IRVINE — Most voters know it as the gasoline-tax initiative.
But the quality of California's higher education system also hinges on passage of Proposition 111 at the polls June 5, Orange County college leaders said Monday in a rare joint news conference at UC Irvine.
Without the measure, which would raise the state's voter-passed spending limit as well the tax on gas, UCI Chancellor Jack W. Peltason and others said colleges probably will be forced to curtail enrollments, raise admission standards and increase student fees by 20% or more.
"There is no more critical question before the people of California," Peltason said. "Really, the future of the University of California is on the line with Proposition 111."
Passage of a second ballot measure, Proposition 121, is vital to ensure the building of classrooms and facilities needed to keep pace with an exploding college student population, said Peltason and representatives of Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Long Beach and the Rancho Santiago Community College District.
The $450-million bond measure would fund planning and construction of classrooms, faculty offices, research facilities and library space and also ensure earthquake safety and asbestos removal at California's public universities and colleges.
Seven campuses in Orange County would share $38,655,000 of that, including nearly $16 million earmarked for equipment and renovation of biological science facilities at UCI; $5.9 million for a gymnasium and a child-care center at Irvine Valley College, and $1.3 million for a library addition at Rancho Santiago College in Santa Ana.
Proposition 121 is especially important to UCI and Cal State Long Beach, which are poised to begin construction of long-planned vital projects.
Cal State Fullerton's $1.6 million in bond funds would cover preliminary plans and working drawings for additions and renovations to the library, science and physical education buildings on the campus, where enrollment has been kept at about 25,000 students because of cramped facilities.
"We're just filled to the gills, and we really can't accommodate new students unless we get more facilities," said Jack Coleman, CSUF vice president for academic affairs. "Brick and mortar for us is very, very important."
The list of capital projects for colleges and universities covered by Proposition 121 is easy for voters to grasp.
More complex are the elements of Proposition 111, the so-called gasoline tax and traffic congestion relief measure.
That initiative would allow the state gas tax to double over a five-year period, from the present 9 cents per gallon to 18 cents, and it would increase highway user fees. It also would raise the so-called Gann spending limit voters passed in 1979 and permit the state to spend roughly $1 billion more than it can now.
The measure is endorsed by Gov. George Deukmejian, the University of California Board of Regents, and a host of other elected officials and community leaders.
Critics have long argued that such an increase in the spending limit was needed.
The state is already just $143 million under its maximum spending limit for the 1990-91 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The gas-tax measure alone would generate an average of $1.5 billion a year more--money that could not be spent without raising the spending limit.
That, in turn, would jeopardize the gains teachers and schools made last November under Proposition 98, which mandated that schools get 40% of all general-purpose tax revenue and the bulk of any surplus above the spending limit championed by tax crusader Paul Gann. The June ballot measure proposes revising the language of the school spending law according to a compromise forged by the governor and teachers' unions, which had threatened to oppose Proposition 111.
For the state's community colleges, which are protected by Proposition 98 funding formulas along with elementary and secondary schools, passage of Proposition 111 will mean about $35 million to $40 million in added state funds, said Robert Jensen, chancellor of the Rancho Santiago Community College District in central Orange County.
It will not mean more money this year for the University of California and California State University systems, however. New projections show that state tax revenues will fall far short of expectations.
By raising the cap on spending from 6.9% a year to 7.7%, the governor and state Legislature in better budget years will have greater discretion to fund competing health, law enforcement and education programs, Orange County educators said.
With the property-tax-cutting Proposition 13 in 1978, the Gann limit and now the mandatory funding for education in Proposition 98, Peltason said, the voters have "effectively stripped the governor and the Legislature of almost complete discretion. And they have reduced the scope of opportunity to provide funds to support the institutions of higher education."