LOS ANGELES -- Voters in the western United States were in an ambivalent mood on Tuesday when it came to approving municipal bonds.
They rejected California's $1 billion rail initiative, but they gave the thumbs-up to $475 million of transit bonds in Portland, Ore.
The voters turned down a $215 million school bond measure in Fresno, Calif. -- the third attempt in three years to get school bonds approved there -- but gave the green light to $322 million of school GO bonds in Seattle, and to $605 million of school bonds in Clark County, Nev.
With the eagle eye of credit rating agencies watching from the sidelines, voters in Oregon and Montana rejected a number of ballot initiatives that could possibly have caused drastic changes in state and local government finance operations.
And, joining the conservative tide that swept the nation, every Western state treasurer who won election on Tuesday was a Republican.
One of the nation's largest bond offerings to win voter approval Tuesday occurred in Nevada's Clark County, where fast-growing Las Vegas is located. There, 65% of voters authorized their countywide school district to issue $605 million of general obligation bonds. Proceeds will fund the construction of 24 new schools, and the expansion or repair of older schools.
Brian Cram, the district's superintendent, said yesterday that he was savoring the victory because it occurred despite "the extremely negative political climate" for bond approvals.
However, Cram added, voters rejected a second school bond measure that would have permitted an additional $300 million of bonds. That measure, requiring a simple majority vote for approval, received 49.6% of the votes, losing "by only 759 votes," Cram said. Because of the narrow loss, Cram said "we're feeling pretty good," and voters will be asked to approve a similar measure in 1996.
In Oregon, voters, 65% to 35%, approved Measure No. 26-13, which will provide $475 million toward the cost of building the proposed $2.85 billion South/North MAX light rail transit line.
The MAX, which stands for the Metro Area Express, will run about 25 miles from Clackamas County through Portland across the Columbia River to Clark County, Wash.
"It is a first step toward an expansion of the light rail into a south-north extension," Pat Clancy, managing director for Public Financial Management, said yesterday. "The next step will be discussions" with Oregon and Washington legislatures.
Also in Oregon, three closely watched ballot initiatives with credit implications for state and local governments were rejected by voters.
Measure No. 20, which would repeal traditional state and local taxes and most fees, and replace them with a 2% state transaction tax on all transfers of property, goods, and services, was rejected 75% to 25%.
Also rejected was Measure No. 5, designed to amend the constitution to require voter approval of all new taxes or increases in existing state and local taxes, and most fees as well.
Voters also turned down Measure No. 15, which would have required school and community college funding be held at no less than the 1993-1995 base amount, plus adjustments for inflation and enrollment changes. The voters' pamphlet said the current direct state expenditures of $1.457 billion would jump $713 million to $2.172 million if it had passed.
Montana voters rejected two measures similar to those in Oregon. The initiatives would have placed restrictions on state and local government to raise revenue through tax and fee increases.
With nearly 90% of precincts reporting, 53% of Montana voters said no to Constitutional Initiative No. 66, which would have amended Montana's Constitution to require majority voter approval for virtually any new tax or increase in any tax, whether imposed by state or local government.
A total of 51% of Montana voters turned down Constitutional Initiative No. 67, which would have required any new statewide tax or tax increase to be approved by two-thirds of the state legislature. Montana currently requires a simple majority of the legislature to enact a state tax law.
Mac Nan Ellingson, a bond attorney in the Missoula, Mont., office of Dorsey & Whitney, Said that if either initiative had passed, it would have resulted in "substantial uncertainty" in laws relating to bond issuance, and she said courts would have been required to provide an "authoritative interpretation" of the law.
In Seattle, school GO bonds totaling $322 million appeared headed to a narrow victory, but $277.5 million of GO bonds for police facilities and $155 million of GO bonds for neighborhood libraries were headed for defeat, election officials said yesterday.
All three bond measures received more than a majority of votes cast, but they needed 60%.
With all precincts reporting -- but absentee ballots yet to be counted -- 60.82% of votes were cast in favor of a measure for Seattle School District No. 1 to issue $322 million of GO bonds to renovate Seattle schools.
Proposition 1, a $155 million library bond that would finance construction of a new downtown library, upgrade eight branch libraries, and create three new magnet libraries, apparently lost with 57.71% of votes in favor, just short of the 60% margin needed.
