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No on Proposition AA

May 13, 2003

Hasn't the Los Angeles Community College District ever heard of the goose that laid the golden eggs? Local taxpayers were willing to be generous two years ago, passing a $1.2-billion bond measure to repair and expand campus facilities. Now, before even a fraction of that money is spent here's the district coming back to voters with Proposition AA, which asks for $980 million for essentially the same purposes.

The request is a mistake and its timing, in the midst of a statewide fiscal meltdown, couldn't be worse. Vote no on Proposition AA.

The district's own polling suggests that only 13% of Los Angeles County voters remember the 2001 bond issue, Proposition A. Homeowner groups had wanted to remind them with an opposing ballot argument but say they were unable to because the bond vote was not authorized until March 4, more than a week after the deadline for opponents to submit their arguments.

Proposition AA would add $34 a year to the average $43-a-year cost per homeowner generated by the first bond measure.

When pressed, district officials draw one distinction between the two bonds: Although the older one will adequately fund must-do renovations in the nine-campus system, the new one would help the district grow.

As Warren Furutani, the president of its board of trustees, puts it, Proposition AA will "help us resolve our identity crisis: Are we merely the Quonset huts and tin bungalows that Los Angeles used for community colleges after World War II. Or do we have a new and bolder identity?"

Furutani is asking a good question, but at the wrong time. The state's growing fiscal woes make 2003 a bad time to expand. Already, California's fiscal crisis has forced the district to cut 10% of its classes, and Chancellor Marshall "Mark" Drummond acknowledges that imminent tuition fee increases will "put a damper in our enrollment."

Rather than assuming that homeowners will be boundlessly generous, the district should wait for performance and financial audits to document the first bond's success, refine its still murky master plans and perhaps put a new bond measure on the ballot when the economy improves.

Voters statewide have shown that they are willing to pay for educational improvements, but greediness and bad timing could turn that story around in a hurry. Then the goose will be dead for good.

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