The fate of a $12.3 billion bond measure for public schools is in the hands of California voters in the upcoming primary elections.
California Proposition 55, officially titled the Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2004, would allow the state to sell $12.3 billion in bonds that would then be distributed to public schools at K-12 and college levels. The bill states that money earned from the bonds is strictly to be used for renovation and construction of public education facilities. Proposition 55 is the second act of a two-part statewide school bond proposal, the first of which voters approved in 2002 as Proposition 47.
The UC Board of Regents has chosen to endorse Proposition 55. UC spokeswoman Abby Lunardini said the money from the bond would greatly assist the UC system in balancing its capital budget. She said the board had endorsed its companion act, Proposition 47, which allocated $13.05 billion in bonds to K-12 facilities.
“[The board is] strongly supportive of the bond’s intents,” she said. “It would help enormously with trying to help carry out capital projects. Prop 47 has helped, but money [from that bond] has been exhausted.”
Of the $12.3 billion in bond funding proposed by Proposition 55, $2.3 billion would be allocated to the three different systems of public higher education schools in the state: the University of California, the California State University and the California Community Colleges. UC would receive $690 million allocated to the capital budget, which is used mainly for construction. The UC Office of the President said the $690 million is half the amount needed in the capital budget.
If the proposition passes in the primary election, UCSB would receive approximately $68.8 million throughout the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years. A list of proposed projects for UCSB drafted by the UCOP earmarked the funds for construction projects including addition to and renewal of the Psychology Building, renovations to the biological sciences buildings and an addition to the Davidson Library.
In a May 2002 recommendation to the board of regents regarding the acts of 2002 and 2004, UCOP said the bonds would help pay for necessary structural improvements to buildings on UC campuses.
In the statement, the president described the nature of the bond measures as important “in ensuring that projected enrollment growth can be accommodated, buildings are seismically safe, essential infrastructure is repaired or replaced and critical fire and life safety improvements are made at the 10 University of California campuses.”
Debate against the act centers on the financial shortfall the state faces. In a statement included in the 2004 voter’s guide, state Sen. Rico Oller said California’s credit rating is currently one of the worst in the nation, and that the state treasurer had not been able to issue $28 billion of the $73 billion in statewide bonds that were already approved.
A $12.3 billion bond will sink the state deeper into debt, making it more difficult to compensate in times of natural disaster and recession, Oller said in the guide. He said the state might continuously owe more money, and the children who are students now would still work to pay off the money long after their own children’s graduation.
Another target of opposition is the stipulation that K-12 school districts supply 40 percent of their proposed project costs to receive any money at all from the state.
“Does your school district have a huge budget surplus?” Oller said in the guide. “Unless you live in a wealthy community with surplus cash for the required 40 percent matching funds, you and your children may never see a penny from this $12,300,000,000 bond, but you will certainly be required to pay higher taxes to pay back the money for the next 30 years.”
Lunardini said despite the economic hardships that California faces, Proposition 55 would provide enormous aid to the public school system with its potential to update school facilities.
“Though we would still be facing a funding gap if 55 is passed, it would undoubtedly help balance the capital budget of the UC system,” she said.