State Sen. Nicholas Petris stood on the Sproul Hall steps and took two swings--one symbolic, the other more tangible--at rising student fees.
First smashing a box labeled "student fees" with a sledgehammer, the Oakland Democrat then announced legislation to roll back student fees at state colleges and universities by 15 percent.
Petris was flanked by students at the Feb. 27 announcement.
Noting that fees have risen 134 percent at UC since 1991, he said, "My bill will reverse this ever-expanding tax on the middle class by reducing student fees by 15 percent."
Petris, chair of the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Education, said a recent RAND Corp. study found that all funding for higher education in California could be eliminated by the year 2002.
This dire estimate comes in light of the state Legislative Analyst's Office projection that the "three-strikes-you're-out initiative" will require 15 to 38 new prisons be built by the year 2000 at a cost of almost $7 billion, said Petris.
"This is an emergency--if the governor has no plan to fund higher education and if my proposal for future funding is not adopted, then campuses will have to close so the state will have the money it needs to operate the prison system," said Petris.
Students and their parents at the campus press conference praised Petris' action.
"We cannot afford as a society to shortchange education. It is our future," said John Cooke, the parent of a Berkeley student.
Student Todd Street said that while he believes crime is a big problem, "cutting (education) funding will only make the problem worse--we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot."
Petris' bill, SB 1300, calls for an immediate rollback of fees at community colleges, state universities and UC of 15 percent.
The resulting reduced revenue could be made up by increased state funding made available by continuing the top 10 percent and 11 percent personal income tax brackets, something Petris said Gov. Wilson supports.
If an investment in higher education is not made this year, he said, he will introduce a second bill to create a Campus Closure Commission, patterned after the federal base closure commission, to determine which of the state's campuses have to close to generate money to run the prison system.