BERKELEY -- Tired of rising tuition at UC Berkeley, a group of students said Monday it would help gather signatures for a state ballot measure taxing oil and gas extraction $2 billion for education, green energy, county governments and state parks.
The UC Berkeley group is joining 12 other student and environmental groups to get the California Modernization and Development Act on the November 2014 ballot.
"California is hurting right now, and our tuition costs $14,000 a year," said UC Berkeley student Jack Tibbetts, 22, during an Earth Day rally on campus. "Because of the rising tuition, we're seeing a reduction in people graduating universities and community colleges, and that is going to create a huge economic problem for the state."
The measure would need 505,000 signatures to get on the ballot. It is similar to a state Senate bill introduced in February that levies a 9.9 percent tax on oil and gas extraction in California. SB 241 was introduced by Sen. Noreen Evans, a Democrat who represents a swath of the California coast from Santa Rosa to the Oregon Border.
If it passed, the ballot measure would divide $1.2 billion equally among K-12 schools, community colleges, California State University and the University of California. Green energy development would get $440 million; parks $66 million; and county governments $300 million.
Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, which includes Exxon and Chevron, said Monday such a tax "would kill about 10,000 jobs and increase our dependence on imported oil."
Hull noted that similar ballot measures, including Proposition 87 in 2006, which would have raised $4 billion for alternative energy programs by taxing oil companies, have been defeated "because voters recognize the negative impacts such a tax would have on jobs, revenues and energy costs."
But Hank Gehman, a 64-year-old "semiretired" Berkeley contractor who came out for Monday's student rally, said he has a feeling this measure might have a chance.
"People have tried this over the years, and it's never passed, but I just think we're in a kind of civic moment where the people of California have said, 'Hey, we have to fix our problems,'" Gehman said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.