Say no to Measure L
October 31, 2014
OPINION By MATT KOKKONEN
Just about everyone in San Luis Obispo County likes Cuesta College and that is why the trustees ask for your vote to pass the $275 million bond Measure L.
This bond is in addition to all the other tax increases our county residents and property owners are asked to pass. There is also a $7.5 billion state “water” bond. Where does it stop? SLO City pension fund alone is underfunded by $155 million. SLO County’s pension fund is unfunded by $300 million. And they want us to borrow more? L –No!
The Trustees assert that the money is needed to pay essentially for facility repairs and upgrades. This clearly shows how inept and irresponsible they have been by permitting such deterioration. They set the budget annually and needed to fund the facility upkeep adequately. They failed to do that. Instead they used the monies for salaries and benefits to the tune of 80 percent of Cuesta’s budget. In summary, the real reason Cuesta College Trustees want the bond money is because they have failed to monitor and oversee the college facilities properly.
In fact, California Proposition 30, which passed in 2012, provided an extra $6,900,000 to Cuesta this year. The funds are being spent entirely on instructional salaries. Other benefits, such as pensions, will add to the cost. Why not use all or some of the Prop 30 monies for the repair of identified broken down facilities? Trustees specifically rejected using any of that $6,900,000 for other permissible areas, namely operating expenses or capital outlays. Trustees therefore again fall short of using good judgment.
Paradoxically, Cuesta has prided itself, appropriately so, as a school for vocational education and training. Yet the bond is to repair many facility deficiencies and hazards, specifically the kinds of skills it teaches. Why not utilize the students with the staff in the repairs and upgrades for their learning experience? Unfortunately, the college has also eliminated vocational projects, such as masonry, which was actually wholly financed by private industry.
If the bond passes and enslaves property owners to 34 years of additional property taxes, we will pay for inflated construction costs of 28 percent because Cuesta will require use of union labor. The trustees have not safeguarded the public‘s right for lowest costs by not maintaining the ability to engage non-union construction companies and contracts.
Prop 30 requires trustees to identify how the tax allocation was going to be spent. For 2013, it amounted to $6,900,000. The other years’ allocations have not yet been specified but the trustees passed three resolutions identifying how the monies for each of the three years would be spent. True to form, each year’s allocation was directed entirely towards instructional salaries. The trustees specifically elected not to allot any monies for operating expenses or for capital outlay, the other two options on the form. And, pension costs are added to the salary expenses.
However, only Resolution 09-15 for the 2014 allocation records each trustee’s votes and proves the unanimous vote. Resolutions 07-13 and 08-14 are defective by not identifying the trustees’ votes, thereby not proving the majority vote. Yet the resolutions were signed by the president of the trustee board. Therefore the expenditures for the $6,900,000 are improper and probably illegal by not proving the claimed majority votes.
Proposition L claims to include stringent fiscal accountability by requiring citizens’ oversight of all funds. Actually, this is why the trustees were voted in to begin with and what they have failed to do as proven by this vast tax measure they hope to be rewarded with. It has been the trustees job to oversee the plant. They have failed to do so.
Another red herring in the measure is the prohibition against using the monies for administrators’ salaries and pensions. This sounds good. But, this same prohibition was included in the State proposition 30. That did not prevent the trustees from allocating all of it to other staff salaries. In addition, even that administrative salary prohibition is ludicrous since the group of administrators, managers, supervisors and confidentials as a whole amounts to only 4.8 percent of Cuesta’s faculty and staff of 746. Administrators by themselves amount to less than 1 percent of the staff. Big deal.
Cuesta has already borrowed money without a vote of the public. How transparent is that? While it is understandable that a tax funded entity like Cuesta always wants to increase its income, the timing of this measure is wrong, the amount is excessive and the rationale is misplaced. Taxpayers are not against taxes per se, but they want good value for their money. They also expect their representatives to manage the public’s assets with good judgment and tight fiscal controls. In these, the trustees Patrick Mullen, President Angela Mitchell, Barbara George, Dick Hitchman and Charlotte Alexander have failed. Their mismanagement and lack of supervision have jeopardized the viability of Cuesta College.
Why should only SLO residents go in debt to pay for the education of the students, vast majority of whom come from outside our county? And what about the illegal aliens who pay only the very low resident tuition which is highly subsidized and mostly funded by SLO residents? How fair is that, while legal students from other states would pay much higher tuition?
During a recent show, Dave Congalton questioned my assertion that most of the students at Cuesta came from outside of the county. He called his wife Charlotte Alexander who is a Trustee running for re-election currently. She stated that 60 percent came from San Luis Obispo county. When challenged by me, his spirited response was only suitable for a “good radio” show but was not factual. However, Cuesta’s published data states that much less than 50% of students come from our county. SLO County property owners do not want additional 30+ year taxes.
Other persuasive and detailed arguments against Measure L have been written by SLO City Council member Dan Carpenter and others.
Since the current trustees have failed to provide proper budgetary discipline to manage the existing facilities, their mismanagement should not be covered up and bailed out with this unaffordable $275,000,000 extra debt and increase in everyone’s property taxes. Cuesta needs to trim enough to live within its means just as everyone else has to do. They must prioritize the spending instead of automatically funding more and more staff and salaries. Only that way will Cuesta remain a viable community college with continued and willing county tax payer support.
And the current Trustees whose terms are up now need to be voted out and replaced. They are Patrick Mullen, Dick Hitchman and Charlotte Alexander.
Measure L? L – No!
Matt Kokkonen is a financial advisor and former Congressional candidate who lives in san Luis Obispo.