Our kids don’t need student debt
Monday morning I received the following email from Rep. Salud Carbajal (emphasis mine):
“I understand firsthand the difficulty students face when contemplating how to afford higher education. That’s why I introduced the Degrees Not Debt Act. My bill will raise the maximum Federal Pell Grant to $10,000 per year, help families pay less, increase transparency from colleges and universities, and ensure states maintain higher-education funding. A strong education system is one of the best ways for our country to invest in future generations.
“Bottom line: higher education should NOT equal crushing debt. As your representative, I’ll fight to ensure ALL people can follow their dreams without being buried in debt.”
First, a quick observation: In a country with $22 trillion of public debt (not including entitlements), borrowing more from China to increase the maximum amount of Federal Pell Grants seems to misunderstand who owes the $22 trillion. Answer: our children and grandchildren.
So Mr. Carbajal might want to adjust his political promises to reflect the country’s fiscal reality. But, more importantly, I know a better way to accomplish the goal of sending our kids to college without saddling the country with more debt, and we need look no further than New Mexico.
In this progressive, forward-thinking neighboring state, they are using their discretionary revenues and royalties from oil and gas production to pay for a two-year, or four-year, college education. This offer is available to all residents of the state, irrespective of family income.
The only requirement is that students taking advantage of this opportunity maintain a 2.5 GPA. Sounds reasonable to me. Long one of the poorest states in the country, New Mexico plans to use climbing revenues from oil production to pay for much of the costs at their 29 two- and four-year public institutions.
Since 1980, thanks to directional drilling technology and other high-efficiency extraction methods, New Mexico saw its oil and gas production go from roughly 200,000 barrels a day to just shy of 1 million barrels a day in 2019. In other words, instead of threatening to eradicate oil and gas producers, New Mexico politicians are leveraging the industry to help advance a progressive, pro-education, pro-economic growth, pro-future agenda that makes the substantial investments in that future financially possible.
I know what you might be thinking … sure, that sounds good, but here in California, we have a Democrat governor and a Democrat-controlled Legislature. And Democrats, at an almost genetic level, are opposed to fossil fuels. Unfortunately, in most cases, that seems to be true. But not in all cases, and New Mexico is a positive example of this.
In New Mexico, the governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, who also happens to be Latina, is a Democrat. As for the state Legislature, currently 46 Democrats and 24 Republicans are serving in the House of Representatives. And there are 26 Democrats and 16 Republicans serving in the Senate. Today, New Mexico is as much a blue state as California, Oregon or Washington.
“This program is an absolute game-changer for New Mexico,” Gov. Grisham said in a statement. “In the long run, we’ll see improved economic growth, improved outcomes for New Mexican workers and families, and parents.”
By taking a page from the New Mexico playbook, our local progressive Democrat-controlled Board of Supervisors should do something substantially similar. Why not permit local oil and gas projects with strong environmentally favorable conditions and mitigations, and earmark the new revenue stream for investments in ways that improve economic growth, improve outcomes for Santa Barbara County workers and families, and parents?
I would add that there are also numerous green priorities and initiatives that our supervisors have identified for future funding. New oil and gas revenues and royalties, resulting from new local production, is an appropriate and logical source of funding for carrying out the board’s green initiatives, and would result in a win-win.
Joe Armendariz is the executive director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.