Tag Archive for Capital Appreciation Bonds

2013 Annual Conference of California League of Bond Oversight Committees Highlights Current Controversies on Municipal Bond Sales for Schools (and High-Speed Rail)

I’m on the Advisory Board of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees (CalBOC), which held its annual conference today (May 10, 2013) in Sacramento. To improve public accountability for California K-12 and community college construction programs funded by money borrowed through bond sales, this non-partisan organization improves the training and resources available to bond oversight committees; educates the state legislature, local school boards, and the public about the oversight and reporting authority of bond oversight committees; and advocates on a state level, where appropriate, on issues of common concern to bond oversight committees.

California League of Bond Oversight Committees Logo 2013

Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committees were established through a section of Proposition 39 in 2000 that became California Education Code Sections 15278-15282Michael Day, president and co-founder of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees, said that attendees should “go with the knowledge that you’re doing good things” as ordinary California citizens. Day kicked off the 2013 conference by asserting that “spending wisely shouldn’t be a partisan issue.” (I would have added that spending foolishly doesn’t seem to be a partisan issue.)

Presenting first at the conference were two finance and business administrators from the Santa Ana Unified School District, which is getting criticized for borrowing $35 million in 2009 by selling Capital Appreciation Bonds at an almost 10:1 debt-service-to-principal ratio. In addition to suggesting that Capital Appreciation Bond sales can be a valid business decision under certain conditions, they insinuated that school districts know best how to sell their bonds, and perhaps the state legislature is needlessly interfering in their own local affairs. To boost their case, they asked two rhetorical questions to show the arbitrary nature of the provisions in Assembly Bill 182 that would restrict school district sales of Capital Appreciation Bonds:

1. What’s the proper maximum maturity period for school bonds?

(AB 182 proposes 25 years)

2. What’s the proper maximum ratio of debt-service-to-principal on school bonds?

(AB 182 proposes 4:1)

Following their presentation was Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-San Ramon), who introduced Assembly Bill 182 to restrict the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds. (The bill passed the Assembly on April 8, 2013 with a 75-0 vote.) Catching my attention during her speech was her assertion that the legislature should expand state-mandated performance reviews for school bond measures to include such items as an examination of the school district’s labor compliance program. Knowing how the old labor compliance program laws and regulations had changed starting in 2009, I asked what she meant. Assemblywoman Buchanan said that the State Allocation Board had discovered that some school districts had applied for and received state reimbursement for labor compliance program expenses but weren’t actually following the state requirements and didn’t deserve the reimbursement.

California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer Speaks at 2013 California League of Bond Oversight Committees Conference

California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer speaks at the 2013 California League of Bond Oversight Committees annual conference.

California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer was the keynote speaker. He declared that the Poway Unified School District officials who engineered its notorious 2009 Capital Appreciation Bond sales were “stupid” and should be fired or recalled. Many people in the meeting room clapped in response, although I don’t know what the representatives from the Poway Unified School District did.

Lockyer sees “a whole industry that lives off of this” scheme for Capital Appreciation Bonds and detects “an odor” of underwriters and other financial management firms engaged in “corrupt practices” and taking advantage of school districts through bond sales. He said he heard a story about how an underwriting firm turned down a school district’s request for handling a ill-advised, foolish Capital Appreciation Bond sale, and then the school district asked another firm with fewer scruples, which was pleased to do it for a fee.

Lockyer noted that the 4:1 debt service to principal ratio for school bonds indicated in Assembly Bill 182 was a political compromise among various parties, including some special interests that demanded either absurd ratios (such as 9:1) or no ratio at all. He actually supports an outright ban on Capital Appreciation Bond sales by school districts. (Michigan enacted such a ban in 1994.)

At the March 18, 2013 meeting of the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, chairman Dan Richard told me to ask the State Treasurer about the details of the bond sales for the California High-Speed Passenger Train for the 21st Century. So I was ready with the first question for Bill Lockyer: when will the authorized High-Speed Rail bonds be sold, what will be the rate, will they be 35-year bonds as authorized, and will some of them be sold as Capital Appreciation Bonds?

Lockyer answered by revealing that California High-Speed Rail bonds will not be issued separately but will be “mixed in” with general state bond sales (such as the state bond sales in mid-April 2013). Then to my surprise, he said that a small amount of the high-speed rail bonds had already been sold! I sent out a tweet that’s now getting some attention:

California Treasurer Bill Lockyer says small amount of bonds for California High-Speed Rail have been sold already. Did anyone know this?

He also told me that the market sets the rates – a clever answer from an experienced politician who knows how to evade the tough questions.

Regarding state K-12 school bonds, Lockyer said about $2 billion was left from the state school bond measures approved in the 2000s and that it was likely that the state legislature would put another school construction bond measure on the November 2014 ballot. (Three school bond measures approved by California voters in 2002, 2004, and 2006 authorized the state to borrow $35.8 billion by selling bonds. The State Allocation Board disperses the grants.)

Finally, in response to an excellent question from Kern County Taxpayers Association executive director Mike Turnipseed, Lockyer said that perhaps some of very old voter authorizations for bond sales that never happened in the end could be “erased” or cancelled, thus eliminating the state’s liability for repaying the principal on those bonds.

Kevin Carlin of the Carlin Law Group in San Diego made a presentation about single-source alternative construction procurement methods, including design-build and lease-leaseback. The presentation was routine until he began advancing his view that there’s a “proliferation of illegal lease-leaseback school contracting” in California and cited the Sweetwater Unified School District in Chula Vista as an example. A vocal faction in the audience – primarily school district officials and an attorney for school districts – disputed these claims. During the question-and-answer session, I told Carlin that his only ally in the state legislature was the self-interested Professional Engineers in California Government union and that his best chance for addressing the problem was to add provisions to law that ensure better public access to bidding and contract documents on design-build and lease-leaseback projects. (See California Public Contract Code Section 20133 (g).) Supporters of lease-leaseback complained that I wasn’t asking a question.

Joel Thurtell Speaks on Capital Appreciation Bonds at 2013 California League of Bond Oversight Committees Conference

Joel Thurtell speaks on Capital Appreciation Bonds at the 2013 California League of Bond Oversight Committees annual conference.

Retired Detroit Free Press reporter Joel Thurtell, now a blogger at www.JoelontheRoad.com, was the last speaker at the conference. His investigative report “Michigan Schools Load the Future with Debt” was the headline story in the April 5, 1993 Detroit Free Press, and it led to a 1994 state law banning Michigan school districts from selling Capital Appreciation Bonds.

One of the reasons why the article was effective in changing public policy was the directive of a Detroit Free Press editor to Thurtell to produce a “Big Graphic” showing the extent of Capital Appreciation Bond sales by Michigan school districts. Thurtell had to perform many days of tedious paper-based research at the state treasurer’s office in Lansing, but the result was stunning. (Likewise, I believe that the graphic elements of the www.VoiceofSanDiego.org articles on Capital Appreciation Bond sales by California school districts was a major factor in finally bringing state and national attention to the issue.)

In January 2009, Thurtell posted the text of his old Detroit Free Press articles on his web site. Nothing more happened with them until March 2012, when Alicia Minyen, a member of the Board of Directors of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees (CalBOC), found his articles with a web search using the terms “Capital Appreciation Bonds” and “ban.” At this time the word was beginning to spread about the astonishing 10:1 debt service to principal ratio for bonds sold in 2009 by the Poway Unified School District, and the Los Angeles County Treasurer was publicly warning against Capital Appreciation Bond sales.

Joel Thurtell and Alicia Minyen

Champions of fiscal responsibility: Joel Thurtell from Michigan and Alicia Minyen from California.

Minyen contacted Thurtell and then reported on what she learned at the 2012 California League of Bond Oversight Committees. I heard Minyen’s presentation on Capital Appreciation Bonds and then reported it on my blog on May 11, 2012 as Please Read This, Even If You Think Municipal Bonds Are Really BORING: We’re Setting Up the Next Generation of Californians to Pay Staggering Property Taxes, apparently being the first Californian to post a journalistic report on the web about this practice in California.

Thurtell noted today that the worst abuse of Capital Appreciation Bonds in Michigan was at a school district that even used bond proceeds to buy personal computers. I immediate thought about how California school districts are using bond proceeds to buy electronic tablets, with Los Angeles Unified School District and San Diego Unified School District being two prominent examples.

Message to California High-Speed Rail Authority and California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee: No 40-Year Bonds, No Capital Appreciation Bonds, What If You Lose Lawsuit?

March 18, 2013 is a big day for the People of California: the Day of Debt.

There will be two votes at two meetings three hours apart to authorize the sale of the bulk of the $9.95 billion Prop 1A bonds. (Several hundred million were approved in 2010 and 2012, FYI.)

At 11:00, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will meet to authorize borrowing $8.6 billion through the sale of bonds authorized by 52.7% of California voters in November 2008 as Proposition 1A. Here is the meeting agenda:

http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=2147483707

At 2:00, the California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee will meet at the same location to authorize borrowing $8.6 billion through the sale of bonds authorized by 52.7% of California voters in November 2008 as Proposition 1A. Here is the meeting agenda:

http://www.treasurer.ca.gov/financial/2013/20130318/1a.pdf

At these meetings, I will ask for amendments to the resolutions to prohibit the sale of 40-year bonds (this maturity term is allowed in statute, by the way, see California Streets and Highways Code Section 2704.11(b)) and prohibit the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds. I’m also going to ask about what happens if the state sells the bonds and then the Authority loses the lawsuit alleging its failure to conform to the terms of Proposition 1A.

