Spring is in the air in Texas, and May is rapidly closing in on us. And since May is one of the designated periods on the Texas uniform election calendar in which elections can take place, there are indeed plenty of local governments in and around the Houston area that have taken advantage of this political opportunity to hold bond elections to borrow massive sums of money when very few members of the electorate will be paying attention.
Amongst the local entities that have scheduled bond elections for May 2019 are the following:
1) The Cy-Fair ISD school district, whose board voted back in February 2019 to demand $1.76 billion in new bonding authority from Cy-Fair area residents. This election is at the top of my list, as the Cy-Fair school board has occupied a special place in my heart for having gotten away with scheduling (and not surprisingly winning) a $1.2 billion bond election back in May 2014 – only five years ago!
Much like the May 2014 election, which featured a whopping four percent turnout rate, the May 2019 Cy-Fair bond proposal reserves some $968 million, or over 50 percent of the overall bond funding, for facility renovations. When are school districts ever going to start setting aside sinking funds for renovations, instead of resorting to bond issues to cover them?
Enough beating up on the Cy-Fair board and local political classes for piling on hapless residents with bottomless debt. Holly Hansen, a new poster with our friends at Big Jolly, has carried on the torch in fine fashion on the May 2019 Cy-Fair bond election. Ergo, how about if we pick on some other entities instead?
2) The southeast Houston suburb of League City has scheduled a bond election for next week as well. The League City political demand is for $145 million in bonding authority, including money for roads and drainage. The League City election also features a sales tax rate increase from 1.75 percent to the state maximum of 2 percent that is allowed to go to local governments.
3) How about some other districts a little further out from Houston, like Cleveland and their ISD? The borrowing demand for Cleveland ISD is for $250 million, but unlike other bond proposals covered here, this proposal actually seems to be for new schools for a growing district.
4) Then there’s Conroe ISD, whose board approved an $807 million bond borrowing proposal back in late January 2019. Three new schools are supposed to be built, but once again this proposal includes (ultimately) a 3 cent per $100 property valuation tax hike.
5) How about a $267 million bond proposal from Brazosport ISD, with an estimated 58 percent going towards, once again, the replacement of a school, in this case Brazosport High School. No tax hike is foreseen here.
6) And last but not least, there is one final regional bond election being held in the Land of the Pears. Yes, gentle readers, the City of Pearland has scheduled a $79 million bond proposal for next weekend. One good piece of news is that the City of Pearland folks, like the City of Houston, has at least broken down their proposal into five different propositions, with bond proceeds going towards the fire department, an animal shelter, parks, drainage, and $34 million of the $79 million going towards roads. Voters in the Pearland election at least get the chance here, as they do in Houston, to vote on each proposition, rather than the practice at so many school districts of bundling and cramming a whole laundry list of items into a single bond proposal.
The State of Texas Comptroller’s office dutifully reports that there are no fewer than 86 bond election proposals up for grabs across the state of Texas next weekend, all totaling over $10 billion in new bond debt.
I should point out here that there have been some mild improvements made in the battle against local government borrowing in our great state. One is that the practice of rolling polling has been stomped out by state law. This was the practice of local governments, particularly school districts, of putting out mobile voting locations for very brief periods of time, which just so happened to be scheduled around times such as parent teacher days at schools themselves. However, many other proposals to rein in the borrowing addictions of local governments, such as outlawing the bundling of bond items, requiring the printing of tax increases and overall debt levels on ballot language, or requiring voter quorums or requiring bond elections to be scheduled in November of even-numbered years to increase public bond scrutiny, have been stymied in the Texas Legislature.
And so here it goes. I’m willing to put down a friendly $100 bet that all of the above bond demands end up passing next weekend. I’m also willing to put down another $100 bet that none of the above proposals listed here attract 5 percent of the voting electorate.
Next weekend awaits!