proposed bond ballot question
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proposed bond ballot question

This is an open letter to the authors and sponsors of AB 1194 and their colleagues in the Assembly and Senate.

I have an extremely jaded view of anyone who receives a government paycheck. You have an opportunity to get me to make an exception.

What's Wrong With AB 1194?

AB 1194 is worse than nothing at all.

  1. The conditional clause in the operative language is wide enough to drive the proverbial truck through.
  2. It implies that some bond measures may not raise taxes.
  3. It gives discretion to the elections official who knows nothing about the measure itself.
  4. There is no sanction for not doing it, and therefore it is merely a suggestion.
  5. On its face, it's confusing even to someone of average intelligence.
  6. It presumes that a voter knows what "assessed valuation" and all those numbers mean and how it relates to their vote. (Given California's schools ranking (49th) just above New Mexico (50th) in the most recent reading scores, this is not just academic.)
  7. It uses an average which is based only on residential property, which is a number that the elections official will have to calculate through a request to the assessor's office.
  8. Any average is misleading.
  9. Voters who don't pay property tax may be misled to believe that the taxes won't affect them.
  10. It hides the underlying absolute obligation to pay no matter how high the rate required to fund the repayment.

I can't imagine who came up with this language, because I can't believe that anyone who truly understands it would approve it. I would imagine that election officials would be unanimously opposed to it.

If you truly wish to do something about the corruption and theft perpetrated by the school bonds cartel behind Proposition 39 bond measures, then I urge you to consider removing the 75-word question from the control of bond counsel (see my testimony snippet below).

What's the Problem?

All local bond measures are general obligation bonds secured by an unlimited (estimates are just that) ad valorem property tax. The other bonds that local agencies can approve are secured by the general fund and do not require voter approval.

Given this fact, the only difference between one measure and another should be the "list of the specific school facilities projects to be funded." (See full testimony for treatment of that issue.)

Currently, the 75-word question is ALWAYS (literally) deceptive because it is NOT FACTUAL in any way. It is a list of promises that will never be kept. The voter can only learn that if they actually read the measure.

Last year, in my post-election, random survey of voters, I learned that over 90% of the voters never read the measure itself, only the question. The measure is disconnected from the question both on the ballot being voted and in the ballot pamphlet. Many voters did not even realize that the text of the measure was in the ballot pamphlet.

If the consequences of the vote is not pointed out, voters simply default to the salesy, feel-good, marketing language, all of which is speculative, and vote in favor.

Voting to pass a school bond is like signing a contract that is blank except for the part that obligates you to pay. Voters are unable to enforce the terms of the bond measure because the measure is written by bond counsel in such a way as to make it impossible to enforce on the district. If this were a consumer transaction or home improvement contract, it would be fraud. The school bonds cartel doesn't care. It just sees dollar signs all around.

Example Questions From November 2016 Ballot

Here are some of the 75-word questions that voters confronted around the state in the last election.

Fresno County Measure X

CLASSROOM EDUCATION, NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL REPAIR,
STUDENT SAFETY MEASURE

To attract / retain quality teachers and repair / upgrade schools by:

  • Improving classrooms, career-technical facilities, science labs, technology;
  • Repairing deteriorating restrooms, plumbing, air conditioning, wiring;
  • Removing asbestos / lead hazards;
  • Upgrading security cameras, lighting, fencing, fire safety;
  • Repairing, building, acquiring facilities / equipment;
  • Securing State funds;

Shall Fresno Unified School District issue $225 million in bonds, at legal rates, requiring audits, citizens' oversight, no money for administrators' salaries, all funds spent locally?

Los Angeles County Measure BB

To upgrade/repair all neighborhood school classrooms and retain/attract quality teachers by renovating all science, technology, engineering, art/math labs/classrooms, and athletic facilities; ensuring drinking water safety; repairing, constructing, equipping/acquiring educational facilities to prepare students for college and 21st century vocational jobs/careers, shall Hacienda La Puente Unified School District issue up to $148,000,000 in bonds at legal rates, requiring audits, citizens' oversight, no money for administrators' salaries, and all funds used locally?