I also sent this message electronically to the California High-Speed Rail Authority (boardmembers@hsr.ca.gov) and the California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee:

Dear California High-Speed Rail Authority leadership:

At your Monday, March 18, 2013 meeting, you will consider a resolution as part of the procedure to direct the state to borrow $8.6 billion for high-speed rail by selling bonds authorized under Proposition 1A (2008) to investors:

4. Consideration of request to the High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee to approve resolutions under the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, authorizing the issuance of bonds and commercial paper notes as follows: Resolution IX, authorizing the issuance of State of California High-Speed Passenger Train Bonds or Commercial Paper Notes in the principal amount not to exceed $8,599,715,000. ($8.6 billion)

I am requesting you to add language to these resolutions that does the following:

1. Prohibit these bonds from being sold with 40-year terms of maturity.

2. Prohibit these bonds from being sold as Capital Appreciation Bonds.

Assembly Bill 3034, enacted in 2008, authorized sale of the Proposition 1A bonds as 40-year bonds. The bill analysis for the July 7, 2008 Senate Appropriations Committee indicated that the maturity extension from a 30-year to a 40-year term would increase interest payments and increase the overall cost at an estimated amount of $3,777,000,000 ($3.7 billion) in 2008 dollars, assuming 5 percent interest and 3 percent inflation. (Source: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/asm/ab_3001-3050/ab_3034_cfa_20080707_114445_sen_comm.html)

These estimates were produced at a time when the official cost was estimated at $45 billion. Now the figure of $68 billion is being officially cited. Why add another $3.7 billion to the cost?

Also, in the Official Voter Information Guide for the November 2008 election, the Legislative Analyst’s Office stated this about the cost of the proposed Proposition 1A bond sales authorized under the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act:

The costs of these bonds would depend on interest rates in effect at the time they are sold and the time period over which they are repaid. While the measure allows for bonds to be issued with a repayment period of up to 40 years, the state’s current practice is to issue bonds with a repayment period of up to 30 years. If the bonds are sold at an average interest rate of 5 percent, and assuming a repayment period of 30 years, the General Fund cost would be about $19.4 billion to pay off both principal ($9.95 billion) and interest ($9.5 billion). The average repayment for principal and interest would be about $647 million per year. (Source: http://voterguide.sos.ca.gov/past/2008/general/analysis/prop1a-analysis.htm)

The voter guide leaves the voter to assume that the state would maintain the current practice of selling 30-year bonds. It does not even mention the cost of 40-year bonds!

Regarding the Capital Appreciation Bonds, you are surely aware of the controversy surrounding California’s school districts selling these bonds for construction rather than the traditional type of general obligation bond (current interest bond). Please don’t hide the cost of this project by delaying repayment to investors with costly bonds that accumulate compound interest.

This project will assess huge debt burdens on future generations of Californians. Please avoid schemes that hide the cost from this generation.

Finally, at your March 18, 2013 meeting, please address what would happen if the state sells the Proposition 1A bonds and then the California High-Speed Rail Authority loses the court case John Tos v. California High Speed Rail Authority (Case No: 34-2011-00113919) (aka “the Kings County lawsuit”) regarding conformity to the provisions of Proposition 1A. A hearing in this case is scheduled for May 31, 2013 in Sacramento County Superior Court.

Kevin Dayton
President and CEO
Labor Issues Solutions, LLC
www.laborissuessolutions.com

 

We’ll see if the California High-Speed Rail Authority and the California High-Speed Passenger Train Finance Committee can explain their plans for borrowing money through bond sales in a simple, transparent manner at their meetings in Sacramento on Monday, March 18, 2013.

YOU Can Help Advance a Specific, Defined Plan to Defend Economic and Personal Freedom in California in 2013

You’re Not Alone in California (Although It May Feel Like It Right Now) If You Answer YES to These Three Questions:
  1. Are you concerned about how the State of California and its regional and local governments excessively interfere with commerce and inappropriately intrude on your household affairs?
  2. Are you looking for someone with a specific, defined plan to hinder some of the costly utopian dreams and schemes of elected and appointed officials in what is now essentially a one-party state?
  3. Do you seek pro-active opportunities to make financial contributions or provide advisory support in the quest for economic and personal freedom, without squandering your money or time on professional firms that are parasites on the conservative/libertarian movement? 
Consider Financial Sponsorship or an Advisory Role for a Specific Piece of the 2013 Strategic Plan for Labor Issues Solutions, LLC:

I have more than 15 years of experience in California opposing, deterring, and often stopping the political agenda of special interest groups that see ordinary taxpayers as an easy victim.

I focus on the unglamorous grunt work of research, analysis, strategy, and implementation. You won’t read flattering profiles about me in the Sacramento Bee or Los Angeles Times, but you can read about my recent work via links on my home page and in my 220 comprehensive Dayton Public Policy Institute blog posts written during the past eight months.

In 2013, I’ll be testing the potential of neglected checks and balances in our federal, state, and local constitutions to derail plots for more government control of your money, your business, and your lifestyle.

Obviously there isn’t much market demand in California right now for advocates of free markets and minimalist government. PRINCIPLES motivate me in my vocation.

None of the items in my 2013 strategic plan (below) involve professional campaign consultants. Labor Issues Solutions, LLC is efficient, nimble, and frugal.

My 2013 Strategic Plan for Labor Issues Solutions, LLC
I. Exercising the Power of City Charters: A Check and Balance Against the State
  1. Encourage and help California cities to ask their citizens to enact charters that free municipal affairs from costly state mandates.
  2. Encourage and help California’s 121 charter cities to maximize their potential to circumvent costly state mandates and control their own municipal affairs.
  3. Develop and circulate a model charter more aggressive than any charter now in existence.
II. Improving Accountability of Government to the Taxpayers
  1. Help educate Californians about bond measures and how they authorize governments to borrow money that must be paid back – with interest – to investors. Emphasize the dangers of Capital Appreciation Bonds.
  2. Offer assistance to improve professionalism and collaboration among California’s legitimate regional and local taxpayer groups.
III. Exposing Crony Capitalism Run Amok in California

Research, compile, and expose the following:

  1. All financial contributions to campaigns to pass K-12 school district and community college district construction bond measures, in a presentation that is accessible and understandable to ordinary citizens, since the passage of Proposition 39 in 2000 reduced the voter approval threshold to 55%.
  2. All assessed financial transaction fees for the sale of bonds by K-12 school district and community college districts, in a presentation that is accessible and understandable to ordinary citizens, since the passage of Proposition 39 in 2000 reduced the voter approval threshold to 55%.
  3. All private and government financial contributions and expenditures to support the campaign for the California High-Speed Rail, in a presentation that is accessible and understandable to ordinary citizens.
  4. All sources of campaign contributions to state and local elected officials during the past ten years, in a presentation that is accessible and understandable to ordinary citizens.
IV. Revealing the Astonishing Debt for Future Generations of Californians to Pay Off

Research, compile, and expose the following:

  1. The total amount of bond debt for California’s K-12 school district and community college district construction bond measures, in a presentation that is accessible and understandable to ordinary citizens.
  2. The total amount of all debt for the state and all 5000+ local governments in California, in a presentation that is accessible and understandable to ordinary citizens.

V. Documenting the Exploitation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for Purposes Unrelated to Environmental Protection

Research, compile, and expose the following:

  1. Law firms, organizations, and individuals that abuse CEQA in pursuit of economic objectives.
  2. Common strategies used to abuse CEQA.
VI. Improving the Accuracy of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rates (“Prevailing Wages”)

File petitions with the California Department of Industrial Relations to do the following:

  1. Clarify the accuracy of prevailing wage determinations.
  2. Adopt regulations clarifying the procedure for prevailing wage determinations. 
VII. Establishing a New Free Market Think Tank Oriented Exclusively for Californians
  1. Promote a think tank with a vision statement similar to this: The people of California will enjoy unprecedented prosperity and peace because they recognize, seek, and act to implement a proper role of government as minimal, non-intrusive, and fully accountable and transparent to the people when engaging in its limited functions.
  2. Promote a think tank with a mission statement similar to this: Recognizing that all significant events in history are a reflection of intellectual ideas, the Institute will educate the people of California to understand that a prosperous and peaceful state depends on a proper conception of government as minimal, non-intrusive, and fully accountable and transparent to the people when engaging in its limited functions.
How to be a Financial Sponsor of an Item in the 2013 Strategic Plan:

1. Make out a check to Labor Issues Solutions, LLC.

2. Choose the item in the 2013 Strategic Plan (above) and indicate in the check memo line. I will email and call you with regular updates on my progress with your chosen item.

3. Mail to the following address:

Kevin Dayton
President & CEO
Labor Issues Solutions, LLC
3017 Douglas Blvd., Suite 300
Roseville, CA 95661-3850

4. Note: a contribution to Labor Issues Solutions, LLC is not tax-deductible. It is a payment for services.

5. Questions: contact Kevin Dayton at (916) 439-2159 or via the contact form here.

How to Have an Advisory Role for an Item in the 2013 Strategic Plan

1. Do you have special interest or expertise in one of the items in the 2013 strategic plan? Would you like to help Labor Issues Solutions, LLC to fulfill this plan?

2. Would your organization enjoy a presentation about one or more of the items in the 2013 strategic plan? 

3. If so, contact Kevin Dayton at (916) 439-2159 or via the contact form here.

$348 Million Measure Q for Solano Community College: Yes on Q Campaign Fails to Submit Latest Legally-Required Campaign Finance Report

UPDATE: The Yes on Q campaign for Solano Community College District submitted its overdue Form 460 today (Monday, October 29, 2012). Better late than never.

