Assemblymember Wes Chesbro Visits
On Wednesday, September 26, California State Assemblymember Wes Chesbro, representing the 1st district, spoke to a meeting of the AFA Executive Council and SRJC faculty in Doyle Library. He began by noting that the redrawing of Assembly districts now has him representing much of the northern half of Santa Rosa, in addition to a large part of the west county. Chesbro has close family ties to the community college system (his brother Walter teaches at SRJC, and his wife at Los Rios), and he offered a strong statement of support for community colleges, describing them as one of the greatest "democratic with a small 'd'" innovations in California's history, as an "on ramp" to success for masses of people who had traditionally found four-year colleges and universities inaccessible.
In his remarks Chesbro began, not surprisingly, with the ongoing crisis in the California State Budget. Recent changes to the state constitution allow for passage of a budget with a simple majority. Consequently, the good news is that the Democratic majority in the legislature can pass a budget; the bad news, according to Chesbro, is that the Republican minority refuses to support extensive cuts made by Democrats, while also refusing to support any tax increases (which still require a two-thirds majority). The result is that public spending in California has shrunk to levels last seen decades ago. Chesbro pointed out that, as bad as things may seem for those of us in the educational sector, we have been relatively sheltered from the worst of such cuts. Thus, he said, the stakes are high on the November ballot for Proposition 30, which represents Governor Brown's strategy for getting around legislative roadblocks to new education funding. Failure of Proposition 30 will trigger unprecedentedly large and damaging cuts to community colleges, and public education in general. Chesbro was cautiously optimistic about its chances for passage.
The next item of crucial interest to AFA members was the pension reform bill recently signed into law by Governor Brown. Chesbro pointed out the link to Proposition 30; in terms of California politics, passing pension reform was a crucial prerequisite to asking for public support for a tax increase. It was also necessary to avoid what he called a "Proposition 13 timebomb," where the legislature's failure to act might have led to an extreme anti-public-employee backlash. Governor Brown had originally proposed a "hybrid" pension scheme, split between a shrunken defined benefit and new IRA-style elements; legislative Democrats managed to walk the Governor back from that proposal, preserving the defined benefit, while imposing an array of new limits and tightened rules (http://www.faccc.org/-HomePage/PDF/AB340_Impact_Analysis_CalSTRS.pdf).
Finally, he turned to the topic of the Student Success Task Force, describing himself as in a "distinct minority" even within the Democratic caucus in the legislature in his skepticism about elements of the SSTF's recommendations, and associated legislation. He spoke in detail of his commitment to as broad a definition as possible of the community college's mission, and his concern that the SSTF, in its emphasis on completion rates and other efficiency metrics, will restrict the scope of that mission and close down on our ability to serve individual and community needs.
Chesbro ended by taking questions on topics ranging from the fate of redevelopment funds to the prospects going forward for the survival of the community college as we've known it. His views here, as in his remarks generally, were cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on the need for citizens—us—to be well informed and actively engaged with our political representatives and the political process in general.