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Gov. Gavin Newsom. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

The Failure of School Bond Proposition 13

What Prop 13’s rejection means for California schools and taxpayers

By Evan Symon, March 5, 2020 2:13 am

With all precincts now reporting in, Proposition 13, the bond measure that would have $15 billion go to repairing and modernizing public schools, has failed to pass.

Prop 13 fails

Voters turned down the measure 56% to 44%, with 2.9 million voters saying ‘No’ and only 2.3 million voters saying ‘Yes’. A wide array of groups had come out against the Proposition, ranging from taxpayer associations to the Green Party, many of which celebrated the bonds’ failure at the polls on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill, such as Governor Gavin Newsom, had quietly let the loss go with little acknowledgement.

A large part of the failure had to do with the cost on taxpayers. While the bond was for $15 billion, interest would have nearly doubled the amount by the time of the bond payback in several decades. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the interest would have totaled $11 billion.

There was also debate over what the Proposition would actually do. While few argued with the need to remove asbestos and removing lead from drinking water at affected public schools, many argued over the need for spending on things such as controversial charter schools, technical education, new school construction, and ‘unnecessary’ school updates.

Proponents of the bill have said that the failure of the measure is failing children.

“This is sending a message to children and parents across California. It’s saying ‘We don’t care about you,’ said Los Angeles teacher Debbie Garcia, who had helped rally local support for the Proposition. “Now we’re back at square one. And this is bad. Really bad. We have schools falling apart and students coming in eager to learn who now have to contend with inadequate facilities. Facilities, may I remind you, that may have Flint-like water in them.

Doing the best for children shouldn’t be about the money. You can’t put a price tag on the future. But voters just did. They voted to give a worse future for poor students, for students of color, and for any student not going to a good school district or private school. It makes me sick.”

A tax burden

Conversely, many opponents have said that the state doesn’t even need to borrow money for needed repairs, and that it’s simply an added tax burden on California taxpayers.

Jon Coupal, President, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. (youtube)

“While all the state’s taxpayers will see more of their hard-earned money go to pay off bonds if Proposition 13 passes, the real hit will be to local property owners in the form of higher property taxes,” said Jon Coupal, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, in an earlier San Diego Union-Tribune op-ed. “That’s because local school districts must pass local school bonds in order to generate the matching funds required to get any of the state bond money. Unlike state bonds, local bonds always come with a tax hike, and, in the case of school bonds, it is always a property tax.”

“A provision of this Proposition 13 makes it easier to load even more debt onto local taxpayers. School districts currently have a debt cap based on the total assessed value of taxable property in the district. If approved by voters, this Proposition 13 would nearly double the debt caps. This will make home ownership more expensive at a time when only about 25% of Californians can afford a median-priced home.”

“Finally, a little-known element of this bond is the preference for Project Labor Agreements or PLAs. The effect of a PLA on a local construction job is to effectively freeze out non-union contractors and thus decrease competitive bids. PLAs are not an effective use of taxpayer dollars and have been shown in numerous studies to increase construction costs. Despite this, local school districts will be incentivized to use a PLA in their bonds if Proposition 13 passes because they will receive additional priority for state matching funds.”

“The Proposition 13 on the March 2020 ballot hurts taxpayers. It will divert more general fund dollars from needed services or paying off unfunded pension liabilities. It will likely increase property taxes in communities throughout California and will increase school construction costs.”

With the failure of Prop 13, California schools and lawmakers will likely try and find another way to fund needed school repairs and construction. But as of now, with many Californians having just avoided a large property tax hike, a new plan will likely not be in the immediate future.

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20 thoughts on “The Failure of School Bond Proposition 13

  1. The state of California schools is deplorable. They have more money than they need and there results are pathetic. They are failing our kids with a poor education, bloated bureaucracy, and money is not the problem. Their work is lousy. Throw the unions out they are paying off the politicians with millions and millions.

    1. This government can’t be trusted to put the funds where we vote for them to go ! After the fact our representatives Chang the places thes taxes are spent look @ lottery , gas tax @ who know what others . Vote no on all taxes intill we have compident accounting of these funds !

  2. “I remind you, that may have Flint-like water in them.” (this is a flat out lie and if the water is “Flint like” this speaks to the water supplier not the school itself) Asbestos has no impact if you just leave it alone. Asbestos is in, insulation, glue for floor tile or the floor tile itself, or the bonding agent for plaster how is that an issue that prevents learning. There are schools far worse off that produce results and children are capable of learning. This is just an excuse to spend more money because that’s what the schools and the government love to do!

  3. Let’s review some recent school bond measures already authorized by voters: Prop. 1A in 1998 ($9.2 billion); Prop. 47 in 2002 ($13.05 billion); Prop. 55 in 2004 ($12.3 billion); Prop. 1D in 2006 ($10.4 billion); and Prop. 51 in 2016 ($9 billion). In addition to tens of billions of dollars in new debt, there’s a nearly equal amount owed in interest costs. And the lottery? It was sold to voters as a big step toward fully funding education. And what about Proposition 98 (1988), which mandates that at least 40% of the state’s general fund be spent on education? There is no excuse for even one classroom anywhere in the state of California still having unsafe conditions. Taxpayers and parents should demand to know which school buildings are unsafe and be provided proof.

