Lawmakers want to ease voter approval for local bond measures

Lawmakers want to make it easier for voters to pass tax increases on local initiatives by amending the state constitution.
Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (right) and Winters City Council Member Jesse Loren (left) participate in a rally promoting a measure that would lower a voter approval threshold for local bond initiatives. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express
Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (right) and Winters City Council Member Jesse Loren (left) participate in a rally promoting a measure that would lower a voter approval threshold for local bond initiatives. Photo by Matthew Keys/Winters Express

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It passed. A few months earlier, officials in Davis asked local voters there to consider a special maintenance tax that would bill residents and non-residents alike around $100 a year to help improve streets, bike paths, sidewalks and other transportation infrastructure. More than 58 percent of voters cast a ballot in favor of that initiative. It failed. Both initiatives were backed by a majority of voters, but only one passed thanks in large part to state law: School bond initiatives require a supermajority of 55 percent of voters in order to pass, but local bond initiatives require a much higher threshold — more than 66 percent of voter approval — to pass. Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, feels that’s unfair. At a press conference in Sacramento last week, the former mayor of Winters said she had first-hand experience with how the threshold disparity favors school bond initiatives over local bond initiatives. “I have seen first hand the deterioration of our once world-class infrastructure,” Aguiar-Curry said. “As local government committee chair, I have heard about deteriorating buildings, decrepit community facility and our extreme lack of affordable housing.” Last year, Aguiar-Curry introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1, an initiative that, if passed, would reduce the threshold of voter approval for local bond initiatives to that same 55 percent that school bond initiatives enjoy. In introducing the bill, Aguiar-Curry said it could help local communities raise money for certain initiatives that may otherwise go unfunded, which could boost local economies, improve quality of life and even encourage development on things such as affordable housing. “By reducing the local vote threshold for approval of bond and local tax measures, from two-thirds to 55 percent, this measure will put power into the hands of local government and local voters,” Aguiar-Curry said. In a one-on-one interview with the Express after the press conference, Aguiar-Curry said she was inspired in part by her time serving on the dais with other city council members in Winters. She said her colleagues often struggled to get things moving when it came to local bond initiatives, and the high threshold that currently exists coupled with competition from similar school bond initiatives, played a large role as to why. “The city manager has had an uphill struggle because he didn’t want to compete with school bonds,” Aguiar-Curry said. “[If ACA 1 passed] I would imagine it would give him the opportunity to tell the community, these are the major projects we want to go after, and this will be the money we’re going to try to raise locally, and that means the city council and the community has to back those bonds.” One city council member, Jesse Loren, appears ready to back certain bonds that may come if ACA 1 is implemented. At last week’s press conference, she threw her support behind Aguiar-Curry’s efforts, citing the city’s long-standing desire to build a sports complex park and the challenges that came with raising funds for it. “The lift is too high,” Loren said. “The two-thirds lift is too high to compete with those ballot measures.” But it isn’t exactly clear if Winters would see any immediate benefit from the constitutional amendment if it is approved: In an email with the Express on Monday, City Manager John Donlevy acknowledged competition with school bond initiatives did force the city to reconsider some of its own local fundraising initiatives on the sports complex park and other projects, but said there were a number of factors at play other than the threshold of voter approval, including the burden of higher taxes on local residents. “We are blessed with a very supportive community, but we also have an obligation to look to the ramifications of tax measures on seniors and lower income housing projects which are not exempt,” Donlevy wrote, noting that Winters residents are currently paying off at least four different school bonds. “Balance is important…we may need to wait a bit if at all before moving forward.” Democratic lawmakers who support ACA 1 are not waiting: They’re forging ahead with ACA 1, saying it is a much-needed tool for cities across California who are able to move forward with desired projects. “We’re opening the doors to our communities if this is [passes],” Aguiar-Curry said. “We need communities to have this in their toolbox to move projects forward.” On Thursday, just one day after the Capitol press conference, ACA 1 cleared a key Assembly local government committee. It now goes to the Assembly Appropriations Committee where the financial impact and other budgetary aspects are considered. If all goes well, voters could cast a ballot on the constitutional amendment during the next general election in November 2020. There, the threshold for approving that initiative is much simpler: Majority rules.]]>

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