The frustration given voice in the midterm elections also played out in how bond referenda and other initiatives fared.
Voters rejected some big-ticket state and local finance measures while others passed with smaller margins than in better times. Also enacted were new restrictions that could complicate public-works procurement.
One key loss was a road construction funding measure in Alabama. Strong lobbying from construction groups was not enough to save a proposed constitutional amendment that would have earmarked $1 billion over a decade for the projects.
The amendment would have allotted $5 million for each congressional district in the state for specific projects, such as port improvements in Mobile, a study for an Interstate-10 connector to Dothan, base realignment and closure work near Ft. Benning, Ga., projects related to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville and an annual appropriation for mass transit in the Birmingham-Jefferson County area.
In Florida, Tampa voters gave a thumbs-down to a penny-tax increase for light rail construction and Seminole County residents rejected a tax to fund school building.
But construction and development prevailed in other parts of the country.
Massachusetts rejected a tax roll-back to 3% and will maintain a tax structure that construction observers say will keep publicly-funded construction projects on track. School construction projects rely heavily on the current formula, they say.
Transportation Funding Moves
Major transportation measures did manage to sway voters in Rhode Island, Fairfax County, Va., and Austin, Texas, with voters in each state approving ballot funding issues worth close to $100 million a year or more, says the American Road & Transportation Builders Association. The Virginia funding would be used to help finance the county�s portion of the Washington, D.C.-area Metro subway system�s six-year capital improvement program.
Out of 13 new funding measures (bonds, transfers or new taxes) tracked by ARTBA, voters okayed eight. They will generate more than $376 million in new transportation infrastructure investment, ARTBA says.
But the group says results were �mixed� when voters were asked to hike local taxes or issue bonds for transit service. Five measures were defeated, three were approved and one set of results had not yet been released as of Nov. 5, according to ARTBA.
California Tackle Tough Questions
Californians provided an interesting group in their mix of votes on construction-related ballot measures. Voters agreed to fence in millions in redevelopment and transportation funds by closing loopholes that had allowed state officials to use monies for other state expenses. The measure�s approval will prevent legislators from using fuel tax revenue to pay debt service on state transportation bonds instead of distributing funds to local governments for road projects.
The state estimates this could mean a $1-billion shift that would increase the amount of money available for local road and rail maintenance but also reduce the amount available for statewide programs.
California voters also defeated an initiative, heavily supported by oil companies, that would have suspended greenhouse gas reduction rules until the state�s unemployment rate dropped below 5.5% for four straight quarters. It now hovers at about 12%.
Proposition 23 was also opposed by California utilities that have already spent millions on new alternative energy projects and energy efficiency programs.
In California�s Marin County, north of San Francisco, voters approved planning efforts for a new seawater desalination facility near the San Rafael shoreline. But they also set rules that require the populace to okay subsequent project phases.
Elsewhere in the San Francisco area, voters also soundly defeated a measure that would have rolled sewer rates back to 2007 levels and threatened repayment of loans for construction of the $115-million Ellis Creek water recycling facility near Petaluma, completed last year.
Voters Move in Strange Ways
Voters were fickle in public works they supported, alternately rejecting and embracing environmental infrastructure, municipal improvement measures and new school construction.
Watershed and coastal protection initiatives passed in Oregon and Rhode Island, and a local measure in San Antonio will now extend the current sales tax to provide an additional $90 million to protect land around the Edwards Aquifer.
Voters in New Mexico�s most populous county, Bernalillo, approved $20 million for improvements to flood control and storm water systems, but a $155.2-million request to fund dozens of higher education and special school projects throughout the state failed by a narrow margin of less than 2,500 votes. Next door, in Arizona, however, two growing suburbs of Phoenix approved school renovation and construction funding measures totaling more than $200 million.
Voters in Mesa, Ariz. gave a decisive victory to the Chicago Cubs in agreeing to have the city finance an $84-million spring training baseball stadium, which supporters said was needed to keep the team from abandoning the state�s Cactus League for a competing location in Florida. The stadium is expected to open in 2013.
But other votes were squeakers. One Houston area school district approved its $459-million school school construction package by less than 200 votes. �But anytime a bond passes related to schools, we�re happy,� says Jerry Nevlud, CEO of the local Associated General Contractors chapter.
Voting in Texas was �spotty,� adds Chris Huckabee, CEO of the architectural firm Huckabee, Fort Worth, But he says voters approved about $1.7 billion of $2.5 billion of funding measures. �A 70% pass rate is not a bad pass rate,� says Huckabee. State voters had already approved $1 billion worth of measures in May.
Huckabee says that while only 19 of the 41 more recent ballot measures passed, their funding was significant. �Some large bonds proposals passed, but in school districts with fewer than 5,000 students, the pass rate was 37%� he says. �That is unusual, and we are not sure what to make of that, except we had a lot more people going to the polls.�
It wasn�t a great year to request money in the Pacific Northwest. Measures and initiatives in Washington and Oregon for energy efficiency upgrades in schools and upgrades to an aging bus fleet and infrastructure were both turned down, respectively. Pre-election reports had the one measure creating as many as 930 construction jobs for three years.
But Alaskans did manage to approve a $397.2-million funding measure for design and construction of new library, education and educational research facilities, passing it with a 60% margin.
Labor Issues Take the Stage
One non-monetary measure on the ballot in a California county was closely watched by both union and open shop construction forces. San Diego County voters opted to approve, with a 76% majority, a ban on use of project labor agreements (PLAs) in county public works not linked to state or federal funds. Two county municipalities, Oceanside and Chula Vista, had previously approved similar bans.
Ben Brubeck, director of labor and federal procurement for the national Associated Builders and Contractors, says San Diego County is the eighth local government in California to enact such a PLA ban on public works. Labor officials could not be reached, but previously said that such pacts are key to maintaining construction worker protections. The local ABC chapter has been locked in a bitter battle with the San Diego city school board, which has adopted a PLA for $3 billion in bond money to be spent for repairs and renovations to school buildings and property.
In Nevada, voters rejected the controversial repeal of eminent domain rules in place since 2008. While local construction executives say the impact of the vote is still unclear because of a slowing state economy, transportation officials say it could could extend schedules and hike costs on projects.