School leaders are flocking to the Nov. 8 ballot with requests for education money, sensing a prime opportunity with record voter turnout and an improving economy.
Statewide, voters will consider Proposition 51, a $9 billion bond measure to fund school construction, and a statewide income tax on the highest earners in Proposition 55. On top of that, many voters in the Sacramento region will consider paying higher taxes for school bonds or district operations.
Proponents see a strong window to win voter support, especially with projections of record turnout in a heated presidential election year, said Michael Coleman, a municipal finance expert who runs the California Local Government Finance Almanac website. Conventional wisdom suggests that presidential elections draw a greater proportion of left-leaning voters receptive to tax measures.
“You have a lot of areas that may not have gone for bonds before because it was too risky in previous elections, but are doing it now,” Coleman said.
In Sacramento County, six school districts are seeking authorization for hundreds of millions of dollars in bonds to help pay for new schools, update facilities and improve technology.
Placer County has three school bond measures, and Yolo County has three bonds and a parcel tax. El Dorado County does not have any school bond measures.
School finance measures face a threshold beyond a majority vote to pass. Bond measures require 55 percent support, while parcel taxes require two-thirds. School measures in Sacramento County also have to contend with a countywide sales tax increase for transportation, Measure B.
“Down ballot or not, this is a presidential election year and we have great hope that high voter turnout and traditionally great support for local schools will help us succeed in reaching the two-thirds margin we need for a win,” Sacramento City Unified Trustee Jessie Ryan said earlier this year.
Ryan said the district needed to move ahead with a parcel tax now, regardless of what else is on the ballot.
“There is never a perfect time,” she said. “But the reality is that all of the indicators are that we might be facing a fiscal downturn. So we know this might be our last opportunity for some years to make the kind of critical investment we need.”
Local school bonds could benefit from Proposition 51 advertisements touting the need for school facilities, Coleman said. The publicity may make voters aware that districts will need local funds to match state funds to build schools.
Coleman expects the long ballot could be a problem for some state propositions, but not necessarily for local bond measures.
“There are certain people that will come back to the local ballots that are further down the line. They will pick one or two and skip the rest,” he said.
But Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers said voters may vote against measures because they feel overwhelmed.
“There could very well be ballot fatigue,” Coupal said of the “huge” ballot California voters are facing in November.
He said local school revenue measures that face organized opposition “may have some rougher sledding.” But, he added, the natural sympathy for education “could very well pay off.”
Sacramento County school finance measures
Measure D (Roseville Joint Union High School District – includes Antelope area) – $96 million facilities bond. Estimated cost: $14.99 annually for each $100,000 of assessed value.
Measure E (Galt Joint Union High School District) – $36 million facilities bond. Estimated cost: $30 per $100,000 of a property’s assessed value.
Measure G (Sacramento City Unified) – Parcel tax to fund programs, including those for students at risk of falling behind academically or dropping out. Cost: $75 per parcel.
Measure K (Galt Joint Union Elementary School District) – $19.7 million facilities bond. Estimated cost: $30 per $100,000 of property value.
Measure M (Elk Grove Unified) – $476 million facilities bond. Estimated cost: $38 per $100,000 of assessed property value.
Measure P (San Juan Unified) – $750 million facilities bond. Estimated cost: $60 per $100,000 of property value.
Source: Sacramento County Elections Department