Poll finds narrow lead for $15 billion California school bond measure

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Slightly more than half of likely California voters support a $15 billion state school bond measure on the March 3 ballot, according to a poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The poll, released Thursday, found that 51% of likely voters approve the measure, 42% oppose and 8% are undecided. In January, the results were somewhat higher with 53% in favor, 36% opposed and 10% undecided. Statewide ballot measures only require a simple majority to pass.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called the school bond measure a historic down payment for safe and healthy schools.

Proposition 13, the only statewide measure on the statewide primary ballot, would authorize general obligation bonds to build, repair and modernize K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. It’s the largest education construction bond in the state’s history.

“The proposition 13 state school bond has a slim majority going into the March primary vote and gets a big boost from its strong support among Democratic likely voters,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and chief executive officer.

Some 68% of Democrats say they will vote yes, with 47% of independents in favor and only 24% of Republicans. California's Democrats should be more motivated to vote March 3, because of the competitive presidential primary.

Most of the money from the proposed school bond, $9 billion, would go to K-12 schools. It would also provide $6 billion for higher education with the money split into three pots for community colleges, the California State University system and the University of California system.

It would end the first-come, first-serve practice for distributing proceeds criticized by former Gov. Jerry Brown, who lobbied against a $9 billion school bond that passed in 2016 saying the existing practice favored rich schools, because they either have more robust finance staffs or the money to hire consultants to go after state bond money. The new system would set aside 10% of state money for districts with fewer than 2,500 students and give up to 5% more of state matching funds to low-income districts.

The legislation also offers more technical expertise for smaller school districts, which don’t have the professional staff that larger school districts do.

It has the support of Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that Proposition 13 will cost taxpayers $740 million per year for 35 years for a total of $26 billion after bond interest is added.

The measure would also raise the cap on local bond debt from 1.25% of assessed property value to 2% for elementary and high school districts, and from 2.5% to 4% for unified school districts and community college districts. That would allow school districts nearing the cap to take on more debt.

Multifamily projects near transit would be granted an exemption from the higher taxes. Other developers of multifamily housing would get a 5-year, 20% reduction in their development fees.

The PPIC poll also asked registered voters to weigh in on several Newsom policies.

Of the governor’s plan to scale back the state’s $80 billion high speed rail project, 49% said it was a good idea. He garnered more support for his proposal to scale back the Delta water tunnel project to a single tunnel project from a twin tunnel project with 58% in favor and 28% opposed.

Newsom’s plans to place a $4.75 billion climate bond on the ballot fared better in polling than the school bond with 59% of likely voters in support.

The climate bond is part of a $12.5 billion five-year plan that also includes a $1 billion Climate Catalyst Fund, a revolving loan fund administered through the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank. Newsom introduced the plan as part of his $222.2 billion budget proposal in January.

Findings in the PPIC report are based on a survey of 1,702 California adult residents between Feb. 7 and Feb. 17.

A majority of those surveyed, some 53%, said they approve of how Newsom is handling the state's business.

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