California Gov. Jerry Brown has recently been touring state college campuses to tout Proposition 30, a $50 million sales and income tax initiative that will be on the state’s November ballot. The governor claims that failure to pass the measure will result in lower college enrollment rates and higher tuition costs for students.
Despite the close partnership between supporters of Proposition 30 and state schools, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association decided Thursday that one school had crossed the line. The anti-tax group is suing the California State University (CSU) system after the head of the humanities department at the Monterey Bay campus sent an email urging students to “work together to pass Prop. 30” and ensuring that if the measure passes, “students will get a $498 tuition refund.”
The lawsuit, filed in Monterey County Superior Court, says the college illegally used taxpayer resources for political campaigning, as the email was sent from the department’s official email address to student college email accounts and signed by humanities department director Ernest Stromberg.
“This campaign mailing violates the constitutional rights of taxpayers and students whose tax dollars and student fees are being misused to promote a political cause which they do not support,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, in a statement. “This is one more example of those inside government who are taking advantage of their taxpayer-funded positions to force their political beliefs upon students.”
Proposition 30 would increase the sales tax in California—already the highest in the nation—by a quarter of a percent and increase personal income tax for those earning more than $250,000 by up to 3 percentage points. The increases would expire after seven years.
Gov. Brown has said that if the measure does not pass, CSU and the University of California system would lose $250 million in state funds. In that case, CSU plans to increase tuition by 5 percent and admit fewer students next year.
Coupal believes the tax increase would hurt Californians more than help. In a recent commentary on his organization’s website Coupal stated that higher taxes would only add extra burdens to taxpayers, including small business owners, and drive businesses out of the state. And in terms of education, he wrote, “There is so much more that could be accomplished with existing dollars if only the Sacramento politicians were willing to buck the California Teachers Association, a group so powerful that it is called ‘the fourth branch of the government’ by insiders.”
CSU is trying to distance itself from the email, with CSU general counsel Christine Helwick referring to the email as “inappropriate and unfortunate” in a statement.
"It was sent by him as an individual, and not on behalf of the institution," she wrote. "We have previously reminded faculty and staff that it is not permissible to use state resources including classroom time for any political advocacy. This email clearly crossed that line and the campus is taking appropriate personnel action."
This is not the first instance of college involvement in promoting the ballot initiative. Last week a CSU Fresno professor reportedly asked students to defend Proposition 30 as part of an exam. A month ago, a CSU Long Beach professor used school email to encourage faculty members to volunteer to help pass the ballot measure.