Referenda and Higher Ed

Voters in many states weren't exactly thrilled with the notion of raising taxes to fund higher education.

November 10, 2016
 
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Alabama

  • Amendment 1 passed with 76 percent of the vote. In an attempt to increase diversity on Auburn University’s Board of Trustees, this amendment adds two additional members. Currently, there are 14 members, 12 of whom are men and 13 of whom are white. The new seats have no race or gender requirements. The amendment also ensures that no more than three members of the board have terms that expire in the same year.

Alaska

  • Ballot Measure No. 2, which would have amended the state constitution to let Alaska issue bonds for postsecondary student loans, was rejected by 56 percent of voters. The law continues to allow state debt only for capital projects, housing loans for veterans and military defense.

Arkansas

  • Issue 6 passed with 56 percent of the vote, legalizing medical marijuana. Tax revenue from marijuana sales will be allocated to technical institutes, vocational schools and work force training.

California

  • Proposition 51 was approved by 54 percent of voters, creating a School Facilities Fund -- funded by the sale of bonds -- that will give $2 billion to the California community college system to construct and renovate facilities (along with another $7 billion for K-12 schools).
  • Proposition 55 passed with 62 percent of the vote, extending personal income taxes for community colleges (and health care and public K-12) after funding was lost in the recession. The tax applies to single tax filers who make at least $263,000 in taxable income and joint filers who make at least $526,000 in taxable income. It's predicted that the tax will generate between $4 billion and $9 billion in revenue each year. 
  • Proposition 56 passed with 63 percent of the vote, increasing tobacco taxes an additional $2 per pack; $40 million from the California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016 Fund will go to the University of California to fund medical education. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of primary care and emergency physicians trained in California.
  • Proposition 64 passed with 56 percent of the vote, legalizing marijuana. The state will use part of the money it earns from marijuana taxes ($10 million per year) to fund to research about the “implementation and effect of the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act.”

Colorado

  • Amendment 72 was rejected by 54 percent of voters. The measure would have increase the tobacco tax from 84 cents to $1.75 per pack. The tax was intended for a fund for student loan debt repayment and professional training tracks targeted at medical professionals. 

Louisiana

  • Amendment 2, which would have allowed boards of the public higher education systems to determine tuition and fees without permission from the state Legislature, was defeated, earning only 43 percent of the vote.

Missouri

  • Constitutional Amendment 3, which would have raised tobacco taxes and dedicated the money to early-childhood education, smoking-cessation programs, and hospitals and health clinics, failed, with 59 percent voting against the proposal. Among the amendment's opponents was Washington University in St. Louis, which would have benefited from the money the tax generated going to hospitals and clinics affiliated with the university's medical school. But the law also would have banned any funding being used for abortion services or “human cloning or research, clinical trials, or therapies or cures using human embryonic stem cells.”

New Mexico 

  • Bond Question C passed with 63 percent of the vote. It concerns the 2016 Capital Projects General Obligation Bond Act, which will issue $142 million in spending on higher education, special schools and tribal schools.

Oklahoma

  • State question 779, the One Percent Sales Tax, was rejected by 59 percent of voters. It would have created a limited-purpose fund for public education by increasing the state sales tax from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent. It was estimated that this tax would have generated $615 million per year in revenue.

Oregon

  • Measure 95, to allow investments in equities by public universities, which is currently prohibited, passed with 70 percent of the vote.

  • Measure 96 was approved by 83 percent of voters. It will dedicate 1.5 percent, or a predicted $9.3 million annually, of the state's lottery earnings to veteran support services -- part of that fund will support veterans' education.

  • Measure 99, to use state lottery money to create the School Outdoor Education Fund, passed with 66 percent of the vote. Much of the money will go to fifth and sixth grades, but some will go to Oregon State University "to administer and fund outdoor school programs statewide consistent with current law’s grant program criteria."

Rhode Island 

  • Question 4, which was approved by 59 percent of voters, will issue $45.5 million in general obligation bonds for the University of Rhode Island. When broken down, $25.5 million will go to building renovations and $20 million to funding business collaborations between an innovation campus and the university. 

South Dakota

  • Amendment R narrowly passed with 50.6 percent of the vote. Previously, all postsecondary schools funded by the state were governed by the Board of Regents. After the passage of this measure, postsecondary technical institutions will no longer be governed by the board, but in a manner to be determined by the Legislature. The institutions affected are Lake Area Technical Institute, Mitchell Technical Institute, Southeast Technical Institute and Western Dakota Technical Institute.

Local Measures

Among county races, bond measures were the primary issue affecting higher education. Here are a few of them:

In California, 64 percent of voters in Butte County decided to issue $190 million in bonds for facilities maintenance at Butte-Glenn Community College. Ballot counting continues in Butte and Yuba Counties, which voted on whether to issue $34 million in bonds for facilities maintenance at Yuba Community College.

Voters in San Diego County rejected Measure X, which sought to issue $348 million in bonds for repairs to classrooms and facilities, constructing a Workforce Training Center, and providing educational support to veterans. The measure needed a 55 percent supermajority but got only 52 percent of the vote. The county passed, with 62 percent of the vote, Measure MM, regarding $455 million in bonds for upgrading facilities and providing joint training support to veterans at MiraCosta Community College. And with 69 percent of the vote, Measure Z passed, issuing $400 million in bonds for upgrading community college campuses and providing job support for students and veterans.

San Francisco County voters approved with 80 percent of the vote Proposition B, which renews a parcel tax of $99 per year for 15 years; revenue will benefit City College of San Francisco.

In Maryland, Baltimore County residents passed with 68 percent of the vote an ordinance that will allow the county to borrow $15 million for community college projects, including construction and renovation of campus buildings.

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