HOUSTON—Outside a busy early voting place in the Montrose area, a physical education teacher approached voters with political push cards and a message.
“School bonds,” said Richard Solis. “The bottom of the ballot. It’s the very bottom.”
Solis teaches physical education at Whittier Elementary School, but he and his principal both took a vacation day so they could work the polls and ask voters to back their school district’s bond issue. For them, winning this referendum is worth a day of vacation.
“Yes, it is,” Solis said. “Yes, it is. I feel it’s very important that we can get out here and push this and help out.”
His message seems to be getting through. Voters in the Houston area seem ready to borrow billions of dollars for everything from education to fire stations to bike trails. All of the bond issues on the ballot in Houston have won the support of most voters surveyed in a new poll conducted for KHOU 11 News and KUHF-Houston Public Radio.
“They’re all doing surprisingly well,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist who conducted the poll. The results dovetail with another survey Stein conducted during the summer for the political action committee campaigning for the HISD school bonds.
The school district bond issue is, by far, the largest item on the ballot, asking voters to approve borrowing $1.9-billion spent mainly on the renovation or reconstruction of dozens of HISD schools. Despite the high price tag, 54 percent of surveyed voters said they favored the school bonds, twice the number – 27 percent - of voters who oppose the issue. Another 18 percent said they didn’t know how they would vote. (The numbers don’t always add up to 100 percent because some voters refused to answer certain questions.)
The Houston Community College bond issue which asks for authority to borrow $425 million won support from 59 percent of surveyed voters. It was opposed by 21 percent, with another 16 percent saying they were unsure.
As encouraging as those numbers look to supporters of the education bonds, they’re dwarfed by the overwhelming support indicated for the City of Houston’s bond package. All, but one, of the five Houston bond items on the ballot were favored by more than two-thirds of surveyed voters.
Proposition A, a $144-million public safety proposal that would spend money on renovating and building new police and fire stations, was supported by 58 percent of surveyed voters and opposed by only 21 percent, with 17 percent saying they were unsure.
Proposition B, the biggest ticket item in the city bond package at $166 million, would invest heavily in parks and bike trails, linking the loose network of hike and bike trails around the city. It was supported by 67 percent of surveyed voters and opposed by 27 percent, with only 6 percent saying they were unsure.
Proposition C, a $57 million bond issue that would take care of a laundry list of public improvement projects – from repairs at City Hall to renovating a recycling facility – won the support of 76 percent of voters and was opposed by 17 percent.
Proposition D, a $28 million bond issue for renovating and replacing some city libraries, was supported by 71 percent of surveyed voters and opposed by 23 percent.
Proposition E, which would spend $15 million on destroying blighted buildings and make way for affordable housing, was supported by 66 percent of surveyed voters and opposed by 27 percent.
“Houstonians have always understood that you have to continue to invest in capital projects,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker. “You have to rebuild the city, over and over again.”
Opponents of the bond issue, including conservative activists Dave Wilson and Bruce Hotze, have launched direct mail campaigns and printed yard signs. But the polling indicates their message hasn’t gained enough traction to defeat any of the issues.
Although all of the bond issues appear to be on track to pass, Stein noticed an interesting pattern. The HISD and community college bonds, which would require tax increases, were favored by a smaller majority of surveyed voters than the City of Houston bonds, which do not require a tax hike.
“The larger the bond and the bigger the tax increase, the lower the level of support,” Stein observed.
Interestingly enough, the survey also revealed surprisingly low approval ratings for HISD. About 41 percent of polled voters said they approve of the job HISD is doing, compared to about 42 percent who said they disapproved. That indicates voters who are roughly split on how well HISD is doing its job are nonetheless ready to pass the largest school board bond issue in the state.