Voters authorized 70% of the tax-exempt bonds on ballots across the country yesterday, as approval for a handful of giant issues offset the rejection of dozens of smaller proposals by a generally dissatisfied electorate.
In the biggest off-year Election Day slate of bond proposals on record, votes cast ballots on 290 bond proposals worth $7.77 billion, and approved 139 issues totaling $5.45 billion, or 70%.
That percentage was substantially better than last year's Election Day, when voters authorized only 41% of a $12.33 billion slate. But it remained well below the 80% to 90% approval percentages that prevailed from 1982 through 1989.
It was also the first time in recent years that more bond issues were rejected (151) than approved (139).
Seven large issues, ranging from $1.5 billion to $129 million, accounted for $4.24 billion, or more than three-quarters, of the bond approvals. This group was led by St. Louis's $1.5 billion airpor proposal and a $1.1 billion Texas issue.
Education bond issues, the leading purpose for bond financing, posted poor results. Voters approved only 48 issues totaling $982 million, or 46%, of the $2.12 billion submitted.
Most major bond proposals, however, were approved. Many of these were in Missouri and Texas, which together accounted for 48% of the proposed volume and saw about 99% of their bonds approved.
The biggest proposal of the day was St. Louis's $1.5 billion revenue bond issue to expand Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. The measure passed with 64% of the vote in a light turnout.
The expansion plan is designed to increase the airport's capacity by one-third, double the amount of parking space, and raise the number of terminal gates to 119 from 76. It is not clear when the airport will start marketing the new bonds. Some city officials say mid-1992, others say not before 1993.
Missouri voters statewide rejected a $385 million education tax reform package that would have increased funding to public schools, colleges and universities.
Voters in Texas approved $2.2 billion, or 99%, of eh $2.23 billion of bonds on their ballots. Most of these were big issues, topped by a $1.1 billion general obligation issues for prison expansion and mental health facilities. It is the largest bond issue ever passed in the state.
Voters statewide also approved $300 millin of GO bonds for student loans, after voting it down in a special election in August. Houston residents approved $500 million of bonds as part of a $3.1 billion, five-year capital improvement plan. Voters in Dallas County, Tex., approved $215.5 million of bonds for various projects.
In Oakland County, Mich., voters narrowly approved $500 million of general obligation bonds for an incinerator and recycling program.
But the head of a local taxpayers group, which opposed the bond issue, said yesterday that the group would press state officials not to certify the vote because county officials allegedly violated state election laws. Suzan Singer Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the county executive's office, said the county did not do anything improper.
Arizona, California, Illinois, and Ohio, which accounted for about one-third of the total volume of bond submissions, all posted dismal results.
Arizona voters approved only two bond proposals valued at $7 million, about 1% of the 15 proposals worth $758 million on the ballot. This was due to Maricopa County, Ariz., where voters rejected eight bond measure totaling $736.5 million. The proposed bonds would have financed improvements for various criminal, health, park, and public facilities.
"People don't want taxes to go up," said Chris Gust of Hardaway Connections Inc. in Phoenix, a firm hired to handle public relations for the county's bond election. He said the slow economy made it especially difficult to get bond measures approved.
In California, citizens authorized only $261 million, or 31%, of the $854 million of bonds proposals. Local officials laid part of the blame on the two-thirds approval requirement for local general obligations issues. Gov. Pete Wilson has proposed lowering that requirement to a simple majority, but legislation to accomplish that change failed to move forward this year.
In Illinois, where 26 issues totaling $147 million were proposed, only $38 million, or 26%, were approved. Ohio's results were only slightly better, with $236 million, or 34%, of $691 million, being authorized.
Other Election News
* In an upset victory in Mississippi, Kirk Fordice beat Democrat Gov. Ray Mabus to become the first Republican governor in the state since Reconstruction.
Mr. Fordice, a conservative businessman, portrayed the one-term governor as being unable to work with the legislature and padding teh state payroll. The Republican had also sought to make bonds an issue, claiming that Mr. Mabus encouraged an imprudent level of borrowing in Mississippi.
Separately, Democrat Marshall Bennett, who ran unopposed, was elected treasurer for a second term.
* As expected, Kentucky's Lieut. Gov. Brereton Jones, a Democrat, beat his Republican opponent, Larry Hopkins, a U.S. representative. Mr. Jones' early lead in pre-election polls had widened after the Democrat was able to focus attention on Mr. Hopkins' bounced checks at the U.S. House bank. Mr. Jones, who tallied 65% to his opponent's 35%, succeeds Gov. Wallance Wilkinson, also a Democrat.
Democrat Frances Jones Mills, a former state Treasurer, easily defeated Don Bell, a retired Secret Service agent. Ms. Mills, who won by a 56-to-44% margin, will succeed Robert N. Mead as treasurer.
* Although New York did not have any bond proposals on the ballot, voters approved an increase in the state Job Development Corp.'s bonding authorization to $900 million from $600 million and ended a 109-year-old state constitutional ban on tolls along New York's canals.
* In Bridgeport, Conn., citizens rejected Mayor Mary C. Moran, in what observers said was a referendum on her historic decision to file a petition for municipal bankruptcy. Joe P. Ganim, a Bridgeport lawyer and Democrat, won 15,668 votes to Republican Mayor Moran's 10,591, a local press report said.
Mr. Ganim's victory spelled the end of Bridgeport's petition for bankruptcy, which is on appeal to the U.S. District Court. Mr. Ganim, who takes over next week, has pledged to drop the bid.
What remains to be seen is whether the state of Connecticut will persist with its appeal of a ruling in the Bridgeport bankruptcy case, in which the judge held that Connecticut law provides sufficient authorization for local units to use Chapter 9.
* Promises of an immediate and substantial tax cut helped sweep a Republican majority into both houses of the New Jersey Legislature for the first time in 20 years, reversing the political fortunes of 31 incumbent Democrats in the 120-member legislature.
In the Assembly, the Democrats' six-seat advantage was wiped out and replaced by a whopping 36-seat majority in favor of the GOP. The state Senate switched from a Democratic majority of 23 to 13 to a Republican majority of 27 to 17.
The dramatic reversal is being widely attributed to Gov. Jim Florio's $2.8 billion tax increase, the largest in state history, which he accomplished during his first year in office.
With their new-found political strength, Republican leaders yesterday immediately vowed to undo much of the governor's tax program, starting with a one-cent cut in the state sales tax. Republicans say that could amount to a $550 million revenue loss for the state, but no one has yet come forward with a proposal to replace that money -- the key consideration from the rating agencies' point of view.
"Certainly a loss of that level of revenue without some other compensating step would be a problem for the state," said Steven Hochman, assistant director of state ratings at Moody's Investors Service.
Ratings analysts stressed that until a concrete legislative package is proposed, it would be premature to speculate on the rating impact of a tax cut. Moody's rates the debt Aaa, and Standard & Poor's Corp. recently dropped its assessment to AA-plus from AAA.