As of October 20, 2012, the campaign has raised over $200,000. Big contributions between October 1 and October 20 include $15,000 from Swinerton (a construction management firm) and $10,000 from MuniBond Solar, run by someone named Steve Nielsen, which has collaborated with companies such as SunPower Corp to secure “Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds” (QECBs) for several California educational districts. (An executive with SunPower Corp also contributed $1000.) As shown in this May 2, 2012 Solano Community College Financial and Budget Planning Advisory Council meeting, MuniBond Solar wants a relationship with Solano Community College District.

Other contributors include the usual suspects: architects, construction trade unions, and unionized construction associations that look forward to a Project Labor Agreement.


Yesterday (October 26, 2012) I went to the Solano County Registrar of Voters office to obtain the paper copies of the Form 460 reports that the “Yes on Q – Solano College” campaign must legally submit to the county. These reports are meant to inform the public about campaign receipts and expenditures. The staff there was quite professional and helpful, but I left knowing that the Yes on Q campaign was breaking the law and getting away with it.

Measure Q asks Solano County voters to let the Solano Community College District Governing Board borrow $348 million for construction by selling bonds to institutional investors. Solano County taxpayers must pay this money back to the investors – with interest! It will cost at least $500 million – perhaps more if the district is lured into selling Capital Appreciation Bonds.

The Solano Community College District Governing Board wants to borrow $346 million by selling bonds

The Solano Community College District Governing Board wants to borrow $348 million by selling bonds.

The Solano College governing board voted 6-1 in 2003 and 2004 to require its construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of working on projects funded by bonds authorized by the $124.5 million Measure G, barely approved by 55.6% of Solano County voters in November 2002. A majority of governing board members are likely to again make a deal to give unions control of additional projects funded by Measure Q. Project Labor Agreements raise costs and cut competition, as shown by the failure of the Project Labor Agreement pilot project at Solano Community College in 2005. (No one on the board cared at the time.)

The Yes on Q campaign finance report for the period from October 1 to October 20 was due by October 25, but it was not at the Solano County Registrar of Voters on October 26. After further inquiry, I learned this afternoon that an official of the Solano County Registrar of Voters had contacted the treasurer of the “Yes on Q – Solano College” campaign to check on the status and was told the report would not be turned in until Monday or Tuesday of next week.

So much for openness and transparency for citizens as they fill out their absentee ballots this weekend. I guess the local newspapers won’t be informing the voters in their Sunday editions who is giving to the Yes on Q campaign and who is getting from the Yes on Q campaign. Does anyone care?

I did get a copy of the campaign finance report of the “Yes on Q Solano College” for the period from July 1, 2012 to September 30, 2012. Here are a few items of interest:

1. This Campaign Is a Sitting Duck for Accusations of “Pay-to-Play”

Here’s a list of all of the campaign contributors through September 30, 2012, with links to the company web sites, the amounts contributed, and the business interest of the contributor.

DONOR INTEREST AMOUNT
Piper Jaffray Investment Bank/Bond Broker $25,000
Kitchell Construction Construction Manager for Solano College Measure G $25,000
RBC Capital Markets Investment Bank/Bond Broker $18,000
Steinberg Architects Architect $10,000
VBN Architects Architect $10,000
[Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 104] Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund Construction trade union-affiliated Labor-Management Cooperation Committee $5,000
Stradling, Yocca, Carlson and Rauth Bond counsel – worked before with Solano College on bond sales $3,500
Keenan and Associates Insurance broker for school districts $2,500
B&L Properties Property holding company in Fairfield $2,500
Dannis Woliver Kelley Law firm for school & college districts $2,500
The Lew Edwards Group Political consulting firm in Oakland, works to pass bond measures $1,000
LPAS Architect $1,000
Roy Stutzman Consulting Financial consulting for school & college districts $1,000
Student Insurance Insurance company for school districts $1,000
Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin Metz & Associates Polling firm for political campaigns $500
Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers Local Union No. 3 Construction trade union $200
Sarah Chapman Solano College Board Member $100
Rosemary Thurston Solano College Board Member $100
Anne Marie Young Solano College Board Member $100
James Dekloe Solano College Faculty Member $100
TOTAL $109,100

There’s very little financial participation in this campaign from anyone in Solano County, but there is much interest from various professional service firms that do business with Solano Community College District and/or want business if voters approve Measure Q and let the Governing Board sell $348 million in bonds. I guess that’s how the world works, but taxpayers will pay the bill.

2. Underwriters Among Top Contributors – These Firms Get Fees When Selling Bonds

After the investment bank/bond underwriter Piper Jaffray got smacked around along with other financial service firms earlier this year about contributing to campaigns for bond measures for which it subsequently became the underwriter for those bonds, I figured that firm would back off from the practice. I was wrong.

Piper Jaffray $25,000 campaign contribution to Yes on Measure Q Solano College November 2012

Piper Jaffray $25,000 campaign contribution to Yes on Measure Q – Solano College (November 2012)

Piper Jaffray is tied with Kitchell Construction – the construction management firm for Solano Community College’s Measure G (2002) program – for making the largest contribution to the Yes on Q campaign.

3. Another Labor-Management Cooperation Committee Contributes to a Campaign.

Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund - $5000 Contribution to the Yes on Measure Q Solano College

Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund – $5000 Contribution to Yes on Measure Q Solano College

I snickered when I saw this one: how many people in Solano County know about the Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund? There’s only one place on the web where you’ll read about labor-management cooperative trusts, and you’re reading it now. These trusts are arcane entities authorized by the obscure Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, a law signed by President Jimmy Carter and implemented by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. There are no federal or state regulations specifically addressed toward these trusts, and these trusts do not have any reporting requirements to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.

This committee receives employer payments as indicated in the Master Labor Agreement negotiated between the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local Union No. 104. Here are references to the Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund in their Master Labor Agreement. It says the fund pays to replace stolen tools, but says nothing about political contributions, of course. Note also that employer payments to the Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund are incorporated as part of “Other” into the State of California’s government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”).

4. If Yes on Q Raised $109,100 by September 30, 2012, How Was It Spent?

Solano County newspapers have noted the lack of visible campaign activity in support of Measure Q. In fact, this situation apparently deprived Yes on Q of an endorsement from the Vacaville Reporter newspaper:

The Reporter Editorial Board likes the vision and very much wants to support it. But board members have qualms about this bond. The impact of the state’s fiscal mess has meant the college can’t afford to operate the programs it has now. Is it wise to add new programs before the state’s budget is under control?

There are also qualms about the way the bond campaign has been mishandled. In July, when the Editorial Board supported trustees’ decision to put the bond on the ballot, it was with the caveat that an aggressive campaign be mounted to educate the community about its need.

Instead, the campaign has been lackluster and late, not ratcheting up until after mail-in ballots were already out. Where are the trustees, who can speak as individuals in support of the measure and who should have lined up supporters to drive it? Where are the other public agencies and private businesses that stand to benefit from these plans? Where is the faculty, whose union put on a get-out-the-vote drive for Propositions 30 and 32 without even mentioning Measure Q in its publicity? Does the lack of organization in the campaign reflect a lack of organization and follow-through by campus leaders?

I drove on the major thoroughfares of Vacaville, Fairfield, and Vallejo on October 26. I only saw THREE signs supporting Measure Q – all close to the entrance to the main Solano Campus campus in Fairfield.

An elusive Yes on Q campaign sign in Solano County.

An elusive Yes on Q campaign sign in Solano County.

Not that I put much value on campaign signs stuck in public areas, but I would have expected more for a campaign that already had over $100,000 by the end of September. This lack of visibility is so pitiful that it was tied with the three No on Q signs I saw in Solano County. That campaign is a small, committed group of informed local taxpayer activists with very little money to spend.

Say "No" to $348 Million Bond - No on Q - Taxed Enough Already!

Say “No” to $348 Million Bond – No on Q – Taxed Enough Already!

The September 30 campaign report for Yes on Q shows about $25,000 spent on consultants, slate mailers, some apparent development of signs and mailers, and people at phone banks. It will be interesting to see how the remaining money was spent, provided the Yes on Q campaign ever submits its campaign finance reports.

California Local Election Report: Construction Bond Measures for School Districts and Community College Districts – Four That Obviously Deserve a NO Vote

California’s elected school boards and community college boards have put 106 measures on local ballots for the November 6, 2012 election asking voters to authorize borrowing money for construction through bond sales. At least four of these proposed bond measures are so stunningly misguided that citizens in these districts should take democratic action, defy the well-funded Establishment, and reject the debt with a NO vote.

Below, I list and explain the four districts where voters should Close the Spigot of taxpayer money to the elected boards. First, some general background about educational facility bond measures on the November 6, 2012 ballot:

CALIFORNIA – 106 Bond Measures for Construction at Educational Districts

A web site – www.californiacityfinance.com - lists 106 school construction bond measures on the November 2012 ballot in California. An article from School Services of California and reprinted on September 26, 2012 by the Coalition for Adequate School Housing (CASH) confirms there are 106 proposed bond measures. That article also notes that 106 is the highest number of California school bond measures ever considered in an election. It also claims that voters authorize the sale of bonds in California school districts about 70% of the time.

The number of bond measures presented to voters throughout California has trended relentlessly upwards since November 2000, when 53.4% of California voters narrowly approved Proposition 39, which dropped the voter threshold for approval of educational construction bond measures from 66.67% to 55%. This was the start of California’s massive accumulation of debt for educational construction at the state and local levels of government.

A few professional political consulting firms (such as Tramutola Advisors, based in Oakland, and TBWB Strategies, based in San Francisco) specialize in the business of convincing voters to vote Yes for school bond measures. They are adept at emotive messaging (“it’s all about the kids”) and at exploiting technical loopholes to leverage public funds as much as legally possible to develop and promote the bond measures.

