SAN FRANCISCO - Last week's election was one of the most successful in years for backers of local bond and tax measures in California, according to an authority on the subject.
"Across almost every category, approval rates of local revenue measures are as high or higher than those of similar measures since 2001," local government finance expert Michael Coleman wrote in a comprehensive review of those measures published last week.
When it came to school and local government bonds, voters were generous, approving 93 of 103 referendums, according to preliminary results.
The final results could shift slightly, as the counting of late and absentee ballots could swing a handful of measures that are very close to the required margin of passage.
But the overall picture is clear, as preliminary results indicate that voters approved $23.877 billion of local bonds, and turned down only $223.48 million.
Combined with the passage of $11.83 billion in statewide bond measures, California voters approved more than $35.3 billion in new indebtedness.
Such results were not widely expected, given California's rising unemployment rate and the affect of the subprime mortgage meltdown here.
But the tough times may have actually helped many bond and tax measures, according to Barbara O'Connor, a professor of political communications at California State University, Sacramento.
"I think when you're in dire times you are more sympathetic to others who are as well," she said.
Enthusiasm for Barack Obama, who carried almost 61% of the California vote, may have drawn voters predisposed to support things like schools and hospitals, O'Connor said.
"The huge turnout for Obama had a lot of first-time voters, a lot of Latino voters, a lot of black voters, and they tend to see it that way," she said.
Statewide, voters approved a $9.95 billion bond to start a high-speed passenger train system, a $980 million bond to benefit children's' hospitals, and a $900 million measure to back mortgage bonds for veterans. They rejected a $5 billion bond measure to subsidize alternative fuel vehicles.
Voters appear to have seen the high-speed rail bond as an investment in future growth, she said.
Other votes, for schools and even a state ballot measure to require more space for egg-laying chickens, might be interpreted as sympathy votes, she said.
"It's kind of, 'Let's be generous in spirit to those who are suffering,' " O'Connor said. "Sick children, veterans, the poor chickens, all those things have a resonance."
Voters approved four local bond referendums that topped the billion-dollar mark, led by the $7 billion Los Angeles Unified School District measure.
The biggest local bond measure to fail was $93.5 million for the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District.
There were eight local bond measures for purposes other than schools, all of which required a two-thirds vote. "All passed, a surprisingly high success rate given historic passage rates and the current condition of the economy," according to Coleman's report.
They included an $887 million measure to rebuild San Francisco's general hospital, and an $840 million measure for the Santa Clara County hospital.
Voters were also generous to some other revenue measures.
There were 21 school district proposals for parcel taxes on properties to provide operating funds. They require a two-thirds vote, and 17 appear to have passed, Coleman said.
Local sales tax measures, which require two-thirds votes, didn't fare as well, he reported. Six of 13 passed, though a Santa Clara tax proposal to extend rapid transit may pass after provisional and late absentee ballots are tallied.