Asbestos Abatement: $15 Million Bond Falls Short for Preposition 13

asbestos abatement in California schools

Today, school systems across the country are facing a dilemma when it comes to ensuring that personnel and students are safe from health risks posed by aging facilities and classrooms. Over the past year, we have seen state governments such as Pennsylvania and now California attempt to tackle the related issue of environmental health and safety risks, especially asbestos exposure in our public-school facilities. There are a lot of school buildings whose infrastructure dates back to the midpart of the twentieth century and beyond. Before the 1980s and early 1990s, most school buildings constructed before this time possibly contained asbestos and it is now imperative that they go through asbestos abatement.

Asbestos Can Become a Human Health Risk

In its natural form, asbestos can be found to reside in the earth. Asbestos is technically a group of silicate mineral fibers classified into six different types of mineral fibers that are all carcinogenic. Another downside to asbestos minerals, the risk for human health, is the fact that these silicate mineral fibers can reside naturally inside other minerals or natural resources which is why asbestos abatement is essential.

For instance, there have been cases of asbestos being found in coal deposits, vermiculite deposits, and highlighted here recently talc mineral deposits. For many years, asbestos minerals were mined here in the United States. As a matter of fact, the last mine to close was in 2002, in the state of California.

Asbestos Abatement Necessary in Many Public Or School Buildings Across The Country

For reference, asbestos was used for insulation and its exceptional fire-retardant qualities. For just a few of those reasons alone, this natural resource was installed in a vast majority of residential, commercial, and public buildings. Up until midpart of the twentieth century, asbestos use in building products was widely applied across the country. Presently, many of those buildings across the country still stand whether vacant or not with asbestos contained products still intact. As a result, a lot of the buildings and structures are starting to decline because of their natural age. Due to the risk to human health asbestos can cause, nations around the world have banned asbestos use, mining, or have severely restricted the use or application of asbestos in all manners. Where asbestos exists, there are laws for proper asbestos abatement, unless the building is no longer in use.

Asbestos Can Cause Mesothelioma

In effect, human exposure to asbestos will become dangerous when the asbestos mineral fibers are disturbed either from the ground or from its installed humanmade form. For example, if asbestos wrapped pipes, flooring, roofing, and insulation start to crack or crumble, the particles become subject to becoming airborne, which is why asbestos abatement on time is necessary.

When those asbestos particles are inhaled or swallowed, they can settle in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. Over time, these particles can buildup and become capable of accelerating lung disease and lung cancer. Also, these particles can develop into full onset mesothelioma cancer, which is only caused by exclusive exposure to asbestos fibers.

Some California Residents And Lawmakers Feel Funds Are Inadequate To Address Asbestos Abatement

In California, many school district leaders claim to have inadequate funding to repair and upgrade their school district facilities. Some citizens and school representatives claim state personnel and students are subjected to unsafe conditions that include poor water and air quality mixed with deteriorating infrastructure. Besides, aged-school buildings, other hazards that contribute to the harmful conditions are mold and asbestos contamination, and the funds need to be used for proper asbestos abatement or asbestos removal.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 70% of California’s 10,000 public schools are 25 years or older, with 10% of them at least 70 years old. Schools statewide are projected to need more than $100 billion over the next decade simply to meet basic health, safety, and curriculum standards. Yet California’s per-pupil spending on school facilities has sharply declined since 2006.

Also Read Philadelphia District Schools Fail Asbestos Testing.

California Proposition 13 Explained

Recently, lawmakers in California attempted to address issues on the deterioration of school buildings and environmental contamination within those district facilities by placing a proposal on this year’s 2020 primary election ballot to address those pertinent issues. The attempted proposal was called the School and College Facilities Bond, otherwise more widely known as California Proposition 13 (2020).

