HOUSTON--With a whopping slate of bond issues costing more than $2.5 billion all appearing on the same ballot, a new poll suggests Houston voters will probably approve borrowing more money for everything from schools to community colleges and parks to police stations.
All three of the bond proposals covered by the survey – from the Houston Independent School District, the Houston Community College and the City of Houston – are supported by a majority of polled voters.
The bond issues proposed by the three entities will go before voters in November, coinciding with a presidential election in which a central issue is government spending. The timing has led backers of the bonds to worry that voters looking at all those dollar signs on the ballot would just say no, rejecting some or all of the proposals.
"People who study bonds know that the more bonds you put on the ballot, the greater the probability they will all fail," says Bob Stein, a Rice University political scientist who helped conduct the survey. "That’s a common sense, well-established fact."
But this poll, commissioned by a political action committee that was formed to support the HISD bond issue, suggests voters are ready to borrow billions for more local government spending.
The HISD proposal to borrow $1.9-billion is supported by 54-percent of surveyed voters. Another 22-percent oppose it, while 24-percent say they’re unsure.
The numbers look similar for the Houston Community College System’s $425-million bond issue, which is supported by 56-percent of surveyed voters and opposed by 21-percent. Another 23-percent say they’re unsure.
The poll suggests Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s $410-million bond package may pass by a landslide. The city’s bond plans, which will not require a tax increase, are backed by 69-percent of surveyed voters. Only 14-percent of voters oppose the bonds, the poll says, while another 18-percent say they’re unsure.
The survey was conducted by Stein and Richard Murray, a pollster and political scientist with the University of Houston. A total of 601 registered voters were contacted by telephone in late August and early September.
It was bankrolled by Citizens for Better Schools, an example of what’s known as a "special interest PAC." Government entities aren’t allowed to spend taxpayers’ money advocating political positions, so elected officials routinely call upon political supporters to form groups like this to help pass bond issues.
The pollsters suggest that voters support the bond proposals mainly because citizens are optimistic about the city’s future. Questions about the voters’ mood indicate 69-percent believe Houston is "headed in the right direction," while only 20-percent believe the opposite. The rest are unsure.
The survey discovered voters are more likely to support the proposals after they hear about specific improvements to the schools in their neighborhoods. So the HISD bond PAC plans to rent billboard space near many of the schools targeted for renovation.
"Voters recognize it’s important to keep your infrastructure up to date," Stein says. "The average school that we’re talking about here is clearly 50 years of age. You don’t have to tell voters that."
Another financial issue hitting the November ballot has split voters so evenly Stein suggests people don’t even understand it well enough to form an opinion.
Metro wants to quit diverting a quarter of its sales tax money to city and county governments. At the same time, it would limit future expenditures on rail. The details of the plan – using 2014 as a fiscal benchmark and spending all future increases in sales tax revenue on debt, buses and bus shelters – is so complicated Stein believes voters generally don’t know what to think about it.
"The voters don’t have a clue about what this is all about," Stein says.