Bond proposals received wide support in Texas
Texas voters approved $14.5 billion of the record $16 billion of bonds on Nov. 5 ballots, according to state and local election results.
Of 94 proposals, 24 were defeated, the largest of which was Midland Independent School District’s $569 million issue that fell 25 votes short in a recount of 23,361 cast. The narrow defeat in the heart of the Permian Basin came despite the backing of the region’s oil industry and Midland Chamber of Commerce.
Elsewhere, 56 school districts saw a nearly 80% passage of $6.92 billion of proposals for a total of $5.5 billion of new bond authority, according to results compiled by the Texas Comptroller’s Office.
Aside from the Midland ISD defeat, the other 15 school bond proposals over $100 million won approval.
“The failures happened in the lower-valued bonds,” said Joe Smith, former school superintendent and founder of TexasISD.com. “Contracting or declining enrollment districts often need facilities just like a growing district. The communities around declining districts are often declining as well and the people are not as apt to vote yes."
The largest school bond proposal in the state came from Arlington Independent School District, which won nearly 67% of the vote in favor of its record $966 million proposal. A simple majority is all that is needed. The bonds will finance improvements at all schools, including rebuilding of four, without a change in the property tax rate.
“Our plan is to complete the entire 2019 bond program within five years,” AISD Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said in a video response to the favorable election results.
Arlington ISD’s request comes five years after voters approved $663 million, leaving the district with about $1 billion of debt with underlying ratings of Aa1 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA by S&P Global Ratings. Texas GO school bonds are further enhanced by the triple-A wrap of the Permanent School Fund.
Two days after the successful election AISD held a topping out ceremony at the Fine Arts Center and Athletics Complex adjacent to the Dallas Cowboys stadium, which was financed by the 2014 bonds.
Another north Texas school district, Forney ISD southeast of Dallas, won approval of $623 million with 73% support. Forney ISD’s bonds overlapped with a Kaufman County request for $154 million of bonds that won 85% support.
In the northern suburbs of Houston, Conroe ISD won 56% approval of the state’s second-largest school bond proposal A of $653 million for traditional school projects but saw a request for $23.8 million for artificial turf on athletic fields defeated with 54% opposed. The pared-down proposal came six months after voters rejected an $807 million proposal, with 54% opposed.
Also in the Houston area, Waller ISD voters approved $295 million of bonds as Cleveland ISD won approval of $198 million.
“It was a reasonably successful election compared to past years and does lead to agreement that bonds are easier to pass when the economy is doing well,” Smith said.
In the only community college district proposal, Tarrant County Community College District won strong support for a record $825 million of bonds, its first request in 20 years.
In addition to school districts, the state, a transit district, 10 cities and four counties also sought bond approval, with most passing easily.
The Metro Transit Authority topped all ballot measures on the ballot nationally with a $3.5 billion proposal to expand rail, bus rapid transit and other systems in the congested Houston area.
“Metro will borrow up to the approved $3.5 billion in bonds as needed,” the authority said after winning 68% approval. “Funding for the rest of the $7.5 billion plan is expected to come from matching federal grants and future revenue.”
The Greater Houston Partnership was among backers of the bonds. In a statement, partnership CEO Bob Harvey said he was pleased with the public's support.
“This is a good win for Houston, as our ability to quickly and efficiently move people around the region is key to our continued growth and success," Bob Harvey, chief executive of the partnership, said in a prepared statement after the election. "The MetroNext plan is reasonable and prudent, and we appreciate the importance Metro placed on fiscal responsibly while enhancing regional mobility."
Statewide, 64% of voters approved another $3 billion of bond authority for the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, and 65% supported $200 million of bonds for the Texas Water Development Board’s assistance for economically disadvantaged areas.
The TWDB was also authorized to manage an $800 million fund for flood prevention and recovery that would be exempt from legislative forays. The money would come from the state’s rainy day fund and could lead to future bond issues. Nearly 78% of voters supported the measure.
Ten Texas cities sought $902 million of bond authority, with $867 million or 96% winning approval.
El Paso topped the cities ballot with $413 million of bonds to maintain and repair aging police and fire department facilities. Voters showed strong support for the measure.
Ysleta ISD, El Paso’s third-largest school district, also won $425 million of bond authority.
In the Dallas suburbs, Denton voters approved three of four proposals on the ballot for $221 million as voters in Addison approved all five proposals for $70.6 million.
In the Houston area, Sugar Land voters approved four proposals worth $91 million. In Friendswood, voters approved three of six proposals for $52 million.
Four counties sought bonds, led by Williamson County, whose voters approved $447 million for roads and traditional projects in the rapidly growing Austin suburbs.
Camp County’s request for $14 million to build a new jail was the only county proposal rejected. About $867 million or 98% of the county proposals were approved.