Higher education institutions in California are involving themselves in the campaign for Proposition 30, quite possibly illegally, as they claim to spread information about the initiative. Cal State universities are sending out letters to prospective students suggesting there may not be room for them if the measure fails. Cal State Monterey has a mandatory meeting of freshman to hear a discussion on Prop 30. The University of California at Berkeley has a social network experiment based on the measure, which the official school release claims is unbiased, even though one of the directors of the experiment notes the “enormous potential impact on students, alumni, teachers, parents and employers.”

Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, who co-chairs the No on 30 campaign with NFIB’s John Kabateck and me, has sent a letter to the president of Cal State saying CSU is taking potentially illegal actions by promoting an initiative in the guise of spreading “information.” Sacramento Bee columnist, Dan Walters, made the same assertion.

Sadly, this practice of using public resources to make political points that benefit government agencies is not new. In fact, the recent actions by schools is similar to campaign conducted to stop Proposition 13, the famous tax cutting measure of 1978.

Prop 13 co-author Howard Jarvis chronicled some of those efforts in his book, I’m Mad as Hell. Tactics used over thirty years ago are strikingly similar to what’s going on today in both the involvement of public sector schools and the way the initiative was framed threatening cuts to schools if the measure fails.

In 1978 it was UCLA’s Graduate School of Management that issued a study claiming that if Proposition 13 passed more than 451,000 jobs would be lost around the state and unemployment would double to more than 10%. There seemed little justification for these numbers, which were refuted by other economists – and, of course, after the vote when none of this came to pass — but a state-funded institution got the report out to wide circulation.

Threatening some kind of retribution if voters fail to vote the establishment way, such as the trigger cuts embedded within Prop 30, is an old trick. Here are a couple of threats that Jarvis wrote about in his book from the Prop 13 era:

What’s that old saying that if we don’t learn from history we tend to repeat it?