San Francisco County Measure A*

To repair and rehabilitate San Francisco Unified School District facilities to current accessibility, health, safety, seismic and instructional standards, replace worn-out plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and major building systems, renovate outdated classrooms and training facilities, construct school facilities and replace aging modular classrooms, improve information technology systems and food service preparation systems, shall the San Francisco Unified School District issue bonds in an amount not to exceed $744,250,000 at legal rates, with annual audits, and citizen's oversight?

* Note that San Francisco Unified didn't even mention the $5,000,000 that the district illegally proposed to donate to another agency for "affordable housing" for teachers.

Sonoma County Measure C

To bring all classrooms up to the same standard and protect quality education with funding that cannot be taken by the State, shall Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District improve classrooms, science labs and libraries to meet modern educational/safety standards; remove lead/asbestos where found; and add multiuse classrooms for performing arts/science/vocational education programs; by issuing $80 million in bonds, at legal rates, with citizens' oversight, annual audits, no money for administrators, and all funds staying local?

Is There a Solution?

This is my revised version of a universal ballot question for all general obligation bonds from my testimony to the Little Hoover Commission.

"Shall the _____ District be authorized to issue $_____ of general obligation bonds, to be paid back to investors with interest estimated at $_____, secured by taxes on your property, to complete the projects contained in the list of the specific school facilities projects to be funded, as printed in the measure reproduced in the ballot pamphlet?"

You'll know you've hit the mark when the school bonds cartel comes out against it.

To make it effective, create a provision that voids any election in which the precise language is not used.

Analysis of Proposal

Since most voters know neither about the allegedly independent analysis by county counsel nor about the allegedly good-faith tax rate statement, this proposed question brings both of those generally superfluous (because no one reads them or understands what they mean) pieces of ballot pamphlet clutter right to the point at which a voter makes the ultimate decision.

If there's any question in the voter's mind, the printed ballot pamphlet materials can be found with a little effort.

One hoped-for result of the proposed question is that voters will actually take, at least, a glance at the actual measure on which they are voting. Perhaps they'll even ask themselves the most critical question. Where's the list of the specific school facilities projects to be funded? Why? Because it is, intentionally, not there. By going door-to-door posing that question in the lead-up to the November 2015 election, I was able to single-handedly defeat a local bond measure.

If the purpose of elections materials is to inform voters, rather than pull the wool over their eyes, then this makes the measure not only much more transparent, but also, more importantly, factual.

The districts have plenty of opportunity to make their unenforceable promises in the their marketing materials, using both district money and school bonds cartel money from those who realize massive profits in public contracting.

The school bonds cartel, led by lobbyists such as the Coalition For Adequate School Housing (C.A.S.H.) and a host of other well-sounding, alphabet soup organizations, have perfected a blueprint for extracting money from California property owners for its own enrichment. The cartel greases the machine and reaps the profits. Have you ever wondered why, after 16 years under Proposition 39, the schools around the state are in such bad shape? The districts will never fix the allegedly leaky roofs or remove the alleged asbestos, because the cartel needs those and other scare tactics to keep the money spigot flowing. All you have to do to prove this is to read your district's previous bond measures where those things were all promised to be fixed.

The cartel's mantra is "tell the voters anything to get a yes vote and decide the details later when no one's paying attention." However morally deficient and dishonest, it works.

It's not just school bonds. Witness last November's Los Angeles County Measure M, allegedly a transportation infrastructure improvement measure to fix potholes. After its passage, we now learn that politicians are positioning themselves to use those funds for other purposes than were promised in the ballot question.

Supporting Materials

The following is a snippet from my testimony to the Little Hoover Commission's hearing on Bond Oversight (September 2016).

One easily overlooked issue is the writing of the question to which the voters actually say "Yes" or "No." Currently, this is pure marketing hype that gives an unfair advantage to the proponents. It can also be wholly removed from what the measure will actually do. How is it that state measures undergo such scrutiny of the title and the question and bond counsel can create a formulaic question using focus-group-tested language? In my opinion, the question could be set in stone -- "Shall the XXX district be authorized to issue $$$ of bonds, to be paid back to investors with interest, secured by taxes on your property, to complete the projects contained in the project list?"

Link to Bond Oversight study page:

Little Hoover Commission Hearing on Bond Oversight

Link to my full testimony (23 pages):

Testimony of Richard Michael

 


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