Funding for the campaigns to pass the bond measures is collected from banks, bond brokers (underwriters), and other financial service corporations that make money from bond transactions. This has generated some criticism; see Vote No on Sacramento’s Measures Q and R web site for a compilation of 2012 news articles about bond underwriters and campaign contributions.

Bond measures also generate business for the construction industry. A perusal of contributors to bond measures usually reveals architects, engineers, contractors and construction trade associations, and construction trade unions.

Have YOU checked the list of contributors to campaigns to pass bond measures in your K-12 school and community college district?

Rarely does significant opposition develop against proposed bond measures, as shown by how often official voter information guides outright lack an opposition statement to a proposed bond measure. When there is organized opposition, it usually centers around a regional taxpayers association, with help from the local Libertarian Party or Tea Party organizations. Generally, opposition campaigns are passionate, but amateurish. They usually don’t have any money to spend on getting their message out to voters.

PROFESSIONALIZING OPPOSITION WITH CALIFORNIA’S “OPERATION CLOSE THE SPIGOT” 

Earlier this year, I circulated a proposal for “Operation Close the Spigot,” a program to have a well-funded, coordinated opposition campaign statewide against the most egregious bond measures proposed for California K-12 school districts and community college districts. While a formal organization has not yet emerged to close the spigot of taxpayer funding, my agitation on this issue – like my agitation for charter cities – has inspired some promising grassroots movement for local individuals and organizations to gather together and make a more serious effort to inform voters about the huge debt burden accumulating on Californians as a result of the parade of bond measures.

As the November 6, 2012 election approaches, here are the most promising developments for organized opposition against four foolish proposed educational construction bond measures in California.

1. SACRAMENTO CITY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT – $414 Million Measures Q and R

The “Fair and Open Competition – Sacramento” committee that had organized in 2011 to enact Fair and Open Competition ordinances in the City of Sacramento and the County of Sacramento reorganized its leadership and membership and decided to expose the foolhardiness of the Sacramento City Unified School District’s proposal to borrow another $414 million by selling bonds. (District taxpayers currently owe $522 million from the last two bond measures.) This group was inspired to oppose Measures Q and R on the November 2012 ballot because the school board requires its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions to work on Sacramento City Unified School District contracts. In fact, the leading spokesperson to pass Measures Q and R is school board member Patrick Kennedy, who has been and may still be employed by Sacramento construction trade unions or affiliated entities.

The Sacramento City Unified School District sold notorious Capital Appreciation Bonds to bury future generations in debt. These are bond issues for which investors collect a huge amount of compound interest when the bonds mature, rather than getting interest payments at regular intervals and then getting the principal back when the bonds mature.

Fair and Open Competition – Sacramento submitted excellent arguments against Measure Q and against Measure R for the official voter information guide. They tried to discourage Sacramento area business groups from knee-jerk “it’s for the kids” endorsements of Measures Q and R. Finally, they established a web site to make a logical, fact-based case against borrowing more money through bond sales to investors. As I declared in a Tweet yesterday, “Never before has a campaign web site so thoroughly analyzed and hammered a California school construction bond measure: http://fairandopencompetitionsacramento.com.”

The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board has not taken a position yet on Measures Q and R. On October 14, 2012, the Sacramento Bee endorsed Measures Q and R (Sacramento City Unified School Bonds Are a Smart Investment for Students), with the Project Labor Agreement policy as the only negative reference:

Opponents object to the district’s use of project labor agreements for large projects – as has this editorial board. But the district points out that only 14 of 74 projects since 2005 have had project labor agreements. Union and nonunion shops get a chance to bid on the vast majority of projects under $1 million.

2. WEST CONTRA COSTA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT – $360 Million Measure E

The Official Statement for the West Contra Costa Unified School District’s latest bond sale contains some harsh facts about this fiscally irresponsible, mismanaged school district in an economically struggling area. Residents and businesses in this school district have taken on a staggering amount of debt through construction – $1.77 billion to date by borrowing money from five bond measures since 1998. (A sixth attempt failed in 2003.) Five is not enough, so now there is the $360 million Measure E.

Chevron owns 13.1% of the assessed property value of this district, and what will happen when Chevron finally decides to shut down its Richmond refining facility? (I’ve been predicting for 14 years it will become a distribution center for fuels refined in Mexico.) And Chevron is not the only problem with the school board’s rosy expectations for future tax collection. In 2009-10, total property value tax assessment in the district dropped 12.3%, and it dropped another 7.7% in 2010-11. (It was up 1.1% in 2011-12, but that’s not a good rationale to take on more debt.)

Bond Measures for West Contra Costa Unified School District

Authorized Bond Amount. Does Not Include Interest and Fees. Does Not Include State Matching Grants.

Date of Election

Ballot Designation

Outcome

$40 million June 2, 1998 Measure E Approved by 76.0% of voters
$150 million November 7, 2000 Measure M Approved by 77.5% of voters
$300 million March 5, 2002 Measure D Approved by 71.6% of voters
$450 Million September 16, 2003 Measure C Rejected in a special election because only 59.1% of voters approved the bond measure, which needed two-thirds voter approval
$400 million November 8, 2005 Measure J Approved by 56.9% of voters
$380 million June 8, 2010 Measure D Approved by 62.6% of voters
$1.27 billion Total from five bond measures from 1998 to the present.
$360 million November 6, 2012 Approved for consideration by district voters through a resolution of the school board on August 1, 2012

No surprise, the school board requires its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions to work on West Contra Costa Unified School District projects. It was the first school district in Northern California to adopt a Project Labor Agreement, leading the way for followers such as the Vallejo City Unified School District, the East Side Union High School District (in San Jose), and the Oakland Unified School District. (By the way, Oakland USD and East Side Union HSD also have big bond measures on the November 2012 ballot.)

Of course, the West Contra Costa Unified School District sold Capital Appreciation Bonds to bury future generations in debt. One school board member – Charles Ramsey – even recognized the risk, but voted for the West Contra Costa Unified School District to sell Capital Appreciation Bonds anyway.

The Contra Costa Taxpayers Association is leading the opposition to Measure E and submitted excellent arguments against West Contra Costa Unified School District’s Measure E for the official voter information guide. Opposition also includes a small group of local activists who understand the debt implications of this latest bond measure. Unfortunately, the web presence of opposition arguments to Measure E is sparse. A local political and community activist, Charley Cowens, writes a blog called Mystery Education Theater 3000 about this district, which his kids went through, and there is also a blog called West Contra Costa Unified School District Quality Improvement Project. This is a tough place to advocate for fiscal responsibility.

Today (October 13, 2012), the Contra Costa Times newspaper endorsed four bond measures in San Francisco’s East Bay (Four School Bond Measures that We Believe Should Pass), but held off on discussing West Contra Costa Unified School District: “Five East Bay school districts seek voter approval Nov. 6 for bond measures to fund school construction. We recommend passage of four. We will consider the fifth, West Contra Costa’s Measure E, on Monday.” It looks like this district’s proposed bond measure will get a special editorial from the Contra Costa Times on Monday, October 15, 2012.

UPDATE: The Contra Costa Times slammed the proposed bond sales through Measure E at the West Contra Costa Unified School District: see Yes on Measure G, No on Measure E in West County – Contra Costa Times – October 15, 2012. The editorial points out that the official ballot information for Measure E neglects essential information for voters to consider (business as usual), including the huge outstanding debt obligations from five previous bond measures, the projected tax burden in a few years of $290 per $100,000 of property value, and the projection for repayment in 40 years at disproportionately high interest rates. The editorial concludes with this blunt statement:

District leaders say they need the additional bond money to complete their school construction program. That’s what they said 2½ years ago for the last bond measure. They claimed then that they needed more because rising construction costs had eroded their purchasing power. In today’s economy, that excuse won’t work. We endorsed the successful 2010 measure. But we warned that would be the last time. We meant it. As far as we are concerned, this train has run out of track. Vote no on Measure E.

3. SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT – $2.8 Billion Proposition Z

No, that $2.8 billion jaw-dropping figure is not a typographical error. It represents the unapologetic arrogance of a union-controlled school board that is spending itself close to bankruptcy; in the meantime, let the good times roll!

In November 2008, voters in the San Diego Unified School District approved a ballot measure (Proposition S) authorizing the school board to borrow a whopping $2.1 billion for construction by selling bonds to investors. With a new pro-union majority also elected to the school board, the board (on a 3-2 vote) subsequently required construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement to work on San Diego Unified School District construction projects of more than $1 million funded by Proposition S. Unions now have total control of the San Diego school board, which has already voted 5-0 for a union Project Labor Agreement on construction funded by the proposed Proposition Z.

Of course, the San Diego Unified School District sold Capital Appreciation Bonds to bury future generations in debt. The board passed a resolution claiming they wouldn’t sell any more Capital Appreciation Bonds. (See my article Board of San Diego Unified School District Senses Voters May Reject $2.8 Billion Bond Measure (Proposition Z) Because of Board’s Past Use of Capital Appreciation Bonds.) Now the Voice of San Diego reports (on October 12, 2012 in School Officials Pitch Prop. Z As The Only Alternative to Exotic Loans) that school district officials are claiming the San Diego Unified School District will have to sell MORE Capital Appreciation Bonds if voters reject Proposition Z. Unbelievable!

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association jumped on Proposition Z right away as unworthy of voter support. This particular taxpayers’ organization in San Diego extensively researches ballot measures and is very cautious about taking opposition positions.

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board has urged voters to reject Proposition Z: Vote No on San Diego School Bond: It Props Up a Broken Status QuoSan Diego Union-Tribune – September 22, 2012.

