By Rebekah Morris for the Arizona Builder’s Exchange
Throughout the state nearly $2B in bond issues were presented to voters this week. Overwhelmingly, K-12 public school bond issues were passed, while the exact opposite was true for the City of Scottsdale and Pima County where most (Scottsdale) or all (Pima County) the measures were defeated. Overall, $1,022M was passed by voters, while $947M was defeated across all measures, K-12 and General Obligation.
Scottsdale/Pima County Bonds Mostly Fail
Pima County voters gave a very clear message that they did not want to incur any debt at all to improve county infrastructure, invest in economic development activities, or spend public funds on protecting open space. This came as a shock to both county officials and members of the citizen’s bond committee. Seven measures were presented, seven failed, resulting in over $815M that will not be directed towards projects such as the Oro Valley Business Incubator ($15M), a Southeast branch Library ($6M), and investing in the new Sonoran Corridor Highway ($30M).
Positive and sustained media coverage couldn’t convince voters to tax themselves the equivalent of a ‘latte a month’ for the median-valued home in the County. Speculation about the overall volume exceeding voters appetite for spending has been used to explain the defeat.
Scottsdale voters defeated four of the six questions on the ballot this year. Voters in the City have consistently turned down bond spending for public infrastructure projects in recent past, defeating all measures in 2013. This go-round, questions for funding new fire stations and street improvements did make it through. Failed measures include questions related to new Police Stations, Parks & Community Facilities, Citywide Technology, and Transportation.
K-12 Bonds Mostly Pass
The opposite was true for Public K-12 Districts, passing a total of $977M of the $1,022B on the ballot. Maricopa County had only one bond measure fail: Deer Valley Unified lost the $24M bond issue they were trying for. This is the second time in four years the district had experienced defeat at the ballot, although voters did approve $158.3M in 2013. Larger bond requests like Paradise Valley’s $228M, Chandler’s $196M, and Gilbert’s $98M bonds were passed handily.
Overrides had much less success. The issue may be voter education: overrides don’t allow districts to spend more than they can afford, rather, they enable a district to spend above the state-imposed formulaic rule. The unfortunate reality is that when the state imposed the budgetary limit, they also agreed to fund schools. They’ve not done that, so districts have had to request these overrides to compensate for a portion of what the state should have allocated them in the first place. The recent agreement should ease some of this burden, but it doesn’t provide a permanent or adequate fix for funding K-12 education.