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Fiscal Victories in Anti-Tax Year

November 3, 2010

As the 2010 election approached, many colleges feared that it could not have been a worse time to have bond measures on the ballot or proposals to cut various taxes on which public higher education depends. Strong anti-tax, anti-spending sentiment, after all, seemed poised to drive many fiscal conservatives to the polls -- and indeed they did turn out, as is seen by the shift of the U.S. House of Representatives to Republican control.

But for supporters of public higher education, the 2010 results had many positive outcomes with regard to fiscal policy. Several measures that would have severely limited state appropriations for higher education failed, and several bond or taxing measures for colleges passed.

Voter-mandated tax cuts typically do not state where funds should disappear in state budgets. The measures simply cut off or limit various sources of the budgets. But because appropriations for higher education typically come in the discretionary portion of state budgets (in other words, from the share that can be cut), these tax limits have generally resulted in significant budget cuts.

In Massachusetts, voters rejected a measure that would have cut the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent. College leaders had predicted huge cuts to their budgets if the measure were approved. In Colorado, voters rejected three measures that would have limited various state taxes and borrowing options -- and that would have cost the state more than $2 billion annually -- a cut that would have resulted in severe reductions to spending on higher education.

At the same time, a number of bond or tax measures to specifically support colleges were passing (although results remain unofficial), even in states that were voting fiscally conservative Republicans into office.

  • Alaska voters backed the issuing of $397.2 million for building projects at schools, colleges and universities.
  • Lorain County Community College, in Ohio, won a 10-year tax levy that provides about 13 percent of the college's budget.
  • Rhode Island voters approved $78 million in bonds for facilities projects at the University of Rhode Island and at Rhode Island College.
  • Odessa College, in Texas, won voter approval of $68.5 million in bonds for facilities.
  • College of DuPage, in Illinois, won voter approval for $168 million in bonds,
  • Maine voters approved bonds worth $3.5 million to create a teaching clinic at a college or university, with the goal of eventually creating a dental college.

Not all such measures were successful, however. Voters in the Foothill-De Anza Community College District appear to be giving insufficient support to create a new taxing mechanism for the district. According to the latest results, the measure has 57 percent backing -- short of the two-thirds it would need to be enacted.

 

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