4. SOLANO COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT – $348 Million Measure Q

The $124.5 million Measure G bond approved by Solano County voters in 2002 was not enough for the businesses and individuals who feed off money borrowed through bond sales. Especially interested in this new proposed $348 million bond measure are construction unions who obtained monopoly control of Measure G work with a Project Labor Agreement on Solano Community College District projects.

Stunningly, one of the board members – Catherine Ritch (representing Fairfield) – voted NO on putting the bond measure on the November ballot. Ritch was appointed to the Solano Community College District Governing Board in March 2012. She is not running in 2012 for a full term, so she could actually vote based on what is right for the people rather than for what is politically expedient. She also has a professional background as a legislative and administrative government analyst, so she was evidently too informed to be hoodwinked by this scheme.

The Fairfield Daily Republic newspaper was not impressed with the 6-1 vote to ask voters to borrow $348 million by selling bonds. In an August 5, 2012 editorial entitled “Board Appears Set for Local Tax Measures,” the Daily Republic said the following:

Solano Community College jumped on the tax bandwagon this week when trustees voted 6-1 to place a $348 million property tax measure on the November ballot. Trustee Catherine Ritch voted no, and for good reason. She said the finer points of the proposal had not been laid out completely for the board to consider, and called for the board to take “a deep breath” before approving the staff recommendation.

The Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group is opposing Measure Q, as reported in Opponents Mobilize Against Local Tax MeasuresFairfield Daily Republic – October 4, 2012.

In an October 13, 2012 opinion piece in the Vallejo Times-Herald (We Deserve the Entire Story on Measure Q), Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction considered the cost increases caused by the Project Labor Agreement on construction funded by Measure G:

…now this same college [Solano Community College District], which still has governing it three of the board members who voted for the PLA [Project Labor Agreement], wants almost $350 million for another bond measure. The reason? Measure G wasn’t large enough to cover the college’s needs. Do you think they could have used that extra $24 million they wasted under a PLA?

The SCCD Governing Board should be honest about whether or not a PLA will be used on this bond should it pass. Voters should have all the information possible before voting to put themselves another $350 million in debt, especially if what they get for that debt is reduced in value in order to placate union special interests. Every candidate running for the board should also be asked whether they would vote to have a PLA placed on Measure Q.

Board members and candidates won’t answer that question. Although the answer is YES to a Project Labor Agreement, Solano County voters won’t support Measure Q if they learn that unions will get a costly government-mandated monopoly on the work.

Solano Community College District sold $1,584,811.70 in Capital Appreciation Bonds in 2005 as part of a large package of refunding bonds. Will the college board do it again on a much larger scale when they have authority from voters to sell $348 million instead of $124.5 million in bonds?

A FINAL QUESTION: Why Should You Care?

As a beleaguered Californian bombarded by bad economic and political news every day, you may now be cynically asking, “Why should I care?” You might have these thoughts:

  • If you live in or pay property taxes to one of these four educational districts, you have probably assumed that any local community opposition to the bond measure will be weak, ineffective, and easily crushed by the bank-and-union funded campaign machine that supports it.
  • If you don’t live in nor own property in one of these four educational districts, you may conclude that citizens who choose to live there accept or are resigned to seeing their school districts waste taxpayers’ money. It’s not your problem – you live elsewhere.
  • And if you live in California but don’t own any property, you may assume that these ballot measures don’t apply to you, because you don’t pay the property taxes for the principal and interest that goes to bond investors, nor the fees to financial service companies for issuing the bonds. You think you have no financial interest in the matter.

Well, you SHOULD care, for four reasons:

  1. Imagine the power of the message voters would send to the state’s political leadership if they rejected huge bond measures to pay for construction in these districts. By using their democratic power and defeating these bond measures, California citizens would nudge their elected officials toward more accountability to the taxpayers instead of the financial industry and union lobbyists.
  2. Voter rejection of bond measures in these four districts would repudiate thoughtless borrowing, taxing, and spending, including the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds and the adoption of public policies such as Project Labor Agreements that impose costly union monopolies on taxpayer-funded construction.
  3. Voters might encourage some relatively thoughtful school board members in these four districts and other school districts to stand up to the most absurd demands from union lobbyists for more money and more laws. (Surely there are elected board members in school districts who honestly want to focus on student academic performance and aren’t warped by selfish ambitions for higher office.)
  4. Finally, voters would send a message to every California school board member that “it’s for the children” is no longer a sufficient message in itself to collect more taxes for the purpose of repaying money borrowed with interest and fees from investment banks and insurance companies.

Californians need to realize that EVERYONE in the state pays for construction in these three large school districts. The obscure State Allocation Board regularly provides matching grants for construction projects at school districts with proceeds from bond sales authorized by three past statewide propositions totaling $35.8 billion:

Even renters and consumers pay for bond measures. Property owners consider property taxes as a cost of doing business. The tax burden “trickles down” to all Californians.

In addition, Californians need to start thinking about how some of the largest beneficiaries of these bond measures are investment banks, brokerage firms, and other corporate providers of financial services. The so-called “One Percent” makes good money off of Californians’ emotional desire to “help the children.” School districts borrow money now and arrange for property owners to pay it back, along with significant interest payments and financial transaction fees.

Future generations of Californians are going to be crushed under the burdens of debt repayments for the school construction programs of today. For example, the debt of the San Diego Unified School District for school construction bonds was listed in May 2012 at $4.7 billion. It’s time to Close the Spigot and protect those future generations.

Michigan Reporter Joel Thurtell Provides Background on How Michigan Banned Capital Appreciation Bonds

UPDATE: Joel Thurtell has now posted (on his web site Joel on the Road) the “big graphic” – a table associated with his 1993 exposé of Michigan school districts selling Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs). The table lists the Michigan school districts that sold Capital Appreciation Bonds, the amount of bonds sold, the amount of interest to be paid to investors, the length of time from sale to maturity, and the interest as a percentage of the principal (the amount borrowed).

To give readers an understandable comparison, the table also provides the numbers for a conventional mortgage at 7% for various time periods. (Try it at 4% today.)

These amounts and percentages are peanuts compared to what California K-12 and community college districts are selling as Capital Appreciation Bonds. Notice the highest percentages of interest to principal in Michigan school districts were 575% and 406%. In California, the Poway Unified School District’s 2011 bond sales were at 935%.

The next step in the process to ban California educational districts from selling Capital Appreciation Bonds is for someone to re-create this chart for California and circulate it widely.


Joel Thurtell (web site Joel on the Road) is the now-retired Detroit Free Press reporter whose intensively-researched 1993 articles about Michigan school districts borrowing money by selling Capital Appreciation Bonds were the catalyst for a 1994 Michigan ban on Capital Appreciation Bonds. Now he is working to make sure California citizens aren’t victimized by the same scam.

Through his blog, Joel Thurtell was the first reporter to publicly expose how California’s K-12 school districts and community college districts have been selling Capital Appreciation Bonds as a way to borrow money for school construction. His attention to this obscure but extremely costly and disingenuous method of borrowing money has been acknowledged by various news stories throughout California (Community College Districts’ Bonds Inflate Taxpayers’ Repayments- Sacramento Bee – August 22, 2012; High Cost of School Bond Shocks Poway – San Diego Union-Tribune – August 17, 2012; Kudos to Michigan Journalist on the Poway Bond Story- Voice of San Diego – August 8, 2012; Joel Thurtell Shames Poway, CA Financing- Daily Markets – August 10, 2012; School Bonds Could Trigger Fiscal Shock – Financial Times via CNBC – August 9, 2012)

The Voice of San Diego web newspaper finally managed to grab the attention of the state’s political leaders and news media with an article on August 8, 2012: Where Borrowing $105 Million Will Cost $1 Billion: Poway Schools - Voice of San Diego – August 6, 2012. I continue to believe that it was the Voice of San Diego’s simple pie chart of the Poway Unified School District’s bond repayments (designed by Keegan Kyle) that allowed this story to fly – give Mr. Kyle a Pulitzer.

I found out about Mr. Thurtell’s crusade to alert Californians to the Capital Appreciation Bond racket when his 1993 Detroit Free Press articles were referenced by Mt. Diablo Unified School District 2010 Measure C Citizens Bond Oversight Committee member Alicia Minyen at the California League of Bond Oversight Committees annual conference on May 9. I wrote about the presentation about Capital Appreciation Bonds at this conference in a couple of mid-May blog posts, which have received a consistent trickle of attention since then.

Now, with San Diego County Treasurer Dan McAllister promoting an outline of possible legislation to restrict the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds in California, Joel Thurtell has posted Public Act 278, the 1994 law that banned Michigan school districts from selling Capital Appreciation Bonds. He indicates that the relevant sections are 380.1352a (Borrowing money and issuing bonds); 380.1351b (Appreciation or sale at discount); and 380.1352 (Borrowing or issuing bonds; contract for legal representation).

Joel Thurtell has also posted the text of most of his 1993 Detroit Free Press articles about Capital Appreciation Bond sales by Michigan school districts, although as of August 26, 2012 he was still preparing additional unpublished text from the first article, dated April 5, 1993, and related charts published in the newspaper.

This Michigan law banning the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds was enacted shortly before major newspapers and most state legislative web sites began posting content electronically on the web. (For example, the Michigan and California legislative web sites post bills starting with the 1995 sessions.) Try to research any state or local public policy activity before 1995, and everything is a lot more difficult! Thank you to Joel Thurtell for taking the time to provide public access to how the people of Michigan handled the Capital Appreciation Bond sales in their school districts in the early 1990s.

