Californians have approved—by wide margins—more than $37 billion in bonds to finance highway, levee and other infrastructure work across the state. The measures were among many bond issues approved Nov. 7 around the country.
Among non-bond measures, voters placed restrictions on local governments' use of eminent domain in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oregon and South Carolina, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But measures providing help to landowners whose property value is slashed by regulations were defeated in California, Idaho and Washington. Only Arizona approved that type of property-owner relief, NCSL says.
The largest part of the California bond package was Proposition 1B, which provides $19.9 billion over 10 years for transportation work. It includes more than $11 billion to improve highway and rail corridors such as Interstate 5 and Highway 99 and add a fourth bore to the Caldicott Tunnel, which connects Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. The proposition passed by 61% to 39%, according to SmartVoter.org.
California Proposition 1D, which calls for $10.4 billion in bonds for education facilities, was approved 56% to 44%. It includes $7.3 billion for elementary and secondary public schools and $3 billion for community colleges, California State University and the University of California.
Voters also approved Proposition 1E, which passed 64% to 36%, provides $4.1 billion to repair levees and other flood control structures. Of that amount, the Central Valley Flood Control System and Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta levees would receive $3 billion to repair and improve levees. Projects outside the Central Valley would get $800 million and $290 million would be used for protecting flood corridors and improving flood-hazard maps.
In Texas, voters approved nine of ten bond issues in excess of $100 million. In all, the nine approved measures authorize more than $2 billion for new facilities, upgrades and repairs in three independent school districts in metropolitan Houston, four in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and one each in San Antonio and Round Rock, an Austin suburb. More than 50 districts statewide held bond elections.
"This will certainly bolster the already healthy and robust environment we find ourselves working in," says Mark E. Gerner, managing partner of the North Texas Region of SHW Group LLP, a Dallas-based architecture, engineering and planning firm that specializes in educational facility design.
Dallas passed 12 propositions for a record $1.35 billion in bonds to fund streets, parks, flood control and major renovations for the Cotton Bowl and Dallas Zoo. "We were supportive of the proposals and pleased that they passed," says Raleigh Roussell, CEO of QUOIN, the AGC chapter that represents Dallas, Fort Worth and East Texas. "But what's really significant is that this program comes on the heels of the completion of Dallas Independent School District's $1.4-billion bond program. All that construction activity will be replaced and keep the industry quite busy for the next three or four years. The timing was perfect for our industry."
Voters, however, rejected a $250-million bond proposition that would have financed maintenance and new construction for the five campuses in Houston's fast-growing North Harris Montgomery Community College District.
"This was the first time in our history that our bond referendum appeared on a ballot in the general election," says Steve Lestarjette, the district's associate vice chancellor for public affairs. New state legislation requires that school districts hold bond elections on the general election dates in May and November.
"Consequently, we had to compete for attention with major state and national races, as well as other school board races," Lestarjette says. "Maybe we didn't make our case."
He adds that the district now has 46,000 students in credit classes and expects to reach 60,000 students by 2016. "We are in a rapid-growth mode. Two of our colleges operate classes in portable buildings on campus. Other colleges are near capacity. Had voters understood the need for new learning space—and understood that this bond would not raise their taxes—I believe the outcome would have been different."
Lestarjette says the district will now begin working closely with the community "to develop a strategy that addresses the growth we expect."
IIn addition to school bonds, Austin voters approved a $567-million bond package that includes street repairs, drainage and water-quality projects and a new central library. Critics of the proposed library called it a vanity project. But the election results show that the majority of Austinites support the addition of a new $90-million, 250,000-sq-ft central library.
In the Portland, Ore., area, there were mixed results in the Nov. 7 election on 13 school bond measures, totaling nearly $1 billion. Voters approved spending $229 million to provide new schools and maintenance dollars in the Hillsboro school district and spending $195 million in another measure in Beaverton. "We are very pleased that many districts will now be able to meet the needs of their students," says Jessica Adamson, government affairs director of the Associated General Contractors of Oregon. "Still in the fastest growing districts, this is not enough."
In the Chicago area's Oswego Community School District 308, part of the city's rapidly growing southwest suburbs, voters gave the go-ahead to the sale of $450 million in construction bonds.
Plans call for the construction of a new high school, four junior high schools, eight elementary schools, an early childhood center and a support center, says Jacquelyn Campagnolo, administrative assistant to Superintendent David Behlow. Construction is expected to begin "as soon as possible," she says. "They've been talking about it for months."
The referendum received 9,572 yes votes and 7,018 no votes, Campagnolo says. Rather than increasing the district's tax rate, portions of existing debt will be restructured to fund forthcoming projects.
The Oswego referendum was the most significant in northern Illinois. Over all, there were 28 referenda on ballots to increase property tax rates, sell building bonds or initiate other plans. Early results indicated that voters approved 11 of those measures, according to local election boards.
Voters in the Southwest supported the vast majority of bond issues placed on this year’s November ballot. The largest, a group of four bonds in Mesa, Ariz. totaling $260.6 million, passed with an almost 2:1 ratio among voters on Tuesday. The bonds will provide funding for over 100 projects related to improving the city’s water, wastewater, gas and electrical infrastructures.
Three municipal bond issues totaling $47 million in Casa Grande also passed, funding new public safety buildings and improvements to other city facilities.
School bonds were also successful throughout Arizona . Voters approved Dysart Unified School District’s $190 million bond issue to construct new schools and make improvements to existing ones in Surprise and El Mirage, two fast-growing suburbs west of Phoenix.
The Pendergast Elementary School District, also west of Phoenix, received voter approval for their $50 million bond to fund new school construction and additional classrooms.
Voters in southern Arizona approved a $55.7 million bond for new construction and improvements for the Maricopa Unified School District, while the Casa Grande Union High School passed a $38 million bond issue.
The GO Bond for Education is placed on the ballot by the New Mexico State Legislature every two years. This year’s voter-approved cycle allocates almost $118 million for new educational facilities and upgrades to existing buildings at higher education institutions throughout the state.
A potentially wide-reaching ballot measure making changes to the eminent domain process in Nevada passed with ease on Tuesday. It provides that the transfer of property from one private party to another is not considered a public use, and that property taken for public use be valued at the highest price it would bring on the open market.
Some industry groups, such as the Nevada Contractors Association and the Las Vegas branch of the Associated Contractors, recommended against approving the measure since, as written, it could make the process of constructing highways and public works projects much more difficult. In addition, Nevada’s Regional Transportation Commission has warned that federal transportation funds could be at risk.
Two popular incumbent governors, Janet Napolitano (D) in Arizona and Bill Richardson (D) in New Mexico, were re-elected by wide margins. Both have been extremely supportive of both private and public construction activity in their states.