Proposition 2, a $122.5 million public safety bond measure, garnered 51.74%, short of the 60% approval required. The proposition would have provided funds for a new municipal court and police headquarters facility in downtown Seattle, plus three new police stations for outlying precincts to support community policing.
In California, the only bond issue on Tuesday's statewide ballot was defeated. Proposition 181, known as the Passenger Rail and Clean Air Bond Act of 1994, would have authorized the issuance of $1 billion of 20-year GO bonds to finance rail construction.
A total of 65.2% of voters were against Proposition 181, signaling the continuance of a recent trend in which California's electorate has indicated its unwillingness to approve long-term borrowings.
Another California statewide ballot measure that dealt with transportation was also defeated: Proposition 185, the Public Transportation Trust Funds and Gasoline Sales Tax, an initiative that would have increased the state's gas tax by 4%. The measure was rejected by 80.6% of voters.
The $630 million a year in revenues raised would have been used to upgrade rail and bus services and for safety and operating improvements to roads. Opponents said the money would be controlled by a three-member committee of appointed officials, and one of the sponsors, Southern Pacific, would be a major beneficiary because part of the money would be used to acquire a train route it operates.
In California local elections, Long Beach voters rejected a $48 million GO ballot measure to fund improvements needed to make the city more accessible to the disabled. Only 44% of votes were cast in favor of the measure, which needed a two-thirds vote to pass. The city said the bond money was needed to make changes to city buildings, street comers, and bus stops to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
Originally, city voters were to be presented with $143 million of bond proposals on Tuesday. However, to avoid having two bond issues on the same ballot, Long Beach officials pulled a $95 million GO bond measure that would have paid for a new 911 communications center and police headquarters, city treasurer Richard Hilde said yesterday.
Voters in the Oakland Unified School District approved Measure C, which authorizes the issuance of $169.73 million of GO bonds to repair and rehabilitate school facilities.
The Fresno Unified School District failed to obtain the two-thirds majority approval necessary to pass a $215 million local school bond on Tuesday.
Measure A attracted strong majority support, 63.6%, but not the two-thirds, or 66.7%, required by state law for a local GO bond measure, according to the Fresno County registrarrecorder's office.
Proceeds would have been used to help alleviate overcrowding at Fresno's seven high schools, and to build a new high school. The district's population has nearly tripled since the last new high school opened in 1962. This was the third time since 1992 that school bonds have been rejected by voters.
San Francisco voters handed a split decision to four bond proposals on Tuesday's ballot. They approved $146.08 million of general purpose sewer revenue bonds, and $41.73 million of GO bonds for improvements to the Old Main Library and relocation of the Asian Art Museum.
But, the voters rejected $195.6 million of GO bonds to renovate and replace county jail facilities, and they turned down a proposal to issue $38.35 million of GO bonds for city hall improvements.
San Francisco voters also rejected an advisory referendum that would have provided $300,000 in preliminary funding to study the creation of a downtown transit assessment district to support a municipal railway. Levies would have been paid by downtown commercial property owners.
In Western U.S. state treasurers' races, it was a clean sweep for Republican candidates yesterday.
In the race to succeed Kathleen Brown as California's treasurer, Republican Matthew K. Fong defeated Democrat Phil Angelides for the $90,000-a-year job. Brown lost her bid to unseat incumbent Gov. Pete Wilson.
In treasurer's races elsewhere in the Western states, Republican Bill Owens was elected treasurer of Colorado, where the current Democratic treasurer, Gail Schuttler, was elected lieutenant governor on Tuesday. Schuttler ran on the same ticket as incumbent Democrat Gov. Roy Romer.
In Nevada, Republican Treasurer Bob Seale handily won his bid for reelection to a second term; Republican Wyoming Treasurer Stan Smith easily won re-election to a fourth term; Republican Arizona Treasurer Tony West was re-elected to a second term; and Republican Idaho Treasurer Lydia Justice Edwards, who ran unopposed, was re-elected to her third term.
In California, Fong garnered 48.4% of the vote to Angelides' 42.6%. Libertarian and Peace and Freedom candidates split the remaining vote.
Fong, 40, a lawyer who once ran a small import-export company, for the last three and a half years has been a member of the state Board of Equalization, the agency that handles state sales taxes. He ran unopposed in the Republican primary in June.
Fong has become the second Asian-American ever elected to statewide office in California. The first person was his mother, March Fong Eu, California's former longtime secretary of state.