Voters ended a two-year Election Day trend of rejecting ballot bonds with an Overwhelming thumbs-up on Tuesday to this year's proposals.
Around the nation, voters approved $7.3 billion of $11.73 billion of bonds, according to The Bond Buyer's preliminary results. They gave the nod to 238 issues of 383 proposed ballot measures, or 62% of the dollar volume.
"That's amazing," Heather Ruth, president of the Public Securities Association, said. "It really shows that where the issues did pass, people did a really good job of communicating exactly what the bonds were going to be used for. I am really impressed."
The, $7.3 billion was the third-largest amount of bonds approved in a general election, trailing the $13.95 billion record on Nov. 8, 1988, and the $7.54 billion approved Nov. 4, 1986.
The bond ballot totals include defeat of three of the largest issues: California's $1 billion Passenger Rail and Clean Air Bond Act proposal for inter-city and commuter rail programs; New York State governor's $800 million Jobs-Bond Act, designed to provide state-sponsored financing for a series of infrastructure improvements; and a $695 million Seattle School District No. 1 referendum, its second defeat at the polls in two months. The three issues accounted for over half of all the defeated bonds on Tuesday's ballot.
As of 1:45 p.m., est, yesterday, 16 bond proposals totaling $80 million remained unresolved.
Approval of the ballot measure for debt was seen as a break from the recent past, when recession-plagued states saw many bonding measures voted down.
In 1991, voters approved $5.45 billion, or 70%, of $7.77 billion of bonds on the ballot. But those results were skewed by the approval of seven large issues, totaling $4.24 billion and accounting for 78% of the overall volume.
Bond proposals for education projects, the largest specific purpose category, were approved at a 63% pace. Of 145 issues totaling $4.5 billion, 80 issues totaling $2.82 billion were approved.
The largest proposal approved this year was a $1.5 billion Los Angeles plan to finance the expansion of the city's sewer system, followed by $900 million for California's School Facilities Bond Act to construct or improve public schools.
California, which led states in the dollar amount of bonds on the ballot at $4.57 billion, saw $3.2 billion, or 70%, approved.
Observers of the bond ballot results noted that pressing infrastructure needs spurred many voters to approve debt sales.
"One of the things that the national election told us is that people want a change." explained Russell Fraser, chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Fitch Investors Service. "People are realizing they have to spend money, especially on the infrastructure. There is a real weakness in the economy, so now is a good time to spend in order to get full value for the money."
However, rejection of New York's bond act was a serious blow to Gov. Mario Cuomo's economic development program, which he had billed as the "centerpiece" of his plan to rejuvenate the state's struggling economy.
The governor said the bond act would create as many as 35,000 immediate construction jobs, and between 78,000 and 106,000 permanent, private-sector jobs.
However, State Comptroller Edward V. Regan, while calling the bond act "a laudable goal," said voters should not approve it unless the state reforms its long-term borrowing practices and adopts his plan for fiscal reform. His plan calls for a 30-day waiting period before the state legislature can appropriate debt.
Among other results of major bond proposals, New Jersey voters approved the $345 million "Green Acres, Clean Water, Farmland and Historic Preservation Bond Act of 1992" to preserve open space and develop environmental resources.
In Virginia, voters approved three ballot questions authorizing the issuance of $613 million of bonds. Proceeds will be used to fund projects in higher education, mental health, and parks and recreation.
Higher education facilities bonds won by an almost 3-to-1 margin in the state, while the mental health and parks facilities bonds were approved with 68% and 67% of the vote, respectively.
"That's just phenomenal," said Paul W. Timmreek, the state's finance secretary. "People can feel real good about this."
Voters also approved a constitutional amendment to allow state officials to establish a permanent revenue-stabilization fund. The move will allow the state to stash money in the fund when revenues grow at above-average rates.
In Fairfax County, Va., voters approved a $130 million bond issue for transportation improvements, while Arlington County, Va., residents approved six bond issues totaling $106.6 million for a host of capital projects.
In addition, Loudoun County, Va., voters approved a $15.42 million bond issue to build and outfit a new middle school, while voters in the city of Chesapeake, Va., approved $57.98 million of bonds for public school improvements.
In Maryland, voters in Baltimore County approved 10 bond issues totaling $118 million. Proceeds will be used to fund roads, schools, parks, and other projects.
Voters in the city of Baltimore approved seven bond issues totaling $43 million for a variety of capital projects, including public school construction, recreational facilities improvements, and economic development efforts.
