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$12.3 Billion for School Bonds

Times Staff Writer

Proposition 55 on Tuesday’s ballot asks California voters to approve $12.3 billion more in general obligation bonds to help update and expand campuses and construct new buildings for elementary and secondary schools, community colleges and the Cal State and University of California systems.

The measure comes less than two years after state voters approved a $13-billion school bond measure in November 2002 to address the problems of aging facilities and a burgeoning school and college age population.

The current proposal would set aside $10 billion for facilities for kindergarten through 12th grade, with $920 million going to community colleges and $690 million each to the UC and Cal State systems.

Local school and community college districts that passed their own facilities bond measures would get matching funds from a successful state proposition, which requires a simple majority, 50% plus one vote, to pass.

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It would take about $823 million annually for 30 years to pay off the principal and interest on the Proposition 55 bonds, according to the state legislative analyst’s office.

Proponents say the measure is needed to continue to relieve overcrowding, repair aging buildings and build on reforms that have begun to pay off in rising test scores.

They say the best time to do this is now, while interest rates are low and the state’s still-stagnant economy could most use the boost from construction jobs.

The measure has drawn broad support from education, business, building trades and other civic groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters and the California Taxpayers Assn. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is among several statewide officeholders who support the measure, although he is concentrating on campaigning for his interrelated proposals to improve the state’s fiscal picture, Propositions 57 and 58.

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Supporters of Proposition 55 have raised more than $7 million for the campaign, mostly from the California Teachers Assn. and other education groups. Much of the money has gone for television ads on the need for repairs and for more classroom space.

Opponents say the measure would cost too much and tap already depleted state general-fund coffers, draining money that could be used to pay for other state services.

They instead suggest setting aside a percentage of the state budget every year for school construction and repair.

State Sen. Rico Oller (R-San Andreas), the National Tax-Limitation Committee and the 60-Plus Assn. signed ballot arguments against Proposition 55, but opponents have not raised or spent money on a formal campaign to defeat the measure.

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If the proposition fails Tuesday, it will automatically be resubmitted to California voters in November.

The state’s electorate has been generous with school bonds. EdSource, a nonprofit organization that tracks education issues and data, said voters had approved 16 of the 17 such measures submitted to them in the last 21 years.

Of the $13 billion that voters approved in 2000, almost all the $11.4 billion assigned to kindergarten through 12th grade has been allocated for 3,198 projects, according to EdSource. All that measure’s $1.65 billion for higher education has been used, it said.


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