The largest is the $1.5 billion proposition, split into four items, from Fort Worth ISD — the largest in the district’s history. The bond would finance capital expenditures such as construction and renovation of schools throughout the district; renovating a fine arts facility; acquisition of new stadiums; and a replacement of field turf in existing stadiums.
With interest, the Fort Worth ISD item will near $2 billion total.
A state law passed a few years ago required localities to break up their bond proposals rather than lump them all into one.
Other large bonds featured on Tuesday’s ballot include Leander ISD’s that totals $771 million; two Harris County school districts, Alief and Tomball at $541 million and $567 million respectively; and Rockwall ISD’s $476 million bond for campus expansion.
Of the nearly 6,800 bonds voted on since 1951 that the Texas Bond Review Board tracks, only 16.5 percent have been voted down. Over the last decade, that ratio of failed propositions increases slightly to one in five.
Dax Gonzalez, spokesman for the Texas Association of School Boards, told The Texan that most bond propositions are years in the making and rely heavily on forecasting years down the road.
He said, “We have to bear in mind that the bond process can be a years-long process that involves several opportunities for community input along the way, and the level of community input and district outreach can often make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful bond proposal.”
“These bonds are best dealt with on the local level and it’s important for folks to get involved early before it reaches the election so that their voices are heard,” he said.
To enact tax rate increases above the constitutional limit set by 2019’s reforms, 2.5 percent for schools and 3.5 percent for cities and counties, they must receive voter approval. And the ballot captions must specify the proposition would implement a tax increase where applicable.
But capital expenditures are financed either by General Obligation (GO) bonds or revenue bonds. GO bonds are paid for through taxes collected by the borrowing entity and revenue bonds are paid for through revenue brought in by the project it financed.
Over the last decade, tax-supported debt increased 41 percent totaling $51 billion at the end of 2019.
James Quintero, policy director for the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Government for the People initiative, told The Texan, “In fiscal year 2020, the debt owed by Texas’ cities, counties, school districts, and special districts totaled more than $375 billion, or about $50,000 for a family of four.”
“That massive debt carries enormous consequences for today’s taxpayers and tomorrow’s Texans.”
This wave of bond proposals comes after a year of lockdowns mandated by local and state orders and schools across Texas went virtual for their students. Many schools across the state are seeing enrollment dips while more families than ever are choosing to homeschool their children.
Gonzalez said that despite the pandemic’s pressures, bond packages were still passed at a high rate. But he did specify that the pass rate for education-specific projects, such as for school buildings and similar expenditures, was substantially higher than the approval rate for extracurricular-focused proposals.
Those include stadiums and other athletic projects.
According to Gonzalez, localities tend to approve bond proposals at an 80 percent rate.
“Texas’ local governments are addicted to debt, and the longer this habit persists, the greater the threat to taxpayers and fiscal stability,” Quintero added. “Voters should remember this point as they make their way to the ballot box on Tuesday.”
See the full list of the November 2021 bond issues, their amounts, and purposes below.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.