CASE STUDIES: BOND FUNDING
Davis Wants Passage Of A Revised Prop. 26
Thursday, April 6, 2000
Section: MAIN NEWS
By Emily Bazar Bee Capitol Bureau
-- For the second time in a year, an initiative that would make
it easier to pass school construction bonds may be put before
California's voters, but this time Gov. Gray Davis has agreed
to play an active and substantial role in the campaign.
Silicon Valley business leaders who spent millions trying to
pass Proposition 26 in March have been negotiating with the governor
to put a modified version of the initiative on the ballot, one
that would lower the voter requirement in school bond elections
from two-thirds to 55 percent.
Absent from the mix, at least from a financial standpoint, is
the California Teachers Association, a major contributor to the
Proposition 26 campaign.
Millionaire Reed Hastings said the decision to pursue a modified
Proposition 26 will be made by the end of next week. He believes
voters, who rejected the plan to lower the voting threshold to
a simple majority, will be willing to support this version because
California's school children still desperately need new and better
"Everybody is cognizant that 51 percent of voters said they
didn't like (Proposition) 26," Hastings said. "But this
is a different proposal. You could say it's not revolutionarily
different, but that's because the school facilities problem hasn't
Though the initiative isn't yet a sure thing, officials with
the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the primary opponent
of Proposition 26, already are preparing to fight.
"I think the reaction of the voters, if it qualifies, will
be, "What part of "no" don't you understand?' "
said Jon Coupal, president of the taxpayers group. "I wasn't
planning on going back into battle this quickly, but we'll be
Proponents, including business leaders like Hastings and the
CTA, spent at least $24 million on Proposition 26, which lost
by less than 2 percentage points in the March primary.
Should a modified version make it to the November ballot, the
teachers' association is not expected to play a large role. Though
union president Wayne Johnson said CTA members are likely to support
the initiative's concept, he said they probably won't commit major
financial resources to the battle.
Instead, the union expects to pour its resources to fight the
school voucher initiative that is expected to qualify for the
ballot and another measure that would require California to boost
its per-pupil spending.
Johnson believes a modified Proposition 26 could actually hurt
the union's chances to defeat vouchers because voters might confuse
the two issues.
"We'd be pushing one initiative to say yes and fighting
another to say no," he said. "If they go ahead and do
this, then we think they could conceivably be creating problems
for us with the voucher."
Johnson, who had criticized Davis for not doing enough to support
Proposition 26, added that he and others are baffled by the governor's
turnaround. "We're dismayed at his behavior and his sort
of flopping around on these issues," he said.
Davis spokesman Michael Bustamante countered that Davis was active
in the Proposition 26 campaign. Should the modified initiative
make it to the ballot, he said, there's a "strong possibility"
the governor would co-chair the effort.
The governor "is intent on trying to get this passed and
moving the ball forward," Bustamante said.
According to Hastings, Davis has said that in addition to changing
the voter threshold to 55 percent, he would like to boost measures
to hold school districts responsible to voters when bonds succeed.
Davis has suggested that the initiative contain provisions requiring
local citizen oversight boards, limiting the amount of debt a
school district can assume and publishing audits of school districts
in local newspapers.
But before the governor can start campaigning for the measure,
Hastings said, he and others must decide whether it is financially
feasible -- they want to find more big-money donors -- and whether
they can gather approximately 1.2 million signatures by May 7
to qualify. The cost of gathering the signatures could come to
about $5 million, he said.