Legislative leaders want to debate school bond

Legislative leaders want to debate school bond

(Calif.) Despite the state’s long-standing partnership with schools to help pay new construction and remodeling costs, Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear he doesn’t like the idea of issuing another statewide facilities bond anytime soon.

But a key Southern California lawmaker intends on having the Legislature conduct a deeper debate on the issue, if not actually moving a bill authorizing a bond to the governor’s desk later this year.

“We have to be responsible about how we embark on this conversation because we have about an $80 billion need and we are not going to get it all on a bond measure,” said Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, who also serves as the caucus majority leader.

“But what we need to do is have a dialogue about long-term, sustainable revenue options that give us the opportunity to address the state of our infrastructure around our schools,” he said.

At this point, AB 148 contains only intent language, meaning that if adopted without further changes, it would only express support for the bond. The idea is to start the conversation between lawmakers and the Brown administration, as well as interest groups – then decide the viability of a bill authorizing a bond to be placed on the ballot.

Holden said he’s thinking of a bond that would raise between $1 billion and $1.5 billion.

His plan comes forward after a coalition of school facility representatives and the building industry launched efforts earlier this month to qualify a $9 billion bond for the November, 2016 ballot.

Brown has repeatedly criticized the state’s current system for supporting school construction as overly complex and cumbersome. His office convened a meeting of school officials last fall and signaled at one point interest in proposing some sweeping changes based on a “pay-as-you” system supported by annual contributions from the Legislature.

But his budget plan, released earlier this month, would enact only modest policy changes such as increasing the borrowing caps on schools based on community property assessments; establishing a single statewide developer fee; and provide more flexibility with use of maintenance money.

Except for an increase of $274 million for the Emergency Repair Program – which would retire the state’s obligation under terms of the 2004 Williams lawsuit settlement – the governor’s budget would not add any new money to the state’s pools for construction projects despite the fact that they have nearly run dry.

In his budget narrative, Brown suggested that dialog over a long-term solution to school facility needs should be continued during the coming year.

Holden said there are some immediate needs, however, that probably need to be taken up.

“California schools are in terrible shape and lack the funds to make necessary repairs,” he said. “Toilets are clogged, roofs leak and students swelter in hot classrooms. The governor’s budget proposal does not provide a sustainable solution for our children.”

Holden noted that last year a $4.3 billion bond proposal won passage out of the Assembly without dissent and had significant support in the Senate but never got to the floor of the upper house after the governor voiced his opposition.

At the time, Brown was more concerned about getting voter support for the $7.5 billion water bond.

“That plan had bipartisan support,” said Holden. “I think that bipartisan support is still here, still alive and well. But I think that, like the governor, we want to make sure we don’t tip the scale in terms of the debt that the state incurs.”

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