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Tax group sues Cal State Monterey Bay over Prop. 30 advocacy

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. suit accuses the head of the humanities department of emailing students to 'work together to pass Prop. 30.'

October 19, 2012|By Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO — The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. filed a lawsuit Thursday against a California State University campus, accusing the institution of illegally using taxpayer resources to promote Gov. Jerry Brown's push for a ballot measure that would raise taxes.

The lawsuit comes amid a running dispute between anti-tax activists and the Cal State system over how far university officials can go in encouraging students to vote for Proposition 30. Brown has said that if the measure fails, the two public university systems will have their funds cut by $250 million each.

The complaint, filed in Monterey County Superior Court, accuses the head of the Cal State Monterey Bay humanities department of sending an email to students that urges them to "work together to pass Prop. 30." The email, according to the plaintiffs, also noted that students could get a tuition refund of nearly $500 if the measure is approved.

The email, the lawsuit says, was sent from a university email address and signed by the department director.

"This campaign mailing violates the constitutional rights of taxpayers and students whose tax dollars and student fees are being misused to promote a political cause which they do not support," Jon Coupal, president of the taxpayer group, said in a statement. "This is one more example of those inside government who are taking advantage of their taxpayer-funded positions to force their political beliefs upon students."

Cal State general counsel Christine Helwick acknowledged that the email, sent by Monterey Bay professor Ernest Stromberg, "was inappropriate and unfortunate."

"It was sent by him as an individual, and not on behalf of the institution," a statement from Helwick said. "We have previously reminded faculty and staff that it is not permissible to use state resources including classroom time for any political advocacy. This email clearly crossed that line and the campus is taking appropriate personnel action."

The chancellor's office had recently directed faculty to stop campaigning for the measure in the classroom amid reports that students were being lobbied by professors. The chancellor's office has also been accused of using public resources to lobby for the measure.

The Jarvis association said it was inappropriate for the office to write to tens of thousands of student applicants this fall with a warning that if Proposition 30 fails, fewer students may be accepted.

Evan.halper@latimes.com

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