In effect, the statewide ballot vote required a majority vote to pass. Although the California Proposition 13 (2020) did not receive enough votes to pass, it made history as the single largest construction bond ever proposed in the state of California. The bond’s priorities were slated for repairs, maintenance, remediation, and or facilities construction. Even though the measure did not pass, the state bond improvement proposal sent a strong message to overhaul the structural integrity and environmental health risks that endanger many of our nation’s public school systems because of improper asbestos removal or asbestos abatement.

Municipal Bonds For Improvement

Basically, California Proposition 13 would have allowed the state to borrow $15 billion by selling general obligation bonds or commonly known as municipal bonds. Municipal bonds are debt securities issued by states, cities, counties, and other governmental entities to fund governmental obligations and also can be used to finance capital expenditure projects such as roadway improvements, sewer maintenance, and school building or local government building projects. Concurrently, those bonds would be intended for capital expenditures to remediate, repair, cleanup, or build new facilities for existing public- school systems, and most public universities in the state of California.

The bond measure would allow the state to borrow the money and then pay off the bonds by collecting that money from interest that would be accrued from the state of California General Fund. In most cases, these bonds are exempt from federal income tax. In effect, the state would pay off the bond proposition by making annual payments of close to $740 million per year for 35 years. 

How the $15 Million Bond Will Be Allocated

If passed, the bond would have divided the funding up with most of the money going to elementary and high schools across the state for asbestos removal or abatement, followed by state universities, and then state community colleges. Here is how to bond monies were intended to be divided up:

$9 billion- Public Preschool and K-12 schools

$4 billion- State Universities,

$2 billion- State Community Colleges.

If California Proposition 13 passed, fund allocation measures would have changed the way funds could be injected into low-income school districts, in addition to allowing the voters in those districts to obtain the ability to raise their school district borrowing limits upon local approval or voting from that district area.

According to some proposition supporters, if the proposition proposal would have been successful, the new proposition 13 would have been instrumental in giving poorer school districts more bargaining power when it came to revitalizing their school district systems. On the contrary, opponents of the proposition 13 proposals believe it would open the floodgates for future tax increases at the local level. Those changes have garnered opposition from anti-tax groups such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

State Of California Proposition Numbers Reused May Have Led To Confused Voters

According to the state, every couple of years, the California proposition numbers are reused. In this instance, proposition 13 was memorable, and when it showed up on the ballot this year, it tricked some voters into thinking they were related to each other. Rather than avoid the apparent confusion, the folks who run ballot measures somehow did not see the possible problem. The confusion brought some questions to some state primary voters.

California Prop. 13 From 1978 and 2020 Distinguished

To be clear, the California Proposition 13 (2020) that was on the 2020 primary ballot has nothing to do with the reform of the original property tax, California Proposition 13, passed by voters in 1978 to cap property tax increases.

For clarification, the history lesson on the original California Proposition 13 (1978) goes back to when a man named Howard Jarvis was so fed up with inflation rates in the 1970s and, in particular, the way the city of Sacramento decided to allocate those funds. As a result, Jarvis proposed a 1% cap on property tax evaluation based on actual home value. Jarvis then declared that there should never be more than a 2% increase in any given year. After years of work by tax revolt leaders Howard and Estelle Jarvis,  Proposition 13 was overwhelmingly approved by voters on June 6, 1978. But Howard and Estelle knew that taxpayers’ gains would be temporary without a permanent citizens organization to protect Proposition 13 and to continue the movement against higher taxes.

To meet this need, they founded the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (formerly called the California Tax Reduction Movement). Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association maintains a full-time presence in Sacramento, CA, to lobby against bills that are bad for taxpayers and to promote those that improve taxpayer protections.

Proponents For California Proposition 13 for Asbestos Abatement and Upgrading Infrastructure

Supporters of the School and College Facilities Bond, express their concerns for the necessity of the proposition because the state’s public-school buildings are in deplorable condition and that California should have acted years ago to address the potential hazards and shortfalls. Proponents of the bond, claim “poor air and water quality and contamination,” from potentially toxic substances and seismic dangers, and point out that almost all of the state’s school buildings are decades old, and that while the state currently has funds of its own it could contribute to upgrades, outside investment is needed to foot the entire bill of improving infrastructure and asbestos abatement.

