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The state's community college lobby is pushing hard for passage next year of the California Community College Initiative, a ballot measure that would channel more state taxpayer money to the two-year institutions and place a limit on how much annual fees can be raised. Proponents say that the law wouldn't require additional tax dollars and is needed to keep tuition low for poor students. Critics, including the California Taxpayers' Association, which last Friday came out against the measure, characterize it as "ballot box budgeting" that would make intelligent budget choices difficult.

To finance a signature drive to qualify the proposition for the ballot, proponents formed a campaign committee called Californians for Improving Community Colleges that has raised $366,870 through June 30. Local contributors include Constance Carroll, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, who gave $1000, and Richard Dittbenner, public information director for the district, who kicked in $500.

But the really big money behind the measure didn't come from individuals; instead, it was contributed by nonprofit "auxiliary foundations" set up by each campus, ostensibly to fund scholarships and other academic expenses that aren't paid for by taxpayer dollars. In San Diego, that includes the San Diego Community College Auxiliary; on the board is Carroll (who is paid $217,700 in her position as chancellor). The auxiliary gave $35,000 to the community college initiative campaign on June 15 of this year.

According to its latest available tax return, filed last November, the auxiliary received a total of $266,134 in "grants and allocations" from the college district for "educational services" in the 12 months ending in June of last year. It also collected $288,154 in public contributions, the sources of which were not disclosed. According to its website, a subsidiary of the auxiliary, the Employee Training Institute, offers "workforce development and organizational development; small business training and consulting; fiscal and administrative project management; individual personal and professional development." According to its tax return, the group grossed $1.8 million in fees from that activity. Though some critics have raised questions about the propriety of the auxiliary's political activity, such contributions are legal under federal law, a spokesman for the college district said this week. He added that the donation came from interest income on the auxiliary's endowment fund.

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