With a deadline closing in, the Assembly on Thursday heatedly debated final legislative passage of a $9.2-billion school bond measure, but the bill was losing by several votes on a preliminary roll call.
The measure's failure to pass would doom prospects of placing the record bond proposal before voters on the statewide June ballot.
Assembly Democratic leaders, however, were lobbying hard to turn the vote around on the bill by Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni (D-San Rafael), which the state Senate approved by a narrow margin Tuesday.
They huddled with Assembly Republicans and Wilson administration representatives in an attempt to change GOP votes, but that effort was showing little progress.
The Mazzoni measure, the largest school bond proposal in state history, needed 54 Assembly votes for passage, but it had only 45 votes in a preliminary roll call. Most Republicans were voting against the bill. Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) kept the roll open in an effort to win more votes.
Secretary of State Bill Jones has set Monday as the deadline for the Legislature and Gov. Pete Wilson to approve the school bond in time for the June ballot.
During three hours of floor debate, Mazzoni accused GOP rivals of having no desire to come to the rescue of dilapidated, crowded public schools.
Republicans, she said, "are standing between the voters and the children of California."
But Republicans said a bond bill fell short of what they wanted, including lowering the cost of school construction and lowering school fees paid by residential developers.
"We do need to build more schools," said Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge). "But the quickest, cheapest way to do so doesn't require more money. It requires less bureaucracy."
Builders, said McClintock, have told him they could build schools that meet standards at one-fourth current costs if it were not for state regulations.
Such high costs, he said, should make everybody in California "livid."
Among negotiation points late Thursday night, Assembly sources said, were proposals offering Republicans ways to reduce schools' cost.
Assembly Republican Leader Bill Leonard (R-San Bernardino)--echoing a position held by Wilson--called on the Assembly to defeat the Mazzoni measure, then quickly move on and try to negotiate a compromise.
"I'm sticking around, willing to negotiate," Leonard said after the initial Assembly vote.
Leonard said Republicans are frustrated that Democrats are painting them as obstructionists in the way of fixing California's needy schools.
The Republican leader also said he believes that Democrats and the GOP are not far apart on the issues that divide them.
One sticky dispute, he said, concerned developer fees. He noted that the Assembly two years ago approved a cap on developer fees, but that the bill died in the Senate.
Democrats say developer fees are one of the few sources of new funding that local school districts can depend on to meet rising costs as enrollment expands.
Republicans generally support lower fees, saying that it is first-time home buyers who wind up paying the costs. Partisan differences also have emerged on the size of the record bond but, said Leonard, the $9.2-billion price tag is close enough to an $8-billion proposal by Wilson that agreement might be possible.
The Mazzoni measure calls for releasing the funds over a four-year period, with $8 billion going to kindergarten through 12th grade, mostly to repair and expand school campuses, including $800 million for taking further steps in reducing class sizes to 20 students per class in the lowest grades.
Higher education would receive $1.2 billion, including funds to help build a new UC campus in the Central Valley.
Among the blowups on the Assembly floor Thursday were complaints that urban schools in congested areas--such as Los Angeles--that hold classes year-round would receive an extra $500 million of the bond funds.
Several Republicans objected.
"Giving $500 million to the L.A. Unified School District is not what the people in [my] district want to do," said Assemblyman Jim Battin (R-La Quinta).
Democrats responded that urban schools in low-income areas are among the most needy in the state.