Betty Arenson | Spending Our Money, Now and the Future

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

With the warm days of summer now behind us, and Santa Clarita beginning to cool down, both the nonprofit and business community circuit of events has shifted into high gear! 

Circle of Hope held their wonderful Hoedown for Hope and their signature Afternoon Tea events, benefiting the Santa Clarita Valley cancer community. The Bridge to Home organization held their Soup for the Soul event, helping to fund the now year-round homeless shelter and assist transitioning people out of homelessness. 

And Saturday, Oct. 19, the Valley Industry Association (VIA) held their annual “VIA BASH” event, benefiting the VIA Education Foundation. 

Suffice it to say, there is no shortage of activities to look forward to attending, supporting, and making a difference for those in our community. 

Even as we get lost into the spirit of Christmas and the holiday season and try to focus on what is good in our lives, the strained political landscape in which we live manages to usurp our attention. With the primary moved up to the beginning of March, both our engagement, and our vote, will be coming three months earlier than 2018. While impeachment, the vacant 25th Congressional District office and a presidential field with more players than an NBA roster dominates headlines, there is a ballot item we all will be weighing in on that deserves more than a passing glance: the California School and College Facilities Bond.

Signed on Oct. 7 by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Bill 48 passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and Assembly and will ask the voters of California to approve the LARGEST school bond in our state’s history at $15 billion. Here are the funding highlights:

• $9 billion to pre-school and K-12.

• $4 billion to universities.

• $2 billion to community colleges.

Unfortunately, in a society that has taken to reading only headlines or memes for their information on current political and fiscal issues, many fall into one of two camps: Supporting more money for schools, or no more taxes of any kind. Let’s look a bit deeper into what this initiative really does.

The expected repayment will be far above $15 billion.

In 2016, the passage of Proposition 51 allowed for the issuance of $9 billion in bonds for K-12 and community colleges, similar to the current “ask.” The state’s legislative analysts estimated nearly $8.6 billion would be in interest alone, bringing the total cost to $17.6 billion. Comparatively, you are not just authorizing $15 billion in new debt the state (i.e. the tax payers) must pay, but $30 billion.

The money is a match, not a gift.

People assume the money is just provided. The reality is the bond money is matching funds, meaning local districts must provide their own funding source in order to potentially obtain additional state dollars.

There’s no guarantee when the money will arrive.

Before the state issues its share of funding, the application will go through a myriad of bureaucratic checks and approvals. In April 2018, there was a total backlog of unprocessed facilities funding requests of $3.8 billion, and analysts predict that could grow to over $5 billion in 2019. Therefore, districts get stuck waiting for the state to fulfill their end of the deal. If a district is paying for this construction with long-term bond money, the penalties associated with early repayment could mean there would be no relief or early pay-down of the long-term bond debt. 

So, in order to get money you already approved (to be borrowed), you may need to approve borrowing another round of money (debt) the next voting day. 

We all want the best for our children; top-level education opportunities, a feeling of security when they navigate the world on their own and the chance to live out the American Dream. 

Locally, our community has consistently stepped up and approved significant local bond investments at the K-12, high school and community college levels. Yet, the California Policy Center in 2017 reported our state and local debts combined for over $1.5 TRILLION, with significant impact coming from our unfunded pension liabilities and long-term obligations, such as outstanding bonds. Combine that with the highest sales tax in the nation, highest tax rate on gasoline, and home affordability becoming a distant dream for the majority of future generations, we are one economic downturn away from fiscal disaster. 

Recently, our local newspaper, The Signal, published an article on school spending. Stunningly, for local high schools 87 cents of every taxpayer dollar goes to teachers and administrative costs while only 13 cents of every dollar goes to “the kids.” Elementary schools mirror this, while community college funding is a different animal. 

Teachers’ unions and the Sacramento super-majority spenders are dangerously out of control. When will we stop pushing so much debt onto the shoulders of those who had no say in its creation, but are used as the scapegoats to justify it? 

Think about that 13 cents every time you get that emotional financial plea, for “the kids.” 

Betty Arenson is a Santa Clarita resident. “Right Here, Right Now” appears Saturdays and rotates among local Republicans.

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