From their inception, California's state colleges and universities were free or nearly free for in-state students, but since the 1970s, the state systems have been ratcheting up tuition and originating loans that impose crippling debt on students, leading to delayed fertility, late home-ownership, reduced retirement savings, and dampening entrepreneurial risk-taking.
College for All California is a ballot initiative modeled on Bernie Sanders' proposal for free nationwide tuition; it would impose an inheritance tax (12-22%) on the 0.2% of Californians with a net worth of more than $3.5m ($7m for couples), raising about $4b/year to reduce or eliminate tuition for state colleges and universities.
California had a similar inheritance tax until 2005, when the GW Bush administration killed inheritance taxes on the very wealthiest Americans and the state (which had piggybacked on the federal inheritance tax system) never set up its own made-in-California collection system. This inaction has cost the state an estimated $16b in total.
4,000 Californians would be subject to the tax, and the 2.6 million students in the California systems would benefit from it.
The initiative will be on the 2018 midterm ballot if 585,407 sign the petition to the state attorney general. Signature-gathering events are being held across California; you can volunteer to help with them, and donate to the cause.
"This issue of free college will mobilize young voters and boost turnout for 2018," said Angad Singh Bhalla, a coordinator of the California College for All campaign. "By putting something bold and exciting on the ballot, we will pull young people out and have all sorts of impacts."
"One lesson from the 2016 campaign is you can only go so far saying our opponent is a monster," said Bhalla. "You need to have a compelling progressive vision."
"By restoring the California estate tax, we are capturing lost revenue and directing it to something that changes lives in our state," said Bhalla. "The estate tax is a fundamentally fair tax. Why should someone be born with so much unlimited wealth at a time when social opportunity is declining for the large masses of people?"
A Serious Push for Free College in California [Chuck Collins/The Nation]