Atlanta, Ga., voters approved a $94 million school bond issue to finance renovation of the city's school facilities.
In Charlotte, N.C., voters approved $67 million of a $71 million package of bonds, endorsing $46.1 million for sewers and $20.9 million for the water distribution system. The city's voters defeated a proposed $4 million of debt for a coliseum.
In Raleigh, N.C., voters soundly defeated a $95 million bond issue to finance a civic center.
Voters approved Oklahoma's first general obligation bond program since 1968, backing $350 million in debt to largely finance projects at the state's universities.
Voters approved two separate referenda to make the issuance possible. The first ballot question authorized the bonds, while the second approved new taxes on bingo, pull-tab gambling, and certain tobacco sales to support the debt service.
Oklahoma bond adviser Jim Joseph said the double-A rated state expects to issue the bonds over a two-year period as projects become ready for financing. The structure has yet to be determined, but the authorization limits the maturities to 30 years and permits up to $100 million of the debt to be sold as zero-coupon college saver bonds.
Voters in northwest Arkansas overwhelmingly put down an effort to stop a regional airport project. With an average vote of 70% for the project, voters in five cities and two counties that form the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority rejected a measure that would have disbanded the state-created authority.
As long as two of the seven local governments voted to remain in the authority, the project could go forward. Voters in 911 seven localities supported the project.
New Mexico voters approved a heavy slate of local bond issues, but only two of nine state GO bond proposals totaling $79 million. Of this, $76 million of bonds were for higher education projects and $2.8 for a senior citizens center.
If the full state slate had been approved, New Mexico would have had authority to issue the maximum amount of GO debt allowed by the state constitution. The state cannot have outstanding debt exceeding 1% of its total assessed valuation.
The mixed results for the state contrast with strong support for other measures in Albuquerque, where one-third of the state's population lives.
Voters in Bernalillo County, which includes the state's largest city, supported all six measures totaling $20.9 million for projects. A regional flood control district won approval for another $20 million in bonds.
New Mexico may also carry the distinction of having one of the quirkiest constitutional amendments rejected by voters.
For as long as bond dealers can remember, an omission in the state constitution prohibited counties from using bond proceeds to make repairs on government facilities. An amendment that would have changed that was losing with only 38% of the vote in late tallies.
"Who knows why voters do what they do," said one local underwriter who noted the measure had no organized opposition.
Meanwhile, in regard to initiatives and proposals on state ballots, California voters rejected Proposition 65, a budget and welfare initiative supported by Gov. Pete Wilson.
The initiative would have changed the state's budget process in several ways, including granting the governor more power to make spending cuts. It also would have reduced welfare grants.
Idaho voters defeated by almost two-to-one the property tax limitation measure known as the One Percent Initiative. That proposal drew rating agency attention because it would have limited the financial flexibility of local governments.
With 91% of the vote counted as of 4 p.m., est, yesterday, a proposed Illinois constitutional amendment that could have forced the state to increase school funding between $1.8 billion to $3 billion a year appears to have been defeated. Also, Illinois voters approved an advisory referendum recommending that the state stop mandating programs on local governments without providing funding.
Voters in Michigan defeated two property-tax cut initiatives that had raised concerns on the part of rating agencies over the potential loss of state and local government financial flexibility.
North Dakota voters defeated a measure to impose a separate and additional 0.5% sales tax on certain retail sales that would have been used to finance water projects and another measure to impose a fee on waste generators to fund environmental protection and recycling projects.
Oregon voters defeated Measure 7, which would have created a split-roll property tax limit. The largest bond proposals in Oregon, a $250 million state GO issue for parks and a $200 million Metropolitan Service District GO park plan, were both defeated.
A measure in South Dakota that would have established an income tax was defeated.
In Harford County, Md., voters approved a change in the county charter that will allow the government to repay bonds in installments that vary by more than 50%. County bonds are usually repaid annually in nearly identical amounts. The charter change will make it easier for the county to repay money it borrows in the bond market to pay farmers not to develop farmland.
In Maine, voters approved $44 million, or 81% of the ballot bonds, including $12 million of water pollution control facilities construction bonds, $10 million of recycling equipment purchase bonds, and $8 million of capital repair bonds. However, voters defeated $10 million of tuition payment bonds for unemployed state citizens enrolled as full-time students.
Rhode Island voters passed $64 million, or 68% of their proposals, including $10 million of bonds for improving the city of Pawtucket's water system, $10 million for South Kingstown high school building facility bonds, and $4.5 million for closure of the Bristol landfill.
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