When I was in college in the early 1970s, California taxpayers made a deal with me. They'd subsidize my education at Fresno State and I'd return that investment by getting a job and paying taxes to the state during my working lifetime.
I think it was a pretty good deal for everyone. I received a top-notch education for about $160 a year and I've been paying for state services through a range of taxes ever since.
That's been repeated for the millions of students who have graduated from California's public universities.
The Golden State's leaders used to put a priority on higher education, believing correctly that an educated work force would make California great. That was a time when governors and legislators thought beyond giving handouts to their political pals and made visionary investments in the things that created economic activity: education, freeways, water systems and other crucial infrastructure.
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California flourished, and our leaders didn't do it by over-extending its budget.
But sometime over the past two decades, the people who make decisions for us began putting everything on credit cards, pushing the reckoning to future taxpayers. They also reduced the state's investment in our children.
We have leaders in Sacramento now who think it's a luxury to have first-class public universities in California. It seems they don't understand that funding education is not a handout, but a commitment to the state's future.
We've just been told that budget problems will force the California State University system to limit admissions next year by 10,000 students. The politicians blame it on the economic downturn, but past governors and legislators had already been limiting enrollment by forcing big annual fee increases on students and their parents.
Not everyone who goes to college will be productive members of society, but the vast majority of them are positive contributors, and will pay back the state many times. They'll get good jobs, pay taxes and make contributions to charities and other groups that help our communities in ways that can't be measured.
In 2002-03, a study of CSU graduates found that there were 1.7 million alumni holding bachelor's and master's degrees living and working in California. They will earn an estimated $89 billion in income, with $25.3 billion attributed to their qualifications because of their CSU degrees.
As an employer, CSU and its 23 campuses also have major economic impacts on the state. The economic impact of CSU is $13.6 billion annually. More than 207,000 California jobs are supported by CSU, and those employees pay more than $760 million in taxes to the state and local governments across California.
Then there are the hidden benefits of the state's investment, including the improved quality of life that surrounds CSU and University of California campuses from the lectures, plays and sporting events that entertain us.
Then there's the research at our public universities that makes our farms more productive, our doctors better healers, our technology cutting edge.
Unfortunately, we have lawmakers who say education is important to the state's future and then make short-sighted financial decisions that will force budget cuts from kindergarten to college.
There is no doubt that education will lose money this year because the Democrats and Republicans that we have elected are incapable of balancing a budget. They do it year after year, and then when we get into a recession, the problem is magnified.
Now the state faces a $28 billion deficit over the next 18 months, and it's growing because lawmakers can't face reality.
It's time to go back to the old ways. Invest in our young people and they'll invest in California.