Perhaps my biggest accomplishment in politics was coming up with the idea of itemizing bond proposals.
I came up with the idea after watching a local bond election where one school board put a new stadium up for a bond vote, but voters did not approve the proposal.
Then the school board turned right around and held another bond election vote a mere one year later, this time with some school buildings on the ballot. At the last minute, the board added the previously voted-down stadium into the bond proposal along with the school buildings, and the proposal passed.
Much to my astonishment (and perhaps with the backing of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, albeit I’m not sure), a bill was passed into law during the 2019 Legislature, and the law (Senate Bill 30) went into effect in September 2019.
The law is germane only to school bond elections. I was astonished because although I had come up with the idea and had advocated for it, I did very little personally to get the idea pushed through the Legislature.
I’ve been keeping an ongoing track of the effects of the law since its inception.
During the November 2022 elections, 140 school bond propositions were put up for a vote across Texas; eighty-one of them passed, while 59 failed. The total amount of borrowing involved in all of the school bond proposals amounted to $15.45 billion.
In particular, I have been interested in school bond proposals that had more than one element to them. I am not interested in bonds where there was only one item or element up for a vote. My reasoning for this was that my idea would not have made a difference in a single bond proposal election. Either the item gets passed or it doesn’t.
Also, I wasn’t interested in multi-item bond proposals where all of the proposals pass or fail. In that case, my idea didn’t make a difference either.
What I was (and am) interested in is multi-item bond proposals where one or more of the items passed, while the others failed. That indicates to me that my thoughts had merit, in that before the law was passed, certain interest or pressure groups were piling their pet projects onto the bond proposal in order to get what they wanted. Now, they were forced to pass or fail on their own merits.
By these yardsticks, I calculated that some $675 million in school bond proposals that were put up during the November 2022 election (around 4.5 percent) failed that otherwise would have likely passed under the old law. In keeping step with previous elections, the large majority of those proposals included palaces to the sports gods and other athletic-related facilities, albeit some theater and performance arts facilities were also voted down.
My personal favorite was a $17 million proposed aquatics center, which was voted down by residents in Port Isabel ISD.
In some elections, the swing in the vote between bond elements that pass and those that fail can be pretty significant.
For example, Lake Travis ISD held a bond election in November 2022 that had a $548 million school and bus component. Additionally, the district had a $60 million technology component and a $93.8 million athletics stadium on the ballot. The schools and bus component, as well as the technology component, both passed with 52 percent of the vote, while the stadium vote failed with only 36 percent of voters voting in favor.
By my tabulating, I estimate that some $4-4.5 billion in school bond projects have been voted down since the law was passed in 2019. And in every election, it keeps on saving Texas taxpayers from paying for stuff that they likely would not have wanted to pay for before the law was passed.
Information about local government bond elections can be found on the Texas Bond Review Board website.
This is a commentary published with the author’s permission. If you wish to submit a commentary to Texas Scorecard, please submit your article to firstname.lastname@example.org.