However, others were concerned that the $15 millon bond proposition would eventually lead to increased property taxes. To confirm, the bond itself, plus interest, will be repaid out of the state’s general fund. Besides, local school districts are usually required to provide matching funds. Those matching funds are generated by local bond measures, which are repaid exclusively by property owners. Here, the threat to homeowners is that, if California Proposition 13 (2020) passes, those debt limits would almost double because of the funds obligated to be matched by that local school district area.

Bond Supporters Include Lawmakers, Developers, Teachers, And Firefighter Unions

Supporters, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, argue the need is crucial. The bond proposal is backed by teachers and firefighter unions, school boards, and Democratic state lawmakers. Democratic Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell of Long Beach, who co-authored the bill that put the bond on the ballot, said now is the time to take advantage of historically low-interest rates.

“Bonds are a generally accepted way to finance public facilities that are going to last over the long term,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a cheap loan.” Some $9 billion from the measure would go to K-12 schools, with priority given to addressing health and safety concerns such as asbestos abatement and eliminating lead from drinking water. Of that, $5.8 billion would go to updating school facilities, followed by $2.8 billion for new construction and $500 million each for charter schools and facilities for technical education.”

Organizations have pledged their help and support, such as the California Teachers Association, who administered a $500K contribution towards lobbying for the new bond. Also, other groups have endorsed the proposal, such as the California Professional Firefighters. The firefighters support the provision because it provides schools resources to increase student safety by implementing violence and fire prevention. In the bond proposal, funds can be appropriated for emergency assistance in local district schools. Items for vital support may include power generators, supplies, and portable facilities that could be used from these bond funds, which is favored  by Brian Rice, President of the California Professional Firefighters.  

According to the Secretary of State’s voting guide, supporters suggest that the proposition will fund essential repairs to make California public schools safer and healthier and facilitate asbestos removal. Critical repairs would include the removal of toxic mold and of course, asbestos from aging classrooms. Also, other provisions have been added to the bond proposition, by lawmakers, to provide for new fire and smoke alarms, and physical security improvements within the schools.

Also, many additional expenditures will enable more available access to mental health counselors and school nurses, in regards, to health care provisions. The bond proposition also directs funds to ensure that state schools have sufficient resources to operate in case of emergencies, primarily natural disasters.

Opponents Of California Proposition 13

Bond opponents believe that the interest on the borrowed money from the bond funds will cost the state and taxpayers way more money than the interest accrued on the bond money borrowed alone. In turn, they are creating more debt for local school districts, property owners, and fewer options for further resolve to allocate funds for needed projects in this future. In their opinion, they feel this way because the money owed to pay the bond back will either be tied up paying the difference to interest owed, in addition, to the borrowed amount (principal). In other words, this will lead to additional debt placed upon California taxpayers across the board.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association complains that the state already had billions of dollars of surplus, so an expensive new bond shouldn’t be necessary. Bond opponents also allege that the interest on loans is higher than what it would be worth. Some opponents feel that itwould be more efficient to fund upgrades directly through the state itself, instead of passing a bond package that will have to be paid back with the states own money plus interest that will almost double the original amount of $15million to the taxpayer cost of $27million if the bond was passed and paid out until maturity.

Opponents say California has a large budget surplus and shouldn’t borrow more money. Taxpayers would owe an estimated $11 billion in interest over the next 35 years as a result of Prop. 13, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. Another primary concern that questions the results of the $15million bond effectiveness is the declining student enrollment and registration in California public schools, mainly universities. Statistics show that enrollment in public universities has dropped some over the last decade. The declined enrollment effect, also coupled with the method in which lawmakers intend to pay the bond back, intimidated a lot of taxpayers and opponents of this bill.

