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Sonoma County college leaders hail Prop. 30's passage

Political Science major Patrick Mahoney, 20, is a third-year student at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park and is a statewide issues senator and a leader for a campus drive that helped to register more than 1,000 students to vote, with a focus on Proposition 30, during the latest election, Friday Nov. 9, 2012.

(Kent Porter / Press Democrat)
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012 at 6:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 9, 2012 at 6:36 p.m.

Patrick Maloney, a junior at Sonoma State University, woke up Wednesday morning to a pleasant surprise.

California voters had approved Proposition 30, the statewide tax measure backed by Gov. Jerry Brown to raise about $6 billion a year for education.

For thousands of state university students, it meant money in the bank: specifically a $249 refund of a tuition fee increase they paid this fall.

For Maloney, a 20-year-old political science major from Sacramento, it also was a payoff for a successful campaign to register more than 1,000 SSU students to vote in Tuesday's election.

“It wasn't a tough sell,” said Maloney, who organized the drive in his role as statewide issues senator in the Associated Students group. “When I told them how it directly affected them, they were like, ‘Sign me up.'”

Prior to the election, the CSU Board of Trustees agreed to rescind the $249 per semester tuition fee hike if Prop 30 passed, returning annual tuition fees for full-time undergraduate students to $5,472, the same as last academic year.

CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed said he hoped that passage of Proposition 30, by a 54 to 46 percent margin, marks “the beginning of the state's reinvestment in higher education.”

California “needs to start making up for the devastating budget cuts of the past several years and focus on higher education as a driver of California's economic future,” Reed said in a statement.

Maloney said the California State Student Association, which represents the 23 state universities, attempted to register 35,000 students to vote this fall, and SSU exceeded its goal.

Proposition 30 was a conversation topic among SSU students “who know what's going on around them,” Maloney said.

The only qualms, he said, came from “fiscally conservative” students who had reservations about the temporary increases in personal income and sales taxes.

Students not only get back $249 now, but also avoided a $150 tuition fee increase proposed by CSU trustees for the spring semester in the event Proposition 30 failed.

Maloney said he went to bed Tuesday night while the measure was trailing, and was delighted to learn it had passed by 8 points.

In Sonoma County, Proposition 30 won by a 66 to 34 percent margin.

Larry Furukawa-Schlereth, SSU's chief financial officer, said the tuition refunds would cost the school $3 million, which will have to be offset from other sources, most likely from cash reserves.

But the measure was “a huge positive step” for SSU, he said.

Had Proposition 30 failed, SSU would have had to cover a permanent $5 million budget loss, Furukawa-Schlereth said.

Student fees at Santa Rosa Junior College were not affected by the ballot measure, but its failure would have cost the school $6.3 million — doubling the budget deficit for the current fiscal year to $12.3 million.

Because the budget had to be approved months before the election, it offset the $12.3 million loss by cutting 530 class sections and shutting 2,920 students out of classes, officials said.

“We acted conservatively,” said Doug Roberts, vice president of business services. “We could not afford to gamble (on the ballot measure) and lose.”

With Proposition 30's passage, SRJC will begin restoring the class cuts in the upcoming summer and fall semesters, president Frank Chong said.

Chong joined other SRJC managers, faculty and staff in working phone banks to support Proposition 30.

“This was a high-stakes game,” he said. “Everybody agreed this proposition, if it didn't pass, would spell disaster for our students and for our institution.”

Roberts said that SRJC dodged a fiscal bullet thanks to voters, but still faces a $6 million “structural deficit” that was bridged by one-year staff salary concessions and dipping into reserves this year.

“We have a longer-term problem,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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