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How many bonds are too many?

We may find out this November.

Houston voters may face a dizzying array of decisions in November as the city, school district and community college system seek authority to borrow more than $2 billion for construction work.

The multiple measures have the potential to transform the nation’s fourth-largest city with upgraded parks, libraries, grade schools and colleges, but a crowded field means competition for voters’ attention and, in some cases, their pocketbooks.

The Houston Independent School District and Houston Community College anticipate phasing in property tax increases, while Mayor Annise Parker emphasized that her $410 million package would hold the city’s tax rate steady. The plans still must be approved by elected school trustees and City Council, respectively, before going to voters.

Metro also is considering a referendum on whether it should be allowed to keep billions of dollars in sales tax over two decades that otherwise would go to local cities.

“People will not cherry-pick,” said City Controller Ronald Green. “They are going to either believe that this is one big concerted effort to make the city better, or they’re going to just believe that they want to keep their money in their pockets and move on.”

I think there’s something to that, though I don’t believe the bond issues will necessarily all rise or fall together. We passed the other Harris County bonds back in 2007 when the one to expand the jail was voted down. People are still capable of making up their own minds, and if all these issues are fairly close you could easily have some pass and some fail. That said, I completely agree that the best strategy is for all of the bond-hopeful entities to be supportive of each other and play up the necessity of investing in infrastructure now, while interest rates and costs are low. Hang together or hang separately and all that. This isn’t zero sum, everyone can be a winner. It can only help to all be rowing in the same direction.

One more thing:

All the measures could be bolstered or buffeted by the partisan politics of a presidential election, said Michael Adams, director of the master of public administration program at Texas Southern University.

If President Barack Obama carries the city of Houston, Adams said, he could lift the down-ballot questions to victory as well. If a conservative anti-government crowd wins the day on Nov. 6, it could spell doom for the measures.

Should a unified anti-bond effort emerge, it could present problems for the entire campaign.

“If” Obama carries the city of Houston? Dude, Obama received over 60% of the vote in the city of Houston in 2008. If he is struggling to get a majority in Houston, it means he’s getting his butt kicked coast to coast. That is not remotely representative of the polling data. All of these bond issues are going to be fought on mostly Democratic, mostly minority turf. The key to getting them passed is coalition support, which starts with ensuring that everyone feels like they have a stake in the outcome. The Presidential race will affect the turnout, but the partisan vote is not going to be an issue.

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