Board of San Diego Unified School District Senses Voters May Reject $2.8 Billion Bond Measure (Proposition Z) Because of Board’s Past Use of Capital Appreciation Bonds

“Board of Education” is displayed on the outside of the board’s meeting room at San Diego Unified School District headquarters. Oversized portraits of board members have not been hung – yet.

The board of education of the San Diego Unified School District wants permission from voters on November 6, 2012 to borrow more money for school construction by selling another $2.8 billion worth of bonds to investors. (The $2.8 billion amount does not include interest payments and transaction fees.) The ballot measure is designated as Proposition Z.

In November 2008, 68.71% of voters in the school district approved the $2.1 billion Proposition S. This bond measure remains controversial because the newly elected pro-union majority subsequently voted 3-2 to require construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) with unions for projects of $1 million or more funded wholly or in part by Proposition S.

The current school board - now made up of five pro-union board members – recognized that the proposed Proposition Z bond measure would inevitably draw opposition because of the Project Labor Agreement on projects funded by Proposition S. They made a political calculation and voted on July 24, 2012 to apply the Project Labor Agreement to Proposition Z as well as Proposition S. This locked in the campaign support of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council for a tough campaign. (Proposition Z is already opposed by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.)

But now a new and unexpected campaign vulnerability looms for the San Diego Unified School District’s proposed $2.8 billion Proposition Z: the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds.

One of the school districts bordering the San Diego Unified School District – the Poway Unified School District – is now getting national news attention because its board decided in 2011 to borrow $105,000,150 by selling Capital Appreciation Bonds. Taxpayers will need to pay investors $981,562,329 by 2052. See page 12 of the Poway Unified School District’s Proposition C Bond Building Fund Annual Audit Report, January 31, 2012.

The San Diego Unified School District was also in on the Capital Appreciation Bond racket, big-time.

For example, the San Diego Unified School District board of education voted on March 24, 2009 to authorize what became a sale of $131,157,580.95 in Capital Appreciation Bonds for Proposition S. To complicate matters, $73,168,837.40 of those bonds (but not the other $57,988,743.55) would convert to the more traditional current interest bonds in 2019. The interest on borrowing that $131 million would total $273,994,919.05 by 2033, with the interest backloaded to the end of the maturity period, of course. Based on this 2011 San Diego Unified School District annual audit report, it would be accurate to say that taxpayers are paying $405 million through 2033 to borrow $131 million in 2009 through the “2008 Series A” bond sales.

Perhaps the school board let this happen because it was preoccupied with negotiating the Project Labor Agreement to fulfill the demands of construction union lobbyists. Either that, or it just didn’t care about how the specifics of its bond sales would affect future taxpayers.

Even worse is the $163,869,784 that the San Diego Unified School District borrowed from investors through the “2008 Series C” bond sales. Interest on that $164 million will total $740,360,216 by the time the bonds mature in 2050. It would be accurate to say that taxpayers are paying $904 million through 2050 to borrow $164 million in 2010 through the “2008 Series C” bond sales.

That’s $1.3 billion to borrow $295 million. Not as bad as the Poway Unified School District, but it’s unlikely many voters in the district would have voted for Proposition S if they understood what it would truly cost taxpayers to borrow money for school construction.

And you can’t blame the voters. The people who approved Proposition S in November 2008 didn’t know that the district would sell Capital Appreciation Bonds, rather than the traditional “current interest bonds” for which interest is paid out twice a year to investors. (Actually, I’ll make a guess that most people who voted for Proposition S couldn’t explain a bond if they were asked – they just wanted to help the kids.)

Now the board of education for the San Diego Unified School District needs to neutralize the Capital Appreciation Bond issue before it sinks the proposed Proposition Z. The board president John Lee Evans has declared that the board will consider a resolution stating it will not sell any more Capital Appreciation Bonds.

SD Unified to Consider Bond Restrictions – San Diego Union-Tribune – August 23, 2012

City Schools Prez Pledges No Exotic Financing on New Bond – Voice of San Diego – August 23, 2012

San Diego County Treasurer Drafts Outline of Legislative Proposal to Restrict and Expose How California School Districts Sell Capital Appreciation Bonds

UPDATE:

Now posted on the County of San Diego Treasurer’s web site:

Information about San Diego County Treasurer Dan McAllister’s August 21, 2012 press conference and presentation materials about Capital Appreciation Bonds.

A YouTube video of San Diego County Treasurer Dan McAllister‘s August 21, 2012 press conference: SD County Treasurer Dan McAllister Calls for School Bond Reform

UPDATE 2: The San Diego Union-Tribune reports on Senator Mark Wyland‘s Senate Bill 1205, which was amended on March 28, 2012 to impose restrictions on the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds by K-12 school and community college districts. Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association official David Wolfe, who also serves on the Board of Directors of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees, is quoted in support of the bill. Senate Bill 1205 never had a hearing and never had a legislative analysis.

Lawmaker Sought to Stop Controversial Bond Financing – San Diego Union-Tribune – August 23, 2012


A little more than three months after the California League of Bond Oversight Committees (CalBOC) annual conference brought my attention to school districts and community college districts selling Capital Improvement Bonds (CABs) to borrow money for school construction, a prominent public official has proposed legislation to increase public awareness of the practice and rein it in.

Yesterday (August 21, 2012), San Diego County Treasurer Dan McAllister held a press conference to announce the outline of a legislative proposal to deal with Capital Appreciation Bonds. At the time of this writing, his office inexplicably does not have any information about the press conference or the proposal on its County of San Diego Treasurer web site, but the San Diego Union-Tribune posted his letter and proposal on its own web site. See them here:

Outline of the Proposed Capital Appreciation Bond Reform from the San Diego County Treasurer

Letter from the San Diego County Treasurer Explaining the Need for Capital Appreciation Bond Reform

As I wrote in my August 11, 2012 blog post (News Media Beginning to Pick Up on Story about California School Districts Selling Insidious “Capital Appreciation Bonds” – Dayton Public Policy Institute an Early Informant to California Taxpayers), the attraction of Capital Appreciation Bonds for California school districts and community college districts has been referenced in various specialty publications, including the CalBOC Newsletter, my own Dayton Public Policy Institute blog posts on Capital Appreciation Bonds, and originally in Joel Thurtell’s blog www.JoelontheRoad.com.

It was a set of articles earlier this month in the Voice of San Diego about the Poway Unified School District sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds that really brought the story to mainstream public attention. People get motivated when they are the direct victims! For proof that the school district borrowed $105,000,150 by selling Capital Appreciation Bonds and will need to pay investors $981,562,329 by 2052, see page 12 of the Poway Unified School District’s Proposition C Bond Building Fund Annual Audit Report, January 31, 2012.

I hope the California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors can align with the California League of Bond Oversight Committees (CalBOC) and various state and regional taxpayers organizations such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association to enact bipartisan legislation in 2012 to restrict or ban the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds by school districts and community college districts. My statement about Capital Appreciation Bonds:

School board members don’t care how much these Capital Appreciation Bonds cost after 30 or 40 years. By the time property owners are assessed with the staggering tax burden, the elected board members will be out of office and probably dead. They won’t be accountable for the consequences, but they’ll still have their names on rusty plaques next to the front doors of deteriorating schools.

Latest News Media Coverage of CAB Reform

School Bond Reform Gaining Support – San Diego Union-Tribune – August 22, 2012

Tax Collector Blasts Poway Unified Bonds, Calls for Reform – North County Times – August 22, 2012

County Treasurer Calls for Widespread School Bonds Reform – Voice of San Diego – August 22, 2012

Poway Unified Residents Fume Over Expensive Bond: School District Officials Explain, Defend Decision Behind $1 Billion Debt – San Diego Union-Tribune – August 21, 2012

Poway Bond is a Billion-Dollar Box-Office Bomb – San Diego Union-Tribune (columnist Logan Jenkins) – August 21, 2012

County Treasurer Calls for Widespread School Bonds Reform - Voice of San Diego - August 21, 2012

A Creative Borrowing Boom: VOSD Radio - Voice of San Diego - August 20, 2012

Tonight: Big School Board Meeting in Poway - Voice of San Diego – August 20, 2012

High Cost of School Bond Shocks Poway Unified: Repayment Under Financing Plan Will Be 9 Times the Principal – San Diego Union-Tribune – August 17, 2012

‘Wow, If True Then That Is Financial Suicide’: Comments on School Bonds - Voice of San Diego – August 10, 2012

Find High-Interest School Bonds in Your District: A Five-Step Guide - Voice of San Diego - August 8, 2012

A Creative Borrowing Boom: Poway Not Alone in High-Interest Financing - Voice of San Diego – August 7, 2012

Where Borrowing $105 Million Will Cost $1 Billion: Poway Schools - Voice of San Diego - August 6, 2012

Moody’s Suggests Greedy Taxpayers Clinging to Their Money and Too Much Local Government Authority Are Causes of Municipal Bankruptcies; Predict More to Come

UPDATE: Inglewood Unified School District was indeed the next school district to be taken over by the state, as predicted below. On September 14, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 533, a bill amended on August 15, 2012 to authorize emergency loan assistance to the school district of up to $55 million. Senate Bill 533 also requires the State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson to assume all the rights, duties, and powers of the school board and appoint a state administrator for the district.

Note that the Inglewood Unified School District Superintendent Gary McHenry was the Superintendent of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in the mid-2000s when the school board spent years arguing over requiring construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions to work on certain projects at the district.


ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: as I was writing about the Costa Mesa City Council’s derailed cost-efficiency plan on the morning of August 18, 2012 (Costa Mesa’s Bold and Meaningful Government Cost-Efficiency Plan on Hold Until November 6, When Citizens Vote on a Proposed Charter (Measure V) and for Three City Council Members), I realized that Moody’s looks at strong local government authority without considering all of the potential POSITIVE aspects of strong local governments and “home rule” under charters. A 4-1 majority on the Costa Mesa City Council is asking voters to enact a charter on November 6 through Measure V that would allow it more freedom and flexibility to save money for taxpayers by contracting out services and exempting local construction from state-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”).

The people sending out the message from Moody’s about city bankruptcies in California apparently didn’t think much about wasteful government spending and the flexibility that comes with local control. They simply blame democratic obstacles to tax increases (“raising revenues is difficult for all California cities because tax hikes require voter approval”) and insufficient centralized government control (“unlike other states that are empowered to intervene in the financial affairs of stressed local governments, California’s strong ‘home rule’ means local governments get relatively little financial, technical, or oversight help from the state”).

If institutional investors are foolish enough to buy bonds issued by the City of Compton and the Inglewood Unified School District, why do California taxpayers need to bail out those investors with tax increases and costly state government interventions?


Imagine the constant pressure on the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association as it responds in bad times (as well as in good times) to the relentless claims that California would be so much better without those silly laws (especially Proposition 13) enacted by greedy, uncaring, ignorant voters who want to limit tax increases. When will people be more willing to share their bounty for the public good?

The latest subtle attack on the selfish taxpayer comes from Moody’s Investors Service. Today (August 17, 2012) Moody’s announced the release of a report entitled “Why Some California Cities Are Choosing Bankruptcy.” The announcement on the Moody’s web site hints of fundamental problems in California that include the following: (1) governments aren’t taking enough money in taxes and fees from their citizens to pay for services and other obligations; and (2) the state government isn’t strong enough to effectively meddle in municipal affairs. Here are some relevant excerpts:

[The report] details the economic, legal and policy environment that is helping to drive the increase in bankruptcy filings and defaults by California cities and concludes that the risk profile of California cities has increased across the board. Factors include the state’s boom-bust real estate economy, its hands-off policy with regard to the fiscal problems of local governments, and newly enacted legislation that … effectively lays out a path to bankruptcy court for stressed municipalities…

“Raising revenues is difficult for all California cities because tax hikes require voter approval,” said Moody’s Managing Director Gail Sussman. “And, unlike other states that are empowered to intervene in the financial affairs of stressed local governments, California’s strong “home rule” means local governments get relatively little financial, technical, or oversight help from the state.

“The inability and unwillingness to honor obligations to bondholders is relatively new in US public finance and still remains rare,” said Sussman. “The emergence in California of bankruptcy as a tool to extract bondholder concessions as part of a budgetary solution is a significant new risk for bondholders.”

“Stressed local governments” need a financial massage from the taxpayers through “raising revenues” and an “empowered” state government. A Reuters article about the report picks up on the theme:

The remedies California’s municipalities can employ are more limited than those of some other states, citing restrictions on property tax hikes and cities’ considerable independence from the state government, Moody’s said.

Get it? Local communities are too independent, and they selfishly want to keep their own money. They need to give away more money and more power to the wise in Sacramento, and then some of it will come back.

Here is a counter-perspective, which can be done by citing Moody’s own words:

Looking at the last couple of months of ratings issued by Moody’s for California local governments, it looks like the City of Compton might be the next city to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. On July 23, 2012, Moody’s announced that it had downgraded the rating for the City of Compton‘s $4.9 million in Sewer Enterprise revenue bonds from A2 to to Ba1 with the possibility of further downgrades. Apparently the city is collecting more than enough money from its sewer bills to make its payments on these bonds. Some other pesky issues have come up, such as “weak internal controls and management practices” and “severe General Fund overspending relative to budgeted amounts” and “waste, fraud and abuse.”

The downgrade is based primarily on the city’s severe liquidity crisis, the risk this raises that the city could seek bankruptcy protection, and the potential implications of such a development on timely debt service payments. The sewer enterprise currently generates more than sufficient net revenues to make debt service payments, and the Ba1 rating reflects our expectation of full, if not timely, debt service payment, assuming revenues have been allocated as legally required. The downgrade also reflects the city’s weak internal controls and management practices, highlighted by the depth of the liquidity crisis; recent, severe General Fund overspending relative to budgeted amounts; and allegations of waste, fraud and abuse of public monies by the city’s Mayor. These allegations undermine our expectation that the city will properly account for and transfer pledged enterprise revenues to bond trustees consistent with trust agreements to ensure timely debt service payments. Uncertainty also derives from the city’s inability to produce audited financial information on a timely basis.

The July 18, 2012 Los Angeles Times suggested that the City of Compton would be the next city to go bankrupt: see “Compton on Brink of Bankruptcy: The city is the latest to fall victim to questionable financial practices. It could run out of money by the end of the summer.” (The article hedged its bets by also mentioning Victorville and Montebello.)

At California school districts, it looks like the Inglewood Unified School District might be the next school district to be taken over by the state. On June 28, 2012, Moody’s announced that it had downgraded the rating for the Inglewood Unified School District‘s $113 million worth of outstanding general bond obligations from A3 to Baa1. It also assigned a “negative outlook” because of “the district’s continued fiscal crisis and the possibility it could be forced into state receivership to remain solvent.”

According to an April 20, 2012 announcement about the Inglewood Unified School District from Moody’s, this school district has been spending more while taking in less and educating fewer students:

The district’s financial position has eroded to a level of near insolvency that requires an immediate correction to maintain operations. The current financial position occurred due to growing expenditures during a period of acute revenue decline. Revenue decline has been driven by two main factors: declining enrollment averaging 4.8% annual decrease over a five year period, and reductions of state aid experienced by all California school districts beginning in fiscal year 2008. The district’s operational imbalance was funded during fiscal years 2009 and 2010 by Federal ARRA funds and the use of the district’s reserve funds. Fiscal year 2010 ended with a General Fund balance of $3.8 million, 3.4% of revenues, a significant drawdown since fiscal 2007′s balance of $17 million, or 12.8% of revenues.

Speaking of school bonds, notice all the wonderful things that happened after Californians voted in 2000 to reduce the voter approval threshold for school districts to sell general obligation bonds for school construction from two-thirds to 55%. School districts went wild borrowing money from bond investors, often by selling Capital Appreciation Bonds. Today the kids enjoy their new and renovated school facilities, and tomorrow their families will enjoy a lifetime of renting when property taxes shoot through the roof in 20-30 years to pay off the compound interest from those bonds. (Don’t worry, I’m sure the state government and local governments will institute laws to control the rent.)

Really, do you want to give more money to the City of Compton and the Inglewood Unified School District, the way they’re run today? The problem is not that Californians aren’t giving enough money to their government. The problem is the government itself.

News Media Beginning to Pick Up on Story about California School Districts Selling Insidious “Capital Appreciation Bonds” – Dayton Public Policy Institute an Early Informant to California Taxpayers

Finally, the news media is discovering and reporting on how many California school districts are selling “Capital Appreciation Bonds” to investors, thus committing future generations of California property owners to staggering tax payments.

To summarize this obscure issue in two paragraphs, when California voters approve “bond measures” so that school districts or other government entities can borrow money for construction projects, voters are directing local governments to sell “General Obligation Bonds” to investors such as individuals, commercial banks, insurance companies, and money market funds. Investors make money through the interest paid by the municipal government during the time it borrows the money. “General Obligation Bonds” are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the government entities, meaning the investors are guaranteed to get the principal and interest on the investment.

Traditionally, school districts and other government entities have sold General Obligation Bonds that provide investors with a semi-annual interest payment throughout the term of the bond, with the principal returned to the investors when the bond matures. But a recent trend for California school districts is selling a different type of General Obligation Bond. These are called “Capital Appreciation Bonds” (CABs), also known as Zero-Coupon Bonds, in which interest is compounded over the life of the bond and then paid all at once with the principal to the investors when the bond matures. This means that the government entity can delay collecting property taxes and backload the tax burden to the later years of the term of the bond, which can be as long as 40 years. Compound interest (paying interest on the principal AND interest) can accumulate huge financial obligations over such a long time period.

A reporter for the Detroit Free Press newspaper named Joel Thurtell found this same racket going on at Michigan school districts in the early 1990s and wrote some comprehensive articles exposing it, starting with the April 5, 1993 story “Michigan Schools Load the Future With Debt.” His reporting was one of the catalysts leading to a provision in Michigan law prohibiting the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds. It was added to a school finance bill on June 22, 1994 as an amendment offered by State Senator Joanne Emmons, and Governor John Engler subsequently signed the bill into law.

Now retired from the Detroit Free Press but continuing his journalism with a blog (Joel on the Road: Words Shot With a Loose Cannon), Mr. Thurtell discovered earlier this year that California school districts were now playing this game. The giveaway was an outrageous 2011 sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds by the Poway Unified School District (just north of San Diego) that allegedly will cost taxpayers a total of $981 million by 2051. That’s the price of borrowing $105 million in 2011!

As I say to Californians whenever I try to explain this:

School board members don’t care how much these Capital Appreciation Bonds cost after 30 or 40 years. By the time property owners are assessed with the staggering tax burden, the elected board members will be out of office and probably dead. They won’t be accountable for the consequences, but they’ll still have their names on rusty plaques next to the front doors of deteriorating schools.

I learned about Capital Appeciation Bonds at the California League of Bond Oversight Committees (CalBOC) annual conference on May 11, 2012. (I’m on the Board of Advisors for this group.) I was astonished at the lack of news coverage about this potentially disasterous practice for the state and posted an article about it that evening.

