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2020 Primary: Funding Higher Education Facilities

photo - Doe Library and Campanile on UC Berkeley Campus

The state legislature recently passed a $15 billion bond measure to fund upgrades to education buildings and facilities. Voters will decide whether to support this bond as part of the March 2020 primary ballot.

For higher education, the measure would provide $6 billion to the state’s three higher education systems, the University of California (UC), the California State University (CSU), and the California Community Colleges (CCC). These funds would be distributed equally ($2 billion each)—even though the systems enroll significantly different numbers of students.

The legislature will approve specific projects as part of the annual budget process. As a condition of making funds available, the bill requires UC and CSU to develop affordable housing plans for their students.

figure - Proposed Bond Funding Varies on a per Student Basis

The last time the state proposed and passed a ballot measure supporting higher education was more than a decade ago. Proposition 1D (2006) passed with almost 57% support. The total amount of funding for higher education in that initiative was about half of what is proposed in the current measure ($3.1 billion compared to $6 billion).

figure - 2020 Initiative Proposes Much More Funding for CSU and CCCs than the 2006 Measure

During the Great Recession funding for UC, CSU and the community colleges fell. One of the ways the systems responded was to defer maintenance on buildings, foregoing repairs and upgrades as a way to save money in the short run. Our estimate of the cost of addressing the resulting backlog of capital projects tops $30 billion for the UC and CSU systems. The proposed ballot initiative would provide bond authority to cover a little more than 10% of that.

The state’s community colleges are in a slightly different position. Local community college districts can issue their own bonds and make most of their own capital finance decisions. Since passage of Proposition 39 (2000), which made it easier for community colleges to pass bond measures, community college districts have been relatively successful in funding their capital needs. From 2001 to 2016, voters approved $35 billion in borrowing for local community college capital projects. In addition, Proposition 51 (2016) provided community colleges with $2 billion in state bond funding.

We know that bond measures for education generally have the support of voters, and recent PPIC polling suggests that a $15 billion education bond has a slim margin of support. Time will tell whether voters will be persuaded this time around.

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