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Voters to Decide if California Can Borrow $20B for Climate and Education

State lawmakers will likely place two bonds, one for climate change impacts and one for school repairs – each worth $10 billion – on the November ballot. The bonds will require a two-thirds approval from both chambers to reach the ballot.

California voters will likely decide whether to let the state borrow $20 billion to fight climate change and support schools, issues that advocates say are in need of a cash influx in light of recent budget cuts.

State lawmakers said Sunday that they reached agreements to place both a $10 billion bond to pay for climate change impacts and another $10 billion bond for school repairs.

Voter approval of borrowing is never a sure thing, even in a presidential election when turnout is high and the electorate skews more progressive. In 2020, for example, voters rejected a $15 billion schools facilities bond.

The agreements follow months of negotiating between lawmakers and climate and education advocates, who pushed for bonds after the extent of California’s dire budget picture became clear.

Sen. Ben Allen, D- Santa Monica, said the climate bond will give voters an opportunity to “support needed investments to protect our communities” and safeguard natural resources.

“We are already seeing the devastating effects of climate change — more extreme heat waves, catastrophic fires and floods, coastal erosion, and severe droughts,” he said in a written statement. “Every part of our state is affected, and unless we take action now, the cost to address these impacts will become increasingly overwhelming.”

Two years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers approved a $54.3 billion spending package to combat climate change. After two budget cycles, more than $9 billion has been cut from that commitment.

If approved by the Legislature and Newsom, the bond measure would include $3.8 billion for drinking water and groundwater upgrades, $1.5 billion for forestry and wildfire programs and $1.2 billion to address rising sea levels.

Other issues to receive millions in funding include extreme heat mitigation, biodiversity and outdoor access for the public. The bond also stipulates that least 40 percent of the bond must help vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

Climate advocates say all this may sound expensive, but the costs of putting off these programs would likely be far higher.

“We can’t afford to go through these boom and bust cycles if we’re taking this problem seriously,” said David Weiskopf, senior policy advisor at NextGen California, one of dozens of organizations that pushed for a bond. “We need to find a better way to budget for climate than to just hope for another surplus.”

For its part, the schools bond would pay for school facility repairs, with $8.5 million designated for new construction and modernization of K-12 schools and $1.5 billion for community colleges. School districts with lesser ability to raise local funds can receive a higher percentage of funds.

The funding could be used for infrastructure that would enable schools to adapt extreme heat, build new facilities such as gymnasiums and school kitchens, and repair buildings that are 75 years or older.

“Safe and healthy schools are at stake with this measure. There are six million reasons to support this proposal to ensure that each public school student has equal access and opportunity to grow and thrive,” said Senator Steven Glazer, D- Contra Costa, in a written statement. “The children and school districts that need help the most will particularly benefit by this facility bond.”

The bonds each require a two-thirds vote from both houses to reach the November ballot and will need a simple majority from voters to pass.

©2024 The Sacramento Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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