Fate of Campus Construction Lies With Proposition

Helen Hwang covers higher education. E-mail her at [email protected].

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SAN FRANCISCO-UC stands to lose over $400 million over the next two years if voters reject the school bond measure on the November ballot, UC Regents discussed last week.

Prop. 47, the Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2002, would provide a $13.05 billion bond for construction and renovation in public elementary, middle and high schools, community colleges and universities.

UC Vice President of the Budget Larry Hershman said if Prop. 47 does not pass, construction at all nine UC campuses, including the seismic retrofitting of Stanley and Hertz Halls at UC Berkeley, may be frozen.

In projections from the UC Office of the President, capital needs are expected to total $600 million per year for the next four years. The capital budget funds student housing projects, libraries and classrooms.

A field poll of likely voters conducted in late August showed a 54 percent response in favor of the bond measure, with a margin of error of 4 percent, Hershman said.

Hershman said the poll results were alarming given the trend that favorable ratings typically fall as election day approaches.

"The data essentially leaves us in a not very comfortable position of null confidence," Hershman said.

Bond funds make up the bulk of the capital budget funds, and the passage of Prop. 47 is vital for supporting campus building renovations and expansions, said top officials at the UC Board of Regents meeting last week. The board endorsed the bond measure in May.

"If (Prop. 47) doesn't pass, the Legislature can't just step in on Nov. 6 and give us the difference," Hershman said. "We'll have no way to get that (capital improvement) funding this year."

Although the state Legislature could help UC next year, Hershman said, losses for 2002-03 would total an estimated $90 million.

UC Berkeley projects contingent on bond funds total over $30 million this year.

"We have a great deal at stake," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Berdahl. "I just hope people recognize its significance."

Bond funds would also be applied to expansion projects required to accommodate enrollment growth, estimated at an additional 700,000 students at UC by 2010.

UC President Richard Atkinson said approving the bond measure would be a "crucial investment in the future of California."

But critics of Prop. 47 said the measure contains loopholes that result in an unfair distribution of funds.

"There's no doubt we need additional money for all the schools in California, but this measure isn't the solution," said state Sen. Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin. "It gives certain (K-12) school districts much more money than they're entitled to and doesn't help the smaller counties."

Ackerman added that he also opposed the final amount allotted to higher education, set at $1.65 billion, which had been modified during the negotiation process in the Legislature.

Political analysts are predicting an extremely low voter turnout for the upcoming election. An estimated 30 percent of registered voters are expected to come to the polls.

Hershman said low voter turnout will likely impede the passage of Prop. 47. Student Regent-Designate Matt Murray said the election-day predictions are not very encouraging.

UC is joining with representatives from CSU, K-12 and the California community colleges to fund a $7 million "Yes on Prop. 47" campaign.


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