If you’re anything like me, you’re frustrated by the incessant introduction of bond measures on municipal and state ballots in our democracy’s arduous election cycles. Voters are repeatedly asked to decide to tax, spend, and issue debt for special projects throughout California, often without being provided adequate information on the need, scope and real fiscal impact of such projects.
There are certainly needs we must address – aging infrastructure, health and human services, and public education – all vast areas not fully covered by the state’s general fund. And such needs are met when policy-makers create common sense solutions to address basic needs of a community. That common sense piece is what seems to be missing most often, but has reappeared locally in the current election cycle.
On the quickly approaching February 5 ballot is local Measure E, an extension of a property tax assessment initially approved by voters in 2002 in order to upgrade facilities at Long Beach City College (LBCC). The reputable college was built 80 years ago, in 1927, has educated over 2 million students, and thus requires some ongoing care in order to meet the demands of local and state economies. This is why the assessment was originally requested, and is why an extension is so vital now.
The 2002 ballot item, also named Measure E, levied a maximum assessment of $19.97 per $100,000 of property value, both for home and business owners. The measure was widely supported and eventually approved by 65% of voters. In real dollars, it meant that a $176 million construction bond could be used to upgrade aging facilities and construct new buildings necessary to support existing curriculum. Between 2002 and now, LBCC leaders proved they could spend the money wisely and ethically.
Perhaps this is due to the bond calling for strict audits and a citizens’ oversight committee, a requirement that will continue should voters approve the extension of Measure E on February 5.
The assessment directly resulted in the construction of two new libraries, a central quad center, a child development center, an aviation and automotive center, gymnasium and classroom renovations, as well as upgrades to technology infrastructure – perhaps one of the most pressing needs of colleges and universities nationwide.
Also thanks to the passage of Measure E, the state matched $67 million in additional funds for the projects, a rare occurrence associated with bond measures. Fortunately, matching funds should be available this time around too.
If extended by voters on February 5, the per $100,000 property value assessment will remain at or below the original $19.97 amount. The return to the college, however, is much greater. The new construction bond would be to the tune of $440 million, an amount that would extend the assessment from 2025 to 2050.
The new amount would be used to upgrade the most aging infrastructure and construct new facilities vital to produce resources to the State of California. This includes doubling the number of nursing and science classrooms and labs, continuing technology upgrades, renovating instructional space for police and firefighter training, improving access for students with disabilities and repairing roofs, plumbing and heating.
As noted by Mayor Bob Foster and County Supervisor Don Knabe, the local and state demand for quality nurses and well-trained public safety officers is reason enough to support Measure E. The affordable education provided by Long Beach City College results in a much greater economic impact when those graduates succeed in the workforce. For example, every $1 invested in public higher education in California is estimated to return $3 to the state’s economy.
Now, it is important to note that Measure E is different from Proposition 92, a statewide ballot measure also dealing with community colleges.
As I argued in a December 12, 2007 article on this website, Prop. 92 is exactly the kind of nonsense public policy thrown at voters during election cycles. As introduced to the public it seems great – lower community college tuition from $20 to $15 per unit, stabilize funding by earmarking money out of the state’s general fund, and provide additional revenue to colleges based on the age demographic of how many 17-25 year olds reside in the state. What the proposition does not do is tie these mandates to a revenue source. Where will we, the taxpayers, come up with the additional funds to pay for this? And what will the impact be on our other institutions of higher education - the UC and CSU systems - that are already under-funded and would be forced to take further cuts as California’s community colleges suck more money out of the general fund?
The Legislative Analyst estimates the initial, three year cost of Prop 92 to total $1 billion. In a state with a pending $16 billion deficit, this simply does not make sense.
What does make sense is local Measure E, a proposal that does not create a new tax, does not help one area while hurting another, but rather is a well thought out, vetted measure that aims to provide basic needs to Long Beach City College under the watchful eye of an independent citizens’ group.
Vote yes on Measure E!
Editorial Note: LBPOST.com Co-Publisher Robert Garcia is employed by Long Beach City College.