I’m Just A Bill … Sitting on a Sacramento Hill: Prepaying UC Tuition & Florescent Lightbulbs

[And now, some lunchtime observations…]

The San Jose Mercury News has two articles of interest today regarding proposed bills from state Assemblycritters. Note that you can get the bill numbers from this official list of bills submitted.

  • The first, to be proposed by Assemblyman Jim Beall, relates to university tuition. Specifically, it will create a state-run savings program that would allow parents to pre-pay their children’s tuition, locking in rates no matter the dips in the investment market or spikes in tuition. This bill, AB 152, also known as the California Prepaid Tuition Program, would allow parents, grandparents or others to purchase financial units over time based on the then-current tuition cost at the University of California, plus some administrative costs. Each year’s tuition would cost 100 financial units. If students attend a school that charges less than a UC campus, such as the California State University system, a community college or career and technical education school, and the amount of prepaid tuition exceeds the amount of tuition charged at that school, the student will be allowed to use the leftover money for college-related expenses, such as books. If students attend a school that charges more than a UC campus, such as a private institution, the student can transfer the prepaid tuition to the more expensive school, and pay for the difference out of pocket. If a student doesn’t attend college, the prepaid tuition can be transferred to a sibling. The financial units cannot be “bought, sold, bartered, or otherwise exchanged for goods and services by either the beneficiary or the purchaser,” according to the measure.

    This differs from the existing Scholarshare program is that it is more than a savings plan: it is guaranteed tuition. In other words, under Scholarshare, one invests funds in an account specifically designated for college use. The hope is that by the time your child reaches college age, the funds have grown to cover tuition. Of course, if you make bad investment choices, you lose. Under AB 152, you are not investing–you are purchasing the tuition and the state is making the investment choices and taking the risk. I think it is a great idea. I’ll note that a total of 18 states operate plans similar to that proposed in AB 152, and none has run into serious financial problems.

    I encourage support of this proposal.

  • The second, proposed by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, would make California the first state to ban sales of incandescent light bulbs by 2012. In their place, Californians would have to purchase more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps. This one doesn’t appear to have been introduced yet, although there are rumors it is called the “How Many Legislators Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb Act.”

    Personally, I think this is a bad idea. Much as I believe in the use of florescent light bulbs where possible, there are some significant problems. They can’t be used in all applications, for they still can’t be made small enough to be effective as small flame shaped bulbs, or where clear bulbs are required. They cannot be used in dimmer switch applications. They have disposal problems with respect to mercury and other chemicals. Until these are addressed, I think it is wrong to mandate their use. If this bill was to encourage their use through tax credits or rebates on purchases, it would be much, much better.