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California and the West

Assembly OKs Record $9-Billion School Bond

Education: Massive bill would fund repairs and build elementary and high schools. It must overcome Senate hurdle before being placed on November ballot.


SACRAMENTO — After months of partisan battling and intraparty fighting, the Assembly on Monday overwhelmingly approved legislation asking voters in November to approve a record $9-billion school construction bond--but there is still a snag.

The measure must first pass the state Senate where prospects are uncertain. Senate Leader John Burton (D-San Francisco) adjourned the upper house earlier in the day, saying he would not approve a bond deal with conditions--and the Assembly bond bill is full of conditions.

It remained unclear when the Senate would take up the massive bond proposal--three times larger than any state has ever proposed, according to state analysts.

Because Monday was the deadline for including the measure in state balloting guides, the state would have to spend $3 million to print a supplemental pamphlet.

Gov. Pete Wilson would sign the Assembly version, a spokesman said.

The bond proposal calls for $6.5 billion to repair and build public schools in grades kindergarten through high school, and $2.5 billion for higher education, over four years. With some exceptions, the measure requires a 50-50 match from local districts.

The bill contains a range of elements of direct benefit to urban school districts like Los Angeles Unified. Among them are supplemental grants for multistory buildings, an 80% state share for modernization costs, special funds for "landlocked" school sites with nowhere to expand, and a waiver on ineligibility barriers to state funds for year-around schools.

Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles) suffered two earlier setbacks while trying to win school bond approval in a fractious house, including a $4.5-billion bond deal he presented last week. But he hailed Monday's 67-11 vote--13 more than necessary--as a personal triumph, although one requiring compromise.

"It's the largest bond in history," Villaraigosa said. "It was that important, and that's why we had to compromise."

The speaker referred to elements of the bill that favor developers of new subdivisions who could see their fees paid to school districts decline. Developer fees would be capped at $1.93 a square foot for new residential construction--a component of the bond package that moderate Republicans argued will make new homes more affordable.

But among the Assembly opponents who spoke Monday were several Democrats who charged that the bond scheme amounted to a "sellout to developers." Under the proposal, the state and local districts share the cost of construction, with developers playing a new role as money lenders to the districts once bond funds are exhausted.

From the Republican right, the measure was attacked as an unwarranted and massive new burden of public debt. Assemblyman Tom McClintock of Northridge argued that its actual cost would top $15 billion after the state paid the interest on the bonded indebtedness.

Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove), who is the Republican candidate for treasurer in the November elections, said of the bond total: "It's huge, it's costly and that scares me."

But most Assembly members adopted the middle ground, which provides much-needed funding for dilapidated, leaky-roofed schools and for new schools as enrollment expands, yet surrenders sources of local funding for school districts that would no longer control developer fees.

The bipartisan fashion was perhaps best summed up by Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni (D-San Rafael), chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee. Paraphrasing Mick Jagger, Mazzoni said, "You can't always get what you want, but you sometimes get what you need."

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