Middle-class students at California's public universities are one big step closer to receiving a major tuition break, after the Assembly narrowly approved a measure Monday that would fund college scholarships by eliminating a corporate tax break.
Democratic Assembly Speaker John Pérez, who has made the measure his top priority this year, needed the support of two-thirds of the Assembly because the legislation is a tax measure. He squeaked out the bare minimum number of votes by persuading two lawmakers from outside his party - Republican Assemblyman Brian Nestande of Palm Desert (Riverside County), and GOP-turned-independent lawmaker Nathan Fletcher from San Diego - to vote for the tax increase.
The measure fell one vote short at first Monday, when Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia (Los Angeles County), refused to join other Democrats in supporting it. Mendoza argued that the money raised by the tax should go directly to struggling universities, but ultimately said he would vote for the measure in the hope that it will be amended in the Senate. The bill then passed 54 to 25.
Pérez of Los Angeles may have a tougher time wrangling votes in the Senate, which has yet to consider the funding measure - but on Monday, he relished the victory in the lower house. Gov. Jerry Brown has said he will sign the measure if it reaches his desk, which would reduce tuition for qualifying students whose parents make less than $150,000 a year to less than what it was nearly a decade ago.
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