In which, certain opponents reiterated that: “This measure authorizes $15 billion in borrowing, costing taxpayers $27 billion including interest, to build and repair schools,” said the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association in Sacramento. “Borrowing is nearly twice as expensive as paying for school construction from the regular budget, which has a huge $21 billion surplus. This is just more government waste.”

Did The $15 Million Bond Proposition Help Other Interests Besides Local School Districts

Overall, the consensus from citizens was that the bond measure was primarily for the benefit of special interests. If the state intends to pay the bond obligation payments back from the source of interest generated from the California State General Fund, that citizens would mainly be prone to lose more money than necessary because of fluctuating interest rates from the state general fund.

For example, why would home builder companies combine to give over $1.5 million to the effort as part of a deal cut with Gov. Gavin Newsom to block or limit the fees that school districts charge developers who are building new housing? According to the Legislative Analyst, “school districts would be prohibited from assessing developer fees on multifamily residential developments (such as apartment complexes) located within a half-mile of a major transit stop (such as a light rail station). For all other multifamily residential developments, currently allowable developer fee levels would be reduced by 20 percent moving forward.”

Situations such as these could give a lot of voters the idea that there are more interests set outside of trying to eliminate hazardous contamination and improve local school district facilities. Al Shanker, the former head of the American Federation of Teachers, a large national labor organization, encapsulated California Teachers Association approach best when he said, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.” The motivation here is that if bond money is spent on education facilities, it helps to free up more of the district’s money for salaries and benefits.

If this is the case, then the mindset behind this philosophy could not possibly support the whole issue of the new proposition 13 being entirely focused on funding to eliminate environmental health hazards and educational facility upgrades, especially if these funds could be diverted into administrator or faculties salaries or benefits. As a result, this may have led many California voters to question the involvement of the backing of this significant proposal and how the funds where the funds would ultimately be allocated.

What It Means To Pass Or Not Pass California Prop. 13

In comparison, A ‘yes’ vote authorizes the state to sell $15 billion in general obligation bonds for schools and colleges. According to the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, school districts and community college districts would also be authorized to issue more local bonds, and school districts would have new limits on their ability to levy developer fees.

A ‘no’ vote would mean the state can’t sell the $15 billion in general obligation bonds to finance education facility improvements. A ‘no’ vote would also not impact school districts’ and community college districts’ existing borrowing limits or the rules for school districts to levy developer fees.

Can Other Alternatives Help California Schools

Seemingly, California voters felt that school facility improvements could be solved by more efficient and strategic manners than the original options laid out in proposition 13 (2020). Maybe certain groups did have a vested interest in this proposal, and their interests were not entirely dedicated to helping California School Districts. Or was the idea a more lucid alternative than raising taxes or trying to individually campaign for more grants to apply for or be successful in utilizing for each local school district and university system. We may not know until lawmakers and citizens come together again to help form another solution.

Environmental Health Risks Including Asbestos Contamination Will Not Disappear

One thing is for sure, the problem of aging infrastructure in school system buildings across the country is not going away any time soon, and the environmental health risks associated with them will be right there until they are replaced. The state of Pennsylvania just injected funds in access of $1 billion dollars in grants to fight the environmental health risks involved with the same problems that plague California.

In turn, those funds were strategically diverted from other programs and initiatives that seem to be aligned to target lead and asbestos in their school district systems. With the size and resources of California, could lawmakers and concerned citizens come to terms to do the same? Hopefully, politics and feelings can go to the side this time in California because most reasonably informed people know that hazardous contamination, particularly asbestos, does not stop for any reason unless it is eliminated.

Asbestos exposure does not hold any political preference, and anyone who is or has been exposed to the dangers that these mineral fibers can cause should be aware of their harmful effects. If you or a loved one are suffering from the potentially adverse effects of asbestos from past or present exposure experiences, please do not hesitate to contact experienced asbestos or mesothelioma attorney.

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