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No new taxes? Ask students, many others about that

No pledge is more essential to the political well-being of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger than “no new taxes.”

And no new taxes have yet been approved on his watch, which is just past the 10-month mark. Or have they?

Anyone who’s renewed a California drivers license in the last year knows the fee has risen sharply. Campers and hikers who visited state parks this summer know entrance fees have about doubled since Schwarzenegger took over. Farmers who use water from the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers know their costs are up, too.

New car buyers just saw the fee for their Smog Check exemptions rise. Some Indian tribes are giving the state a major percentage of their profits. The list of raised state fees and prices goes on and on, but none in Sacramento dare call them taxes.

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Yet, taxes they surely are, if the definition of a tax is a “compulsory payment” to government, one of the meanings listed in Webster’s New World Dictionary. For it’s almost impossible to live in California without a drivers license, which is often required even in using a credit card. Farmers need water or their crops will die and many people need access to state parks to ensure their sanity.

Some say all these things are matters of choice, but there’s one group of Californians for whom new fees surely are not a matter of much choice - college students and their families.

Even though Democratic budget negotiators in the Legislature insisted that Schwarzenegger scrap a plan to shunt almost 6,000 more students with supposedly assured spots at the elite University of California to community college campuses or elsewhere this fall, the price of a public college education rose more this year than it has in generations.

And still Schwarzenegger maintains that he’s making good on his no new taxes pledge. All public opinion polls indicate he’s fooling a lot of Californians with this shell game tactic, but not college students.

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Plus, most new UC-qualified college students who at first were told to take a two-year hike to community college before assuming the spots they earned by excelling in high school opted out before the budget deal that could have reinstated them. For all but a few hundred of them, the news that they can now attend came too late to make a difference this fall.

Nobody knows right now exactly how much the eventual “tax” on these students might total. Some will be attending private colleges or out-of-state public universities. They may spend the rest of their lives viewing as a tax the difference between what they’d have paid at UC and what they’ll have to pay at the college they’re attending instead.

And what about those students who simply bagged it and gave up on attending college at all because of Schwarzenegger’s attempted shattering of the state’s longtime promise of places at UC for top students? Some will probably opt back in, but others who got jobs and made non-academic commitments may forever consider the price they’ll pay in terms of future success and lifetime income some kind of tax.

Meanwhile, both new and continuing UC and California State University students - at both the graduate and undergraduate levels - must face a budget balanced partially on their non-influential backs. Fees are up over 15 percent from last year, when there was already a large increase. Most students must attend college to qualify for the jobs they hope to get or the professional schools they hope to attend, so the increases they and their families will pay for years to come certainly constitute a tax on them.

All of which means that if the public believes the Schwarzenegger claim of making good on his no-new-taxes promise, he’s surely a master of illusion.

Proposition 60 a loser

It’s a clear-cut case of sabotage. That’s the only word for Proposition 60, the state Legislature’s bipartisan attempt to head off open primary elections in California.

Simply put, Proposition 60 keeps the present primary election system in place, guaranteeing that every political party represented in a state primary election have its nominees listed in the general election. That stands in stark contrast to Proposition 62, a popular initiative which qualified for the same November ballot with more than 900,000 voter signatures.

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Unlike 60, Proposition 62 guarantees no party a spot in future November runoffs, but only in primaries. It mandates that all primary candidates be listed together, with the top two vote-getters winning slots in the fall runoff.

This infuriates minor parties, who could still participate fully in primaries, but would be shut out of the November action unless their candidates beat out all but one of those from the major parties.

But it pleases centrists tired of having to choose almost exclusively between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, with rarely a November candidate anywhere in the moderate realm.

The two big parties also want minor party candidates around in general elections, where they can sometimes be used or manipulated by the big parties. Witness the role played by the Greens’ Ralph Nader in the 2000 victory of President Bush.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has not indicated whether he’ll put any of his vast political capital on the line by speaking out on the latest self-serving move by the Legislature’s craven politicians.

Write to political columnist Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com.