By Doug Porter
The California Public School Facility Bonds Initiative, better known as Proposition 51, proposes to refill the State of California’s money pot used for school construction and repair.
It has been ten years since the last statewide school bond, and proponents say there is a massive backlog of local school projects.
Everybody loves building and fixing schools, right?
The list of supporters includes both major political parties, the Chamber of Commerce, the California Labor Federation, education groups of all sorts, the League of Women Voters and on and on. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has endorsed Prop. 51. So has Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom.
Supporters have raised over $8.4 million.
Where the bond money would go, via Ballotpedia:
The proceeds from the $9 billion in bonds that would be issued if voters approved Proposition 51 would be stored in a 2016 State School Facilities Fund and a 2016 California Community College Capital Outlay Bond Fund. Proceeds would be allocated for the following purposes:
- $3 billion for the construction of new school facilities;
- $500 million for providing school facilities for charter schools;
- $3 billion for the modernization of school facilities;
- $500 million for providing facilities for career technical education programs; and
- $2 billion for acquiring, constructing, renovating, and equipping community college facilities.
Geez, it seems like such.a.good.deal. For the children, even.
Who could oppose such a proposition?
Gov. Jerry Brown, for one, along with assorted Libertarians and the Peace and Freedom Party.
The official opposition is led by the Chula Vista-based California Taxpayers Action Network, which apparently hasn’t raised enough money to get anything more than a placeholder page up on the internet.
What I found in the way of “No” arguments, via the California Policy Center, which lists Carl DeMaio as a Senior Fellow-Fiscal Policy, are the usual conservative arguments against government borrowing.
Their arguments come down to four things:
- There is too much debt already
- There is inadequate oversight on how bond monies get spent
- Bonds should be a local concern
- Rich people will make money on it
Anytime I see a conservative site using rich people getting richer as an argument against something, I smell BS.
A Matter of Equity
Needless to say, Gov. Jerry Brown has a slightly different viewpoint, namely that the measure puts money into a pipeline perpetuating an inequitable system for school construction.
From the Los Angeles Times:
When he unveiled his budget plan last month, the governor said the bond measure would not change the state program that determines how school facilities are built and maintained. That process prioritizes districts that submit early applications for projects — which Brown said favors affluent districts over cash-strapped ones.
“The Legislature could do a better job than the developers who put that one together,” Brown said at the time.
But lawmakers’ efforts to craft a smaller bond have stagnated.
Voice of San Diego posted an article as I was writing this, raising questions about how funding via Proposition 51 would be spent.
Local bond measures approved by voters have financed stadium construction at schools, despite promises made during campaigns for Propositions S and Z emphasizing roof repair and asbestos abatement.
The ballot measure says $9 billion will be spent on leaky roofs, asbestos, air conditioning and lead paint – all projects that lack adequate funding.
Stadiums aren’t mentioned at all, but the money could still be spent on new football and other athletic facilities. That would be a familiar outcome to anyone who remembers San Diego Unified twice promising to fix that same list of needs, and proceeding to spend more than $100 million building stadiums and other athletic complexes over the last seven years.
Prop. 51 money could go toward stadiums because “the rules of the state’s existing school facility program would apply to these funds,” according to the state’s impartial Legislative Analyst’s Office.
I get it that building sports facilities sounds like a bad thing placed in this context. But if you asked the parents and students at those schools I doubt you’d find much disapproval.
Scott Barnett, a former San Diego Unified trustee who campaigned for Prop. Z, told VOSD “Politicians prefer to spend money on projects the public can see, touch and feel.”
Lots of money has been spent on repairs and upgrades at San Diego Unified, although you wouldn’t know it from reading the VOSD article.
If I seem ambivalent about Proposition 51, it’s because I am. I have a hard time saying no to education. It’s a terrific investment on just about every level, including sports.
The Governor’s arguments against 51 are good ones, though I suspect real reform of the current system in the manner he would like is not in the universe of things that are politically possible.
Then there’s the Carl DeMaio factor. I can’t imagine being on the same side with his ilk on anything having to do with finance.
I’ll have to see what the rest of the SDFP editorial board says when it comes to endorsements.
For More Information
Ballot Language: California Public School Facility Bonds Initiative– Authorizes $9 billion in general obligation bonds for new construction and modernization of K–12 public school facilities; charter schools and vocational education facilities; and California Community Colleges facilities. Fiscal Impact: State costs of about $17.6 billion to pay off both the principal ($9 billion) and interest ($8.6 billion) on the bonds. Payments of about $500 million per year for 35 years.
Most Recent Polling (As of publication date):
Public Policy Institute of California 47% Yes, 43% No, Undecided 10%
A YES vote would: Allow the state could sell $9 billion in general obligation bonds for education facilities ($7 billion for K–12 public school facilities and $2 billion for community college facilities).
A NO vote would: Not allow the state to issue bonds.
For information on the November 2016 General Election, see our San Diego 2016 Progressive Voter Guide
Other San Diego Free Press coverage of the 2016 general election.
Tomorrow: Proposition 52: MediCal Funding (Plus a seperate story Clinton v Trump: The Great Debate.) We’ll be writing about various state and local contests Monday-Friday for the next three weeks.
On This Day: 1908 – The first production Ford Model T leaves the Piquette Plant in Detroit, Mich. It was the first car ever manufactured on an assembly line, with interchangeable parts. The auto industry was to become a major U.S. employer, accounting for as many as one of every eight to 10 jobs in the country. 1960 – The first televised debate between presidential candidates Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy took place in Chicago. 2006 – Facebook became open to everyone at least 13 years or older with a valid email address.
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