose free tuition funded by tax on millionaires

The bill must first secure a two-thirds majority in the legislature, after which a related constitutional amendment must be approved by voters.

Assembly Bill 1356 aims to generate roughly $2.2 billion through a 1% tax on incomes over $1 million, which would be used to make all public colleges and universities tuition-free for state residents.

California state legislators have proposed a bill to make public colleges and universities completely tuition-free by creating a special tax on the state’s remaining millionaires.

California state legislators have proposed a bill to make public colleges and universities completely tuition-free by creating a special tax on the state’s remaining millionaires.

Assembly Bill 1356, introduced Monday by Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, would impose a one-percent tax on incomes over $1,000,000 in order to close “the unfunded gap between existing aid programs and the cost of tuition and fees.”

[RELATED: Prominent econ prof: ‘Wealth tax’ needed to reduce inequality]

A press release put out by Eggman’s office asserts that California needs roughly $2 billion to cover the cost of college tuition for all state residents, and estimates that the new tax would generate about $2.2 billion, all of which would be deposited into the state’s Higher Education Assistance Fund for that purpose.

At press time, the California State Legislature’s website listed AB 1356 as a bill (also sponsored by Eggman) to extend legal protections and rights to illegal immigrants who apply for employment in the state, but a staff member told Campus Reform that the site is in the process of being updated.

A fact sheet provided to Campus Reform explains that between 1969 and 2015, California’s median household income increased by 10 percent, whereas tuition increased 530 percent in the University of California system and 685 percent in the California State University system over the same period.

"The cost of sending your kids to college has been rising faster than wages for the great majority of Californians," Eggman said in her press release. "Too many families are caught in the middle of these opposing forces, and are unable to afford college for their children without taking on massive debt."

[RELATED: CA budget proposal guts middle-class aid, keeps scholarships for illegals]

Notably, though, the bill faces significant procedural hurdles, both because it creates a new tax and because it must be paired with a constitutional amendment in order for the revenue it generates to be legally set aside for higher education.

Eggman told The Record that because the tax on millionaires would be brand new, rather than an increase to an existing tax, the underlying bill will require a two-thirds vote in the legislature. Should it pass that hurdle, the constitutional amendment must then be put to voters as a ballot measure, a time-consuming and unpredictable process.

Predictably, though, Republicans in the state are not enthusiastic about the proposed bill.

[RELATED: President Obama pushes tax on college savings plans]

Ariana Rowlands, president of the College Republicans chapter at the University of California at Irvine, told Campus Reform that “this is another instance that clearly proves that the Democrats care more about political grandstanding than their constituents,” but added that she finds it concerning nonetheless.

“Should this bill become law it would have a tremendously negative effect on many California residents that would seep into California businesses,” she asserted. “This single-dimensional thinking often practiced by the Democrat party results in fiscal disaster after disaster, and it would be a shame if Democrat California legislators were to lack the foresight for the repercussions of this bill and pass it.”

Jon Coupal, the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, told the Associated Press that the new tax would “give California citizens who have done well one more reason to move out of California.”

Eggman, however, dismissed that prediction, pointing out that the wealthiest 1.5 percent of Californians already provide roughly half the state’s tax revenue, and that voters have twice approved special taxes on millionaires since 2004.

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