Capitol Alert: California school bond measure advances

06/26/2014 12:59 PM

06/26/2014 1:08 PM

A multibillion dollar water bond isn't the only borrowing measure that could show up on voters' ballots this fall.

This week, legislation that would place a state school bond before voters Nov. 4 cleared another legislative committee with support from both sides of the aisle.

Yet there remain multiple unknowns about Assembly Bill 2235: the amount of the bond, whether it will get the backing of Gov. Jerry Brown, and if it can be approved in time to make it onto the November ballot. Today is the official deadline for the Legislature to place a measure on the fall ballot, but lawmakers previously have approved November ballot measures much later in the summer.

"Obviously it's not going to be put on the ballot without a dollar amount," Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, the author of AB 2235, told the Senate Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday. "Ultimately, just like with all bonds, we're going to have to have that big pow-wow where everyone comes to an agreement."

Voters have approved about $35 billion in school-construction and modernization bonds since 1998, most recently in 2006, when voters passed $10.4 billion in Proposition 1D. But the pot of construction money set aside for K-12 schools was tapped out about two years ago, and higher education has been without new construction money for even longer.

The State Allocation Board, which oversees the state's school construction and modernization programs, estimated earlier this year that California needs as much as $12 billion in additional school-building money and almost $5 billion in modernization money.

When it unanimously passed the Assembly last month, AB 2235 totaled $9 billion. The dollar figure was removed when the measure reached the Senate, pending negotiations between both houses and the Brown administration.

Brown, who this week finally signaled his desires for a revised water bond on the November ballot, has said nothing publicly for months about his views on a possible school bond. In his January budget proposal, Brown raised concerns about the cost of past bonds and said any revamped state-funded construction program should "avoid an unsustainable reliance on state debt issuance that characterizes the current school facilities program."

Meanwhile, a wide range of influential interests – ranging from the California Chamber of Commerce to the California Teachers Association – has come out in support of Buchanan's bill, which she jointly authored with Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills.

"CTA believes now is the time to ask voters to support a school bond initiative to help mitigate some of these ongoing needs," association lobbyist Estelle Lemieux wrote the Senate Education Committee earlier this month. "Our students deserve safe, clean and well-equipped schools."

AB 2235 will be heard next in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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