The New York Times reported that when Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg exercises billions in stock options he owns, he'll produce a California state tax bill -- that's right, state taxes alone -- of $500 million.
That's real money. Indeed, the University of California system sustained $500 million in cuts in the current budget year. And the UC system, along with the Cal State system, would get whacked another $200 million each under Gov. Brown's budget proposal in the event that voters don't approve temporary tax increases in November.
The state can't set aside one taxpayer's payments, but a $500 million Zuckerberg windfall is an opportunity to focus on these higher education cuts.
The big reason why universities keep losing at budget time is that they have no dedicated pot of money or funding formula that gives them extra protection in the budget. So why not seize on the Zuckerberg money to create that sort of protection?
It's not too late for lawmakers -- or for the universities themselves, via ballot initiative -- to set in stone a $500 million boost to restore last year's cuts. Call it the Zuckerberg investment. And what could be more appropriate? A windfall from an innovative company like Facebook -- the sort of firm that only rises because of the education and research that comes out of universities -- would go to help save public universities.
Yes, Zuckerberg's big payment is a one-time deal and wouldn't re-appear in future budget years. But such a guarantee, even it came under pressure in future years, would make it harder to cut UC and higher education in general. And while such a guarantee would make the budget even more complicated and dysfunctional, that added dysfunction would serve the useful purpose of forcing the state to redesign the entire system -- perhaps in a way that doesn't automatically punish higher education for its lack of initiative or constituitonal protection.
In this way, Facebook might just save the UC. And building a budget system that doesn't hurt UC might improve the chances that the future will hold more new companies like Facebook.