2020 Primary Election Edition

Greetings, fellow Golden Staters! Welcome back to Mad Props, your independent guide to California’s ballot initiatives since 2008. We’re going to keep this post short and sweet, since there’s only one statewide measure on the primary ballot this year.

If you’re new here, you might be trying to decide what this site’s angle is, and whether you can take us seriously. In that case, check out the Mad Props manifesto, which explains in detail this site’s basic premise: that we all should vote “no” on any given proposition unless it’s clear the proposed law has a real shot at improving our lives. In the case of this election’s Prop 13, that seems to be the case! Read on for more…

Proposition 13 (no, not that one)

Bonds: $15B for Schools

You Should Vote: YES

In 2016, Californians approved Prop 51, a $9 billion bond measure for building new schools and rehabbing existing ones. (Mad Props recommended a “no” vote; more on that in a moment.) Four years later, nearly all of Prop 51’s money is spoken for, but there remain schools all over the state that are in dire need of upgrades, and some communities need new facilities to keep up with population growth. So, here’s 2020’s Prop 13, which would (though new bond debt) raise $15 billion to be spent on investments in the physical infrastructure of our schools.

Prop 13 addresses a chief shortcoming of 2016’s measure: Prop 51’s largesse has gone disproportionately to more affluent communities. As the Los Angeles Times puts it, “[Prop 51] made the application process a kind of race that favored wealthier and larger school districts, which had the resources to pull applications together quickly and were more likely to be able to pass local bond measures to raise the required matching funds.” Prop 13, on the other hand, contains several protections for smaller, poorer districts. It also specifically prioritizes projects that rid schools of asbestos or lead pipes.

Stop for a moment and let that sink in. This is California. It is 2020. And some of our poorer school districts still have problems with asbestos and lead. This is unconscionable. Prop 13 will address the situation head-on. But that’s just one facet of the measure. Let’s run down how much will be spent, and on what:

  • $9B for the state’s K-12 schools, with more than two-thirds of the money going toward renovations for existing schools
  • $2B for our community colleges
  • $2B apiece for the CSU and UC systems, with a catch: each must craft a 5-year plan for expanding affordable student housing
  • Projects that use unionized labor get priority
  • Projects that address environmental hazards get priority
  • Districts that cannot raise matching funds on their own (a hard requirement in the past) still get help

You might think this all sounds pretty good. We’d agree. You might also think, “Hey Mad Props, why are you on board with Prop 13 when you bashed a smaller bond measure for schools four years ago?” Fair question.

In 2016, the Great Recession and its impact on the state budget was just barely in the rear-view mirror; a big (bigger, in fact!) bond measure feels a lot less scary now. Further, Mad Props admits to having been given some religion on the relative safety and responsibility of big bond measures by Pete Stahl of Pete Rates the Propositions. Pete’s “Semi-Biennial Lecture on Bonds” is a cogent and convincing argument that boils down to this: We are a big state, and we can afford this. And really, we can. Sure, as the state’s Legislative Analyst tells us in our Voter Information Guide, “The state would pay off the bonds by making annual payments of about $740 million per year for 35 years.” That sounds like a scary number until you read the next sentence: “This amount is about one-half of 1 percent of the state’s current General Fund budget.” Again: we’re a big state. we can afford this.

Mad Props also opposed Prop 51 four years ago because it reduced the burden on real-estate developers to fund school construction in the communities they create or expand. Prop 13 reduces that burden further, and removes it entirely for multi-family developments near mass transit lines. We still think this is an unfortunate direction to move in overall, but the voters approved it in 2016, so that’s the new reality we live in. And the mass transit wrinkle is an interesting one given the overwhelming need in our cities for denser housing that doesn’t make residents reliant on cars. If we’re easing up on developers, then doing it in a way that incentivizes the kind of development we need seems sensible.

Prop 13 is about investing in California’s future, in its children, and in an education system that’s been hamstrung since the passage of Ye Olde Prop 13 in 1978. Prop 13 has widespread, bipartisan support in Sacramento, and deserves your support as well. Please vote yes on Prop 13.

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