Brown maintains tight grip on facility bond money

Brown maintains tight grip on facility bond money

(Calif.) Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed spending plan for next year would provide $640 million in bond money to fund new school construction and modernization projects.

While the total may seem substantial, it falls well short of the billions of dollars in current need and represents only a small slice of the $7 billion in borrowing that voters approved in 2016.

Because Brown was also cautious in his allocation for school facilities in the existing budget, some school officials have expressed disappointment that, given the state’s robust fiscal condition, the governor hasn’t increased construction funding.

Last summer, Brown agreed to include $655 million in bond money as part of the final 2017-18 budget.

About $400 million of those bonds were sold in the fall and have begun to support projects that have received priority from the State Allocation Board.

The remaining bonds are scheduled to be sold in the spring.

Expectations are that if Brown’s proposal for 2018-19 wins support from legislative leaders, a similar schedule will be followed next fiscal year.

Famously tight-fisted, the governor has also been aggressive in helping schools recover from the recession and in many districts, improve educational services.

Indeed, the January budget just released would provide nearly $3 billion to fully cover the Local Control Funding Formula two years ahead of schedule.

But Brown has seemed reluctant to provide the same level of support to school construction.

Three years ago, the governor criticized the School Facilities Program as being overly complicated and cumbersome. He proposed reducing the state’s role as a full-share partner in cost sharing—an idea that was rejected by the Legislature.

Last year, he insisted that new audit rules be adopted as a condition of schools getting any of the $7 billion on voter approve bond money—a stipulation that has since been incorporated into the process.

The governor also twice signaled his opposition to lawmakers placing a statewide bond measure on the ballot. The 2016 measure that was eventually approved by voters only came about after school groups joined with the building industry to qualify the borrowing through the initiative process.

Last year, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst noted that virtually no new state matching funds for school projects have been available since 2012. There was a backlog at that time of about $2 billion in shovel-ready projects as a result.

The LAO estimated that by now the backlog will have reached $3.1 billion.