California voters could wait weeks for final tally on bond measures

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Learning the final outcome for many California bond and tax measures could take until Dec. 11 as the California Secretary of State has until then to certify the results.

Many California voters used mail-in ballots before this year, and this year, amid the pandemic, a mail-in ballot was sent to every voter.

While ballots received before Election Day are counted on election night, those arriving or submitted on Election Day can take some time to process and count. Ballots are accepted if they are postmarked by Election Day.

Election workers sort ballots for the 2020 Presidential election in San Francisco Tuesday.

That means it's not uncommon for the outcome of elections and bond measures to remain unclear until several weeks after the election.

As of Wednesday morning, millions of ballots remain to be counted, though about 11.4 million had been tallied.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported Oct. 30 that 88% of eligible voters had registered to vote. With 22 million Californians registered, the state had surpassed 2016 with 2.6 million more registered voters by the end of October.

Among statewide referendums, Proposition 14, a $5.5 billion bond measure to fund stem cell research, had 51.1% of the votes tallied as of late Wednesday morning.

Proposition 15, which would create a split-roll on property taxes, was trailing with 51.7% against in the ballots tallied as of Wednesday morning.

It would eliminate for much commercial real estate the cap on how much the assessed value on a property can grow year-over-year, thereby raising property tax revenue.

The measure was placed on the ballot through a petition campaign by education advocates to secure additional funding for education and the Legislative Analyst's Office has estimated it could bring in up to $11.5 billion per year in new property taxes.

Bob Shrum, the director of the center for political future at USC Dornsife, called Proposition 15 “touch and go” last week during the Bond Buyer’s California Public Finance Conference. He suggested the measure would have been more likely to pass if the state were not in this “COVID-induced recession.”

“There is evidence that voters are viewing it as, first they come for commercial real estate and next they will be coming for my home,” Shrum said.

Proposition 19, which could alter residential property tax rules, allowing homeowners over 55, disabled or wildfire/disaster victims to transfer primary residence’s tax base to a new home, was coming in at 51.5% in favor in early vote totals.

Michael Coleman, principal fiscal advisor to both the California Society of Municipal Finance officers and the League of California Cities, keeps tabs on local tax elections and his first post-election report Wednesday afternoon said bond measures and local tax measures appear to be faring well..

His October preview of the election counts 60 school bond measures requesting a total of $13.4 billion of bonds. Among those are the $7 billion Los Angeles Unified School District Measure RR, the $835 million San Jose – Evergreen Community College District Measure J, and the $735 million Oakland Unified School District Measure Y.

The Los Angeles and Oakland school bonds appear to be well on their way to passing, but the San Jose-Evergreen measure was below the 55% threshold needed to pass, with an estimated 58% of the vote counted as of Wednesday morning, according to the Santa Clara County elections office.

In all, according to Coleman, 45 of the 60 school bond measures appear on track to pass with another nine too close to call.

The $1.9 billion of non-school general obligation bond measures include the $900 million San Diego Measure A and the $488 million Proposition A, both for supportive housing for vulnerable people, and the $425 million Washington Township Health Care District GO bond measure in Alameda County.

Those measures require two-thirds supermajorities. The San Diego measure appeared headed to defeat Wednesday, San Francisco's likely to win, and the healthcare district's bond measure too close to call.

Bond market participants had theorized ahead of the election as to why the number of local school bond measures was down significantly compared to previous presidential elections.

Coleman tallied 260 local tax and bond measures on California ballots this election, substantially fewer than in November 2016 or 2018. He said the difference is mostly bonds and special taxes that have higher voter approval thresholds.

Update
The story was updated to include Michael Coleman's initial post-election review of local tax measures.
November 04, 2020 5:36 PM EST
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