Capitol Alert

Vote on smaller June school construction bond possible within a week

In 2012, students at South Tahoe High School ate lunch in a new student union funded by voter-approved bonds and matching funds. The Brown administration and legislative leaders have been in talks to put a school bond measure on the June ballot.
In 2012, students at South Tahoe High School ate lunch in a new student union funded by voter-approved bonds and matching funds. The Brown administration and legislative leaders have been in talks to put a school bond measure on the June ballot. lsterling@sacbee.com

The Brown administration and the Legislature’s Democratic leaders are moving to craft a school construction bond package for the June ballot significantly smaller than one already scheduled to come before voters in November.

The move would require a rapid series of committee and floor votes to meet ballot deadlines over the next week, and success is far from certain. There is no final agreement on how big an alternative June bond should be or on potentially significant policy changes in how school construction money is allocated.

Any bond needs a two-thirds vote, requiring the support of Democrats and at least a handful of Republicans. Any legislation to place an alternative bond before voters in June, moreover, would need to reach Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk by next Tuesday to avoid a costly supplemental ballot. That’s the same day lawmakers return from the long Presidents Day weekend.

“Time is running short,” Senate President Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said in an interview Monday. “That’s why it’s important for all the stakeholders to find common ground so we can put the best school bond out there that meets its objective and at the same time takes into account the political environment, either in June or in November.”

$45 billion K-12 and higher education construction borrowing approved by voters since 1998

The current talks reflect Brown’s aversion to debt as well as his skepticism about the complexity and fairness of the state’s existing school facilities program. “The governor has made his concerns about the existing school financing system abundantly clear,” Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said Monday.

Besides state money, the possible June legislation would make major changes to the landmark school-construction framework adopted by lawmakers in 1998. Low-income districts would have priority for state dollars, replacing a system that favors districts that get their applications in early, according to outlines of the proposal’s details.

In addition, the California Teachers Association and other groups pushing an income-tax increase in November are worried the $9 billion construction bond on the same ballot would hurt their chances. Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said Monday that no one wants to “upset the apple cart” of passing the tax initiative.

The California Building Industry Association and the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, the sponsors of the November bond, so far have rebuffed requests that they drop their measure, which the campaign spent more than $872,000 to qualify for the ballot. They have until June 30 to withdraw the measure.

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, said she has not been approached about a June bond alternative. Olsen, the vice chair of the Assembly education panel, has endorsed the November measure, and polling she has seen shows voters would support it – the first state school bond on the ballot in a decade.

“It’s full speed ahead,” she said.

The size of an alternative June bond remains unclear. It likely would be in the range of $3 billion to $4 billion, according to people briefed on the package.

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