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California Legislature

This California Democrat is proposing a tax on millionaires to make public colleges tuition-free for in-state students

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

To tackle concerns about college affordability, a Democratic legislator is proposing to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all Californians, and wants to tax millionaires to do it.

The measure, which echoes calls for tuition-free college by former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is the latest in a flood of legislation that's been introduced this year to address concerns about the rising cost of attending college.

The state's 1960 Master Plan, which created a framework for higher education institutions, was meant to "make college affordable for everybody. That was going to be the California dream," Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton), the proposal's author, said in an interview.

"Now we find ourselves in the position where that dream isn’t being fulfilled," she said.

Eggman's proposal would impose a 1% tax on incomes over $1 million to help pay for the approximate $2.2-billion price tag to cover tuition and fees for all in-state students in conjunction with existing aid.

"We know the very wealthy continue to control a huge amount of the state’s wealth, this country’s wealth, while the middle-class continues to get squeezed more and more," Eggman said.

New taxes generally face a steep climb in the Legislature, where a two-thirds vote is required for passage. But Eggman said her bill, AB 1356, would also be coupled with a constitutional amendment that would put the tax before voters for ultimate approval.

Doing so, she said, ensures "a greater buy-in from the general public."

A recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 68% of Democrats, 20% of Republicans and 42% of independents support increased taxes to pay for higher education.

Eggman's tuition-free proposal takes a different approach from her colleagues, who unveiled a sweeping plan last week to make public colleges debt-free for nearly 400,000 students from families that make up to $150,000 per year. That measure aims to chip away at some of the associated costs of going to college, such as living expenses and textbooks.

Eggman said she envisions the two proposals complementing each other. 

She also said she anticipates critiques her "clean sweep" plan to wipe tuition away for all Californians would benefit wealthy residents who don't need such assistance.

People may say "'millionaire’s kids might use it,'" Eggman said. "Well, they’re paying for it, too."

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