SAN FRANCISCO — The race for the White House is generating the most headlines in advance of next month’s California presidential primary, but voters in at least 40 jurisdictions around the state will also decide on the fate of more than $4.4 billion of bond measures.
The statewide presidential primary Feb. 5 is a new twist for California — the state will also hold its traditional June primary for local and legislative positions, as well as the November general election, so there will be three statewide elections this year.
Statewide elections are significant for would-be school bond issuers, because the rules that allow school bond measures to pass with 55% of the vote, instead of the two-thirds needed for all other local bond measures, require such bond elections to be held in conjunction with a district-wide vote — and a statewide election fills the bill.
The Palm Springs Unified School District is asking for the most, with a $516 million general obligation bond request. Officials for the 24,000-student district say the money is needed to upgrade its existing schools, build new ones for a projected enrollment increase, and replace portable classrooms with permanent ones.
Other big bond requests come from the San Bernardino Community College District, which is asking for a $500 million authorization, and the Stockton Unified School District, which is asking for $464 million.
Lawmakers voted last year to create the special February presidential primary. The stated reason was to increase the state’s influence in the primary process, because party nominations have usually been wrapped up before the California primary.From 1996 and 2004, the state moved its primaries to March from June, but even that date proved too late to make a difference in the nominating process.
This year, however, the parties still have open fields heading into the Feb. 5 “Super Duper Tuesday,” in which California will be one of 16 states voting.
Oakland-based campaign consultant Larry Tramutola, president of Tramutola LLC, an expert on local tax elections in California, said many more school districts are likely to be on the ballot with bond measures this June, California’s traditional primary date.
He is optimistic about his firm’s two big campaigns next month, a $179 million Poway Unified School District measure and a $440 million Long Beach Community College District bond issue, because both measures would extend existing taxes, rather than impose new ones.
But the drumbeat of bad economic news and the bleak budget picture in Sacramento could weigh on voters this year, Tramutola said.
Without the presidential race to lure voters to the polls, turnout for the June election is expected to be light.
“Because of the low turnout and the economy there are going to be some concerns,” he said.
In addition to choosing their preferred presidential candidates, Californians will vote on seven statewide ballot measures.
Proposition 93, which will be on next month’s ballot, offers the cynically minded another explanation for lawmakers’ decision to schedule an early presidential primary that is separated from the June primaries.
The measure would rearrange the state’s legislative term limits laws. Instead of six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate, Proposition 93 would cut the total limit to 12 years but allow lawmakers to serve them all in one house.
If it passes, it would have the practical effect of extending the careers of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate president pro tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland, who would otherwise be termed out of their offices this year. If it passes, they’ll be free to run in the June primary for new terms in their safe seats.
Other statewide measures appearing in February include Proposition 92, which would guarantee community college districts a cut of state general fund revenues, and four measures regarding tribal gambling compacts.
Lawmakers approved the four compacts last year, but opponents, including horse track owners and non-tribal card clubs, gathered enough signatures to put the compacts in front of state voters. Supporters and opponents of the compacts have each mounted a barrage of advertising.
A number of other local measures, while not deb t requests, would either lead to bond issuance or influence local finances.
In Alameda County, the Children’s Hospital & Research Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, financed a petition drive to place a parcel tax on properties on the countywide ballot. Parcel tax revenues would be used to back bonds to help finance a complete rebuild of the children’s hospital.
After the hospital qualified its ballot measure, county supervisors negotiated a slightly modified version designed to cover the county’s administrative costs, and requiring facilities financed with the tax to remain open to the public.
The county-approved parcel tax went on the ballot as Measure A; while the hospital is pushing Measure A, its own Measure B remains on the ballot as well.
Either measure requires a two-thirds vote to pass; if both are approved the one with the most votes takes effect. Some residents in the hospital’s Oakland neighborhood, who are angry at the size of the new proposed hospital, are campaigning against the measures.
In the Bay Area community of El Cerrito, voters are being asked to approve a half-cent sales tax to finance city street maintenance. The city would issue bonds backed by revenues from the sales tax.
And several cities, notably Los Angeles, have measures on the ballot to rework telephone taxes.
The city’s efforts to collect its 10% telephone tax on cellular phone have been challenged in courts. The ballot measure would set a 9% rate for the new “communications users tax” but explicitly apply it to wireless phones.