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Here come the city bonds

For your approval.

Houston voters will decide in November whether local governments can borrow more than $2.7 billion for schools, parks, libraries and public safety.

City Council OK’d its portion of that total Wednesday, a $410 million package of bond measures. The crowded and costly ballot during a presidential election has some questioning whether voters will balk at the price tag.

“I think the voters are going to most likely turn down all bond referendums on the November ballot,” Councilman Mike Sullivan said. “There is very little sentiment for more tax dollars to be spent right now on virtually anything. You can look at the Cruz campaign and the way that that election turned out, and there’s a message there. People are fed up. People are tired of excessive spending.”

Sure, because a statewide Republican primary runoff is exactly like a Presidential year general election in a city that voted 61% for Obama in 2008. Makes total sense to me.

The bond measures come up this year as part of a routine cycle of going to voters every five to seven years for the equivalent of pre-approval for a mortgage so the city can borrow money to fix and replace its buildings, parks, streets and drainage.

The city’s last bond package of $625 million received voter approval in 2006. This year’s proposals would pay for the city’s recently approved five-year capital improvement projects list, which includes new police and fire stations, library renovations, playgrounds installed in parks and repairs to health and sanitation department facilities. By city ordinance, about $4.8 million will be spent on civic art as part of the projects.

Price tag aside, the campaigns face a challenge in educating voters about so many propositions, said Michael Adams, professor of political science at Texas Southern University.

“There can be some ballot fatigue in terms of the number of items” voters are being asked to understand and decide on,” Adams said.

All due respect to Prof. Adams, but I’d like to see some empirical data before accepting that proposition as fact. Heck, I’m not even sure what that evidence would look like. How do you measure “ballot fatigue”? How does a fatigued voter differ from a non-fatigued voter? Seems to me that such a voter would skip voting on a referendum, not stick it out to the end in order to vote against it in a fatigued fit of pique. Show me how you can measure this, and then I’ll tell you if I buy it.

One thing I can tell you is that there’s already a campaign going on to generate support for the parks referendum, which is Proposition B. We got a call on Tuesday night – before Council officially approved the ballot item – from Parks By You asking us to support it. An email sent to a neighborhood mailing list from another recipient of a Parks By You call suggests they’re already hard at work. Will there be organized opposition to this bond, or any of the others? That’s always the question. You can see more details on the bond referenda here, and Stace has more.

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  1. […] broadly, there was a whole lot of ink spilled during the election season about ballot fatigue and conservative anti-government surges and fragile economies and what have you, and in the end […]

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