Because it's so rare that California voters agree to pay higher taxes, it would be a travesty to squander that precious good will.
In the afterglow from Proposition 30's passage, the state's leaders need to set the right tone. That includes those who run the California State University and the University of California, whose campuses were spared $250 million each in "trigger cuts" this year and have the promise of $125 million each in additional state funding next year.
To his credit, incoming CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White gets it – that messaging and symbolism matter.
He took it upon himself to request a 10 percent pay cut from the $421,500 a year that his predecessor Charles Reed is getting to lead the 23-campus system. While White's $380,000 salary (plus $30,000 supplement from CSU foundations) will still be a nice bump from the $327,000 he received last year as president of UC Riverside, it shows he's learned that during hard times, leaders have to set a good example.
In a letter to trustees, White said he hopes his move will send a signal to Californians. "Despite the passage of Proposition 30, there remain grave economic issues to solve in California and the California State University," he wrote. "Consequently, as I join the faculty, staff and students who have experienced cuts, salary freezes and increased fees, I, too, must do my part."
White's gesture of shared sacrifice, approved by CSU trustees last week, stands in stark contrast to the utter tone-deafness last year when trustees handed San Diego State's new president a $100,000 raise merely minutes after raising student tuition by another 12 percent.
Incredibly, the governing boards at both CSU and UC were about to make a similar mistake – approving higher fees for students just a week after the election – until Gov. Jerry Brown wisely intervened. The governor, during his tireless campaigning for Prop. 30, promised that its approval would mean no tuition increases at public colleges and universities next year, but there were no ironclad guarantees about fees.
After Brown's prodding, CSU trustees pulled the plug, at least for now, on a misguided proposal for new fees that would have penalized students who take more than the usual course load to complete a double major, or to graduate early. Brown also persuaded UC regents to pull back on proposed fee hikes at several professional schools, including business, law, medicine and nursing.
The governor made it a point to attend both CSU and UC meetings last week – to thank faculty and students for their crucial support for Prop. 30, but also to urge them to be less adversarial with administrators.
Brown and White have the right attitude: Be grateful to voters, be honest about the difficult task that still lies ahead, and urge everyone to pull together to make public higher education more affordable and accessible.
That's the only way to restore CSU and UC, which are so important to the future success of California.