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No More Pound-Foolishness : Proposition 1C would help reverse the disinvestment in higher education

May 20, 1994

Proposition 1C is the classic stitch in time that saves nine. A bond measure by which the state would borrow $900 million ($64 million per year in interest and principal payments) for capital investment in higher education, it would go very largely to complete projects already begun. Omnipresent on the list of these projects is earthquake retrofitting.

Imagine the loss of life if the Northridge earthquake had occurred when classes were in session at Cal State Northridge. Imagine, to be cold but realistic, the lawsuits because the state had not taken the safety measures that 1C will pay for if it passes.

There is no real option for the state but to do this work and to borrow to pay for it. For many years tidelands oil tax revenue was used to pay capital costs in higher education. But that revenue, greatly reduced in any event, has now been assigned to pay other state bills. The result: 95 cents of every dollar spent on any kind of building or higher education facility must now be borrowed. It should be noted that none of the 1C money would go for salaries or administrative costs.

For nearly a decade, the state of California has been disinvesting in higher education. The proportion of the state's general revenue that has gone to higher education has declined by one-third over the last nine years. The resulting shortfall in operating expenses has been made up by salary cuts for staff and faculty and tuition increases for students. Higher education brings two dollars in revenue within 20 years for every dollar spent on it. The present pattern of disinvestment may well prove to have been penny-wise and pound-foolish.

But what is true of human capital is, if anything, more visibly true of other assets. Deferring the maintenance of a house always costs you more in the end. The same goes for maintaining the physical plant of California higher education. And just as many California families have had to resign themselves to some extra debt after the recent earthquake, so also must the state. The California Seismic Safety Commission has strongly endorsed Proposition 1C. The Times does the same.

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