LOS ANGELES — California has $41.72 billion of bond measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, representing more than half of the $70.68 billion voters will consider nationally, according to Ipreo data.
Several local measures ask voters to approve multi-billion-dollar debt issuances. That, combined with the sheer number of both state and local measures, has resulted in the massive number.
"There are more local revenue measures on the California ballots this November than any of the five prior gubernatorial or presidential elections," said Michael Coleman, principal fiscal policy advisor to the League of California Cities, and creator of CaliforniaCityFinance.com.
K-12 school districts and community colleges are requesting a total of $25.3 billion in 184 separate authorizations for bonds to construct facilities, acquire equipment and make repairs and upgrades, according to a report by Coleman.
There are another 12 GO bond measures from cities, counties and special districts. There are 22 measures to increase or extend school parcel taxes.
In all, California has 650 local measures on the ballot, of which 427 are local tax and bond measures, according to Coleman's report.
The state had 240 local revenue measures on the ballot in the November 2012 presidential election, of which 178 passed; it had 233 during the 2008 presidential election, of which 177 passed.
The two largest local bond measures are the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority's Measure RR request for $3.5 billion of general obligation bonds; and the Los Angeles Community College District's Measure CC, asking for $3.5 billion in GO bond authority.
The Long Beach Unified School District is seeking $1.5 billion.
Other big non-school bond measures include the $1.2 billion Los Angeles homeless housing and services Measure HHH and Santa Clara County's $950 million affordable housing Measure A.
The state also has 17 initiatives on the ballot, several of which are bond-related, contributing to voter instruction guides spanning more than 200 pages.
If voters are fatigued by the huge ballot, Coleman said it is less likely to impact local school and tax measures, because people tend to have more affinity for local issues.
Gov. Jerry Brown's support has been instrumental in the passage of statewide measures in previous elections. Proposition 2, which established a reserve fund, and Proposition 1, a $7.2 billion water bond, both in 2014, were approved by voters with Brown's support.
He has come out strongly against Proposition 53, a measure that would require revenue bonds over $2 billion be approved by voters.
Despite protestations by Dean Cortopassi, the agriculture magnate who paid to put the measure on the ballot, it is widely believed that the measure is aimed at the high-speed rail and Delta water tunnel projects, both Brown favorites.
Last week, the anti-Prop. 53 campaign began running television commercials featuring the governor, in which he argues that the measure would take away local control, increase the cost of infrastructure, and be bad for California.
The only statewide bond measure this year is the $9 billion Proposition 51, which would provide $6 billion for K-12 schools, $1 billion for charter schools and vocational education, and $2 billion for community colleges.
Backers qualified the measure through petitions, because it was going nowhere in the legislature without the governor's support.
Brown has argued, without success, for a complete overhaul of the system the state uses to decide which K-12 schools and community colleges get state GO bond funds, saying the current process is too complicated and favors large and wealthy school districts over smaller and poorer ones.
Voters have approved $35 billion in statewide GO bonds for K-12 schools and community colleges since 1998, but all but $286 million had been allocated as of November 2014.
S&P Global Ratings analysts wrote in an Oct. 31 report that they don't anticipate that Proposition 51 would have a significant effect on the state's GO debt burden; the outstanding amount that the state issued for governmental activities stood at $76.9 billion at the end of fiscal 2015.
One reason there are so many school bond measures on this ballot is that school districts and their advisors think floating a local school bond measure on the same ballot with the statewide school bond could increase the odds of passage, Coleman said. He added that some also want to have local funding available if the state bond measure passes, because it requires local matching funds.
"I think the state bond measure has pushed some; but what is more likely is that we have 15 years of election data since the passage of Proposition 39 and the numbers are obvious that bond measures on a presidential ballot have a higher probability of winning," said Dale Scott, president of Dale Scott & Co., a San Francisco-based financial advisor that works with school districts.
Prop 39, passed in 2000, lowered the threshold school districts need to pass most GO bond measures to 55% from two-thirds.
Its passage triggered a boom in local school bonds. Since then, voters have authorized more than $103 billion of local GO bonds for schools and community colleges, according to the California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission.
Scott added that a much larger number of smaller school districts are going out for bonds this year.
"We are working with some fairly small school districts that don't have any other alternatives, so now they are turning to voters," he said.
Coleman also said that Proposition 55, which would extend an income tax increase on earnings above $250,000 from its 2018 expiration through 2030, could also be a factor in the plethora of school bond measures.
About 89% of revenue from the Proposition 55 tax increase would go toward K-12 schools and 11% to state community colleges. An additional $2 billion would be allocated in certain years to Medi-Cal and other health programs.
The campaigns for both Proposition 51 and 55 also promote the need for education funding, which could also have the spillover impact of convincing voters to vote for local school measures, Coleman said.
If June's statewide primary was an indication, than California local measures should fare well Tuesday.
California voters approved 70 local revenue measures, including $5.8 billion of local government bonds out of a requested $6.5 billion across 48 measures in June 7.
"The results demonstrate a credit positive trend of strengthening voter approval for local revenue measures; the passage rate was 79%, up from 67% in 2008," Moody's Investors Service wrote in a June report. "The trend reflects increased voter willingness to support spending and capital improvement initiatives, which for general obligation bonds was particularly robust with voters approving 89.5% of measures."
K-12 and community college districts with tax-backed bonds continue to receive the highest levels of voter support; voters approved 40 of 45 GO bonds to fund school construction and facility improvements, representing the vast majority of bonds approved statewide in June.
A poll released by the Public Policy Institute of California on Oct. 26, however, shows Proposition 51 struggling with only 46% of voters in support while Proposition 55 showed 59% in favor.
"The state school bond continues to struggle to reach the majority needed to pass, while earlier support has held for state propositions that would legalize marijuana, extend the tax increase on the wealthy, and raise taxes on cigarettes," said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and chief executive officer, in a release.