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Mixed Results on Bonds and Taxes for Colleges and Research

November 7, 2007

Election Day 2007 was encouraging for many colleges as a number of key bond measures passed, although one failed in New Jersey and Washington State voters appeared to be passing an anti-tax measure that could lead to tight state budgets in the future. Community colleges experienced mixed results on local bond votes.

In Texas, voters approved measures to create a $3 billion fund for cancer research and for $500 million in additional support for student loans. Both measures will be supported through issuing bonds.

In Maine, not all votes are officially counted as of 4 a.m., but voters were backing with about 51 percent margins two bond measures. One would provide $50 million for a research and technology fund, with much of the money expected to support projects by researchers in the state. The other would provide $43 million for facilities at public colleges and universities.

The surprise bond defeat of the day was in New Jersey, where voters rejected a proposal to create a $450 million fund to support research with stem cells. Because of the Bush administration's strict limits on support for stem cell research, states have been creating their own funds. As in other states that have created these funds, anti-abortion groups in New Jersey campaigned against the measure, but political analysts were saying that voter concern about state debt levels -- not their views on stem cell research -- may have been the deciding factor.

At the local level, voters approved bonds for several community college districts that will allow them to proceed with the renovation and expansion of facilities. Among those institutions: Brazosport College, in Texas ($70 million, with details on how the funds will be spent available here); Central Piedmont Community College, in North Carolina ($30 million, with details on the spending plan here); and Durham Technical Community College, in North Carolina ($8.7 million).

Other local tax campaigns for community colleges were defeated. A bid to extend a special property tax rate for Wayne County Community College, in Michigan, was defeated. But The Detroit News noted that the college brought the measure to voters three years before the expiration of the special tax, giving the college time to regroup and schedule another vote. Lake Michigan College appears to have narrowly lost a bid to create a 10-year tax increase for more support, and officials told The Kalamazoo Gazette that the defeat could lead to program and other cuts. In Missouri, voters rejected by a large margin a tax plan to support Ozarks Technical Community College.

In Washington State voters appeared to be backing a measure that would require a two-thirds vote of legislators or a vote of taxpayers to approve tax increases. Such measures aren't directed specifically at higher education, but make it more difficult for public colleges to win appropriations victories as "super majorities" are hard to pull together for taxes. Voters also appeared to be passing a measure that would lift many limits on where funds for public colleges may be invested.

Drinking Debate in Iowa City

The election measure on the 2007 ballot with the most student interest was in Iowa City, where University of Iowa students rallied against a proposal to bar those under the age of 21 from bars after 10 p.m. Proponents said that the measure would cut down on illegal drinking by students who are 19 and 20, some of whom apparently go to the bars for reasons other than discussing their classes and current events. Bar owners and students objected.

An editorial in The Daily Iowan said that the measure would have endangered student health by just sending underage drinkers elsewhere, likely to places where they would be less safe than the heavily monitored downtown district where most bars are located. At the same time, the editorial questioned the sincerity of others making that same argument and suggested that too many ignore the reality that excessive drinking is a serious problem at the university. "Anyone who believes that all of the students campaigning against this solely for health reasons has probably had too much to drink already," the editorial said.

The students won on Tuesday, but not before thinking that they had lost. Initial results stunned Iowa City residents showing a narrow win for the measure. But county officials then announced that they had found a "technical error" and recounted, according to The Iowa City Press-Citizen. At that point, the measure was soundly defeated and students and bar owners celebrated -- we hope responsibly.

 

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