Spending Limits Rejected

States turn away from caps that have led to appropriations cuts for colleges; many bond plans win approval, with huge California measure ahead.
November 8, 2006

State voters in Maine, Nebraska and Oregon on Tuesday rejected proposals that would have set strict limits on increases in state spending. The proposals all could have made it much more difficult for public colleges to obtain budget increases.

For colleges in other states, Tuesday provided some good news with approval to issue bonds for key projects.

The various state "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" measures have been particularly worrisome to colleges. Because large chunks of state budgets are entitlements or involve public safety, states that pass such measures almost always have to cut or severely limit spending on colleges (or impose substantial tuition increases). That's because higher ed ends up as one of the largest "discretionary" items available for lawmakers to use in meeting budget goals.

In Maine, unofficial results had such a measure losing, attracting only 45 percent of the vote. In Nebraska and Oregon, similar results were coming in, with results particularly lopsided in Oregon, which has in the past approved tough limits on spending and seen dramatic cuts to education follow. In Nebraska, public college and university leaders were explicit about the possible impact of the measure there, saying that it would have led to substantial budget cuts and tuition increases.

While public higher education leaders were hoping for those measures to fail, many had high hopes for bond measures. In California, billions in infrastructure bonds were on the ballot, and early returns suggested that 1D -- which would provide $10.4 billion in funds to improve and expand existing facilities in the public school, community college, University of California and California State University systems -- was only narrowly ahead, and running slightly behind other bond measures. This morning, however, the Associated Press projected 1D would pass. Under the measure, the California Community College System would receive about $1.5 billion from bond sales, the University of California system would receive $890 million and the California State University system would receive $690 million.

Beyond the statewide measure in California, many community college districts were also sponsoring bond votes. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported this morning that an $870 million bond proposal for the San Diego Community College District held a healthy lead, while the Palomar Community College District was on the verge of winning enough support for a $694 million package. Elsewhere in California, a bond package for the College of the Canyons was also running ahead.

Rhode Island voters approved $65 million in bonds for a new College of Pharmacy building at the University of Rhode Island and $7.8 million for renovations at Rhode Island College. In North Carolina, Forsyth Technical Community College won approval for a $25 million package.

Not all bond proposals were successful. In Oregon, Mt. Hood Community College saw its $58 million proposal voted down, 56 percent to 44 percent, according to The Gresham Outlook. College officials lost a larger bond proposal in 2002 and hoped that by scaling down their proposal, they would win necessary voter backing.


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