    1. Besides being TOO MUCH and not needed, a bond measure like this is duplicative because so many of the local school districts have already passed their own huge bonds (also parcel taxes) for school construction fixes. The school bond pushers are basically trying to pass slush funds, and seem to be doing it more openly these days. But it looks like the public is catching on and is finally fed up. Even parents of children in public schools, who are usually the target of the most horrifying “toxic mold”-type propaganda, must be catching on and voting accordingly.

  4. Gavin Newsom was part of a school bond pyramid scheme in San Francisco that collapsed in 2004. Look up the 1997 SFUSD bond issue and the $40 Million that disappeared and was cleaned up by the City Services Auditor. Incidentally, the funds were being investigated by clean-up artist Robert Mueller in a raid on Tim Tronson by the FBI. Two days before Kelly Trinh, assistant to the schools chief (Rojas), was to be questioned, his assistant was murdered in a motorcycle accident on Highway 17 when she was run off the road by Hells Angels (a Mueller connection!!!). We now know that Willie Brown supported Mueller for his FBI director nomination – and this was the case he broke off in exchange for Brown’s support. It was Brown who appointed Newsom to the SFBOS and it was Newsom who championed the “clean up” of whatever happened to the bond funds while on the board by creating an auditor position who worked for the controller whom Newsom appointed.

  5. It would not have had “billions going to schools” it would have had “billions going to waste”

  6. Finally! Bruised, battered, and overtaxed Californians are hopefully starting to wake up in numbers. The State has become a tax monster. Time to start scaling it all back…

    1. True, I hope they stay awake and vote some of the taxes we currently have out!! What ever happen to all that surplus?

  7. I worked For two schools High school and grammar for ten years as custodian and maint. I saw million dollar football and swimming pool projects which is used by a few. The classrooms were falling apart and teachers got raises and aids to help them. The Cal-Pers is very generous. A few years back Then moonbeam announced tens of millionsof dollars to the schools for upkeeps and let the schools decide what to do with the money. Every cent went to benefits and salaries. The schools can’t paint a wall without trying to pass a bond…

  8. Glad 2 see that the people of cali didnt fall for the bullshit.They always try 2 Involve kids they use that excuse all the time and people fall for it thank God Kelly you finally woke up stood up to these Bull shit government officials that Continually try to line their pockets. What happened to the lotto money that was supposed and went for the schools new roads all that bull crab. Use the money that you are given stop trying to raise taxes in California on people.

  9. Evan, good article, BUT, you missed the real underlying issue as to why prop 13 failed:

    California has become THE WORST place in the US to be, 1. Rich 2. A business. 3. Middle class

    California has systematically created an environment that has driven 1, 2, and 3 out of the State! Their only answer to the lost revenue is to extort those of us stupid enough to still be here!!

    Toyota moved their headquarters from Torrance California to Texas. (lots of jobs and state revenue)

    Tiger Woods moved to Florida from California. (14% CA state tax goes to 0% state tax in Florida)

    Tesla chose Nevada over California for their new battery manufacturing plant. (0% Nevada income tax and a more business friendly environment)

    Imagine the tax revenues CA state lost on just those 3 examples??!! Now multiply those 3 examples by thousands and you will see the real source of the problem. BUT, does Sacramento get it? NO! Their answer (to their bumbling) is to charge me $1.5 EXTRA per gallon (over Texas) for diesel to fill my SUV! Talk about extortion! How about the 14% state income tax!? Florida and Texas charge 0% !! Any idea why those states are attracting honest California taxpayers and businesses !! California voters are finally waking up! The answer is dead obvious!

  10. I used to vote Yes on school bond measures every single time. But not anymore. Sacramento is sitting on $21 Billion in surplus tax money, so if the schools have leaky roofs then use that money to fix it NOW instead of much more expensive bond payments for the next 20 years. I also no longer trust Sacramento to spend all the tax money we give them on what they claim they will use it for, like the increased gas taxes that never fix the roads. I also voted Yes on High Speed Rail back in ’08, but Sacramento will never fool me with a shady bond measure ever again. They simply lost my trust.

    1. Thank you! The only mention in here that brings up the huge state surplus of $21,000,000,000 “rainy day” funds!!!!

  11. If our politicians would stop ripping the taxpayers off and using our taxes as a cash cow things would change. Newson just thumbs his nose at us while he misappropriates funds. Politicians like George Gascon, who ran for DA support horrible laws like Prop 47, then 57 and instead of protecting citizens make us unsafe. Prop 47 doesn’t do anything to help drug addicts get help- Rehab should be ordered in lieu of jail time and we would have alot less homeless drug addicted mentally ill on the streets. Prop 57 allows people to commit heinous crimes and get a released do it again. Steal as long as it is less than $950. This needs to change .They need to stop treating taxpayers like we don’t matter. Every time they want to get money for their pet projects they sponsor some bill stating that it is for the children and schools. In the meantime they use that money for salaries and bonuses etc and climate change projects while the schools rot. Don’t blame the taxpayer. Stop diverting money.

    1. Oh, it’s even worse than that, Sheila Pappas (as you may aleady know). George Gascon WROTE Prop 47. And it has all but ruined California, but he still thinks it’s GOOD, even with its terrible consequences that everyone has seen. I guess he WANTED these consequences. God help us if he should ever become L.A. County District Attorney. He speaks in a drone-like, boring way in an attempt to make his insane ideas sound sensible, meanwhile he wants to fully undermine law and order. It’s a very ugly thing that someone like that should have a shot at being the top prosecutor in L.A. County, who is supposed to defend and protect the People of the State of California when they become victims of crime, not bend over backwards to defend and protect the criminals themselves instead.

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