I was still thinking about the issue a few days later and wondering why so few Californians knew or cared. Looking through my notes from the conference, I saw that the feisty and determined Mt. Diablo Unified School District Measure C 2010 Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee member Alicia Minyen (an unsung hero for fiscal responsibility in California) mentioned that a reporter in Michigan has exposed the racket there, which led to a state ban on school districts selling Capital Appreciation Bonds. Researching on the web, I identified the reporter and then found his blog. I discovered he had posted several articles in the previous two weeks on the threat of Capital Appreciation Bonds in California, starting on April 27, 2012:

Muni bomb ticks in California

Posted on April 27, 2012 by Joel

By Joel Thurtell I was sipping coffee and reflecting on the ignorance displayed for all the world to read in a New York Times article. It was January 9, 2009. The Times story claimed to offer “a rare glimpse into … Continue reading →

I posted a comment on his blog to let him know that a fiscally conservative policy consultant in California had noticed the issue and planned to spread the news. He then mentioned me in his blog:

See no evil: CABS and media

Posted on May 16, 2012 by Joel

By Joel Thurtell Thanks to Kevin Dayton of the Dayton Public Policy Institute for noticing my recent columns about the evils of Capital Appreciation Bonds. He covered the May 11, 2012 meeting of California’s League of Bond Oversight Committees annual … Continue reading →

Fast forward to August 2012, and people are giving as much attention to my May 2012 articles about Capital Appreciation Bonds (Please Read This, Even If You Think Municipal Bonds Are Really BORING: We’re Setting Up the Next Generation of Californians to Pay Staggering Property Taxes and Reporter Behind Michigan’s 1994 Prohibition of Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs) Watches and Writes about the CAB Frenzy at California School Districts) as they are to my posted photo of the closest Chick-fil-A to San Francisco. The issue is now getting attention, perhaps in part because big urban school districts such as the Sacramento City Unified School District, the West Contra Costa Unified School District, and the San Diego Unified School District are asking voters on November 6, 2012 for approval to borrow hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars through bond sales to investors.

A big break for exposing the issue was a Voice of San Diego article on August 6, 2012:

Where Borrowing $105 Million Will Cost $1 Billion: Poway Schools

After putting together a bond that will cost taxpayers almost 10 times what they borrowed, the Poway Unified School District has become California’s poster child for a form of exotic financing.

I suspect that a key element in the successful spread of this article was the brightly-colored pie chart that put the astonishing news into graphic form for people to understand.

The Voice of San Diego then provided a nifty guide on August 8, 2012 to other school districts selling Capital Appreciation Bonds:

Find High-Interest School Bonds in Your District: A Five-Step Guide

Want to find out if your local school district has borrowed money using expensive capital appreciation bonds? Follow our guide.

Regrettably, as other news media outlets picked up on the story and circulated it nationwide, Mr. Thurtell and the Voice of San Diego received some attention for their dispute over proper attribution of sources and credit for the story. I’ll let them speak for themselves on their web sites, but I am pleased to see this issue brought to the attention of the public as more California local governments and the State of California itself careen toward bankruptcy. (For example, see The Right Way, the Wrong Way, and the Poway of School Bond Financingwww.CalWatchdog.com – August 9, 2012)

Something has to be done now to protect today’s California children from oppressive taxes in 20-40 years when they start families, buy a house or other residential property, and own small businesses with property. (I’m assuming there will still be private property in California in 2052 – am I being too optimistic?) I want to see someone in the California State Legislature introduce a bill banning the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds and limiting all General Obligation Bonds to a maximum time period of 30 years. It can be modeled on the law in Michigan.

Will any California state legislator dare to challenge the many special interests that regard school bonds as “chasing after money…live for today and don’t worry ’bout tomorrow, hey, hey, hey” (Use the chorus of this song as the theme music for the effort.)

Also, I thank Joel Thurtell for mentioning my early attention to this story in his blog:

Credit

Posted on August 9, 2012 by Joel

By Joel Thurtell I appreciate the article by Andrew Donohue in the Voice of San Diego acknowledging my work in uncovering and reporting about the Capital Appreciation Bond scandal in California. Donohue responded to my complaint that reporter Will Carless of the … Continue reading →

I’m in Michigan. The first California reporter to write about California’s Cab scam was Kevin Dayton, on May 11 and May 14.

First Swipe at San Diego Unified School District’s Proposed $2.8 Billion Bond Measure Under a Project Labor Agreement: San Diego Union-Tribune Opinion Piece – A Bond Is Not Free Money

Today’s San Diego Union-Tribune (August 3, 2012) includes a sharp opinion piece from Eric Christen, executive director of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, entitled “School District’s Bond Measure Not ‘Free Money’.’”

He uses two arguments as a basis to oppose the proposed $2.8 billion bond measure for school construction that the San Diego Unified School District’s Board of Education placed on the November 6, 2012 ballot with a resolution at its July 24, 2012 meeting.

1. Bonds Are Not Free Money; They Are Borrowed Money. Property Owners Large and Small Pay Taxes So Investors Get Back the Principal Plus Interest and Transaction Fees.

Eric points out to uninformed and confused readers that voting for school bonds does NOT mean getting free money from the government. This is actually money obtained through arrangements with brokerage firms, borrowed from investment banks and insurance companies, and paid back through taxes assessed on property owners in the school district. People will pay back these bonds, along with the interest and transaction fees, when they pay their property tax bills to San Diego County.

Eric also points out that the dastardly “One Percent” invests in these bonds, and they want their money back, with interest and fees. They don’t do it for the children, either. They do it to get rich and stay rich.

How does this work in practice? As one example, the San Diego County Counsel’s Impartial Analysis of the $2.1 billion bond measure approved by voters as Proposition S in November 2008 for the San Diego Unified School District indicated that the interest rate for any bond authorized by Proposition S could be as high as 12 percent. In addition, the maturity period for any bond authorized by Proposition S could range from 25 years to 40 years.

In a future post, I will analyze the specific bond sales to date authorized by Proposition S.

Another interesting angle with the new proposed $2.8 billion bond is the possibility that the San Diego Unified School District may choose to sell Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs), in which the investors get the principal plus compound interest in one lump sum at the end of the maturity period, rather than getting a regular interest payment. Meanwhile, the tax burden with these bonds is often backloaded to the end of the maturity period.

In other words, babies born in 2012 could be socked with huge property taxes if they own a house in San Diego from 2050 to 2060. (The current school board will probably be deceased and not accountable to the voters at that time for their decision in 2012.) I write about the growing, dangerous popularity of Capital Appreciation Bonds among California school districts in some of my earlier posts (here and here).

Unions Will Control the Construction with a Project Labor Agreement

While it’s future generations that may end up paying the bulk of this proposed new $2.8 billion school bond (costing perhaps $5 billion total, including the interest and transaction fees), the current generation of parents and students will see their construction program compromised by a government-mandated Project Labor Agreement that cuts bid competition and increases costs for the benefit of construction unions.

The Board of Education has already passed a resolution (also on July 24, 2012) indicating that contractors working on projects over $1 million under the proposed new bond will indeed be required by the school district to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of work. It is titled “Resolution Regarding Project Stabilization Agreement (PSA) for Future Local Bonds’ School Construction, Repairs, and Renovation and Addendum Three to PSA to Extend the PSA to Future Local Bonds.”

That can mean four schools for the price of five. For more information about measuring the cost of Project Labor Agreements, see the July 2011 study by the the National University System Institute for Policy Research about the costs of California school construction under Project Labor Agreements. By far the most comprehensive analysis of the cost of Project Labor Agreements on taxpayer-funded construction, the study had this conclusion:

Our research shows that PLAs are associated with higher construction costs. We found that costs are 13 to 15 percent higher when school districts construct a school under a PLA. In inflation-adjusted dollars, we found that the presence of a PLA is associated with costs that are $28.90 to $32.49 per square foot higher.

Will San Diego residents coming out to vote for President Barack Obama in the November election simply vote for another property tax increase for union-controlled construction at the San Diego Unified School District? The Board of Education is guessing they will.

Reporter Behind Michigan’s 1994 Prohibition of Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs) Watches and Writes about the CAB Frenzy at California School Districts

Here is a follow-up to my May 11 post entitled Please Read This, Even If You Think Municipal Bonds Are Really BORING: We’re Setting Up the Next Generation of Californians to Pay Staggering Property Taxes.

A speaker at the California League of Bond Oversight Committees annual conference on May 11 mentioned that the State of Michigan banned Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs) in the 1990s after a reporter for the Detroit Free Press named Joel Thurtell exposed the extent of the scheme to the public in his April 5, 1993 investigative article “Michigan Schools Load the Future With Debt.”

It turns out Mr. Thurtell has a personal blog called Joel on the Road, in which he has been tracking and opining on the excessive use of CABs in California, including the mind-boggling one at the Poway Unified School District in San Diego County. He has posted four articles about CAB abuses at California school districts in the past five days.

I wrote the following comment on his blog in response to CABs and Consequences:

Mr. Thurtell:

On Friday, May 11, I attended the annual conference of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees in Sacramento. The increasing use of Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs) to fund construction in California school districts (and fund the funding of school construction) was extensively discussed. Your articles were briefly mentioned by one speaker as influential in banning CABs in Michigan. You may be the catalyst to get CABs banned in California before the next generation of property owners in this state is saddled with a huge burden for construction completed 30-40 years earlier, when the political culture in this state revolved around the principle of “spend now/let someone else pay later.” You need to do a speaking tour in California. I recommend contacting the California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors, the California League of Bond Oversight Committees, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Please Read This, Even If You Think Municipal Bonds Are Really BORING: We’re Setