LOS ANGELES — The fate of a state school facilities bond proposed for California's November ballot could be determined Thursday in the state Senate's Appropriations Committee.
Gov. Jerry Brown's administration came out in opposition to the bill during a Monday appropriations committee hearing.
The administration has concerns about the existing school facilities program and the appropriate role for the state in financing school infrastructure, said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Brown's Department of Finance.
"The bill increases costs in the form of additional state-funded debt service, which would add to the estimated $3 billion needed each year to service existing debt from general obligation bonds already issued for K-12 and higher education projects," Palmer said.
A $9 billion price tag was attached to the bill in its original form, but the bond authorization amount was removed before it passed out of the Senate Education Committee. The current language for Assembly Bill 2235 classifies the figure as an unspecified amount of general obligation bonds for construction and modernization of schools.
The Assembly passed the bill unanimously with an urgency clause on May 28.
Sen. Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, chairman of the appropriations committee, put the school bond bill in the suspense file Monday.
Bills with a high price tag are placed on suspense, so that they can be considered in the larger picture of general fund pressures, according to a De Leon spokesperson. AB 2235 is on the hearing agenda for final consideration on Thursday.
The governor's question about what role the state should play in funding school facilities is answered in that the California constitution "makes education a responsibility of the state, not local communities," the bill's author, Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, said in an email.
She cited a lawsuit in which the state was sued over the condition of schools in impoverished communities. It resulted in the state allocating $188 million for instructional materials and $800 million for school building repairs.
"Another risk of not passing a bond is the likelihood of similar lawsuits in the future," Buchanan said.
If the state does not provide funding, districts that qualify for financial hardship will lose the "ability to modernize aging schools or build new classrooms to accommodate growth or alleviate overcrowding," she said.
Districts that have passed bonds and have projects in the pipeline, will need to reprioritize projects, Buchanan said.
"It will be more difficult for these and other districts to pass local bonds in the future since leveraging local dollars with state dollars is a major selling point [with voters]," she said.
The inability to build new schools and keep up with growth could result in overcrowding of existing facilities and the purchase of portable classrooms for districts that are growing, according to Buchanan.
"The current facility partnership is the result of a 1998 agreement in which the state, developers, and local districts agreed to share funding responsibility," Buchanan said. "This was after decades of schools being overcrowded and the inability of districts to pass bonds to modernize schools that were 30, 40, 50-years-old. We are at risk of returning to these times."
The state's bond program to aid districts with building projects is out of money. The state hasn't passed a bond for that particular program since voters passed a $10.4 billion measure in 2006.
The governor, Palmer said, has concerns about the complexity, allocation methods, and lack of local control in the current state bond program, Palmer said, that are not addressed in Buchanan's bill.
"A future facilities program should address these concerns, particularly in the context of the Local Control Funding Formula, which shifts responsibility to the local level and provides school districts with discretion to use resources to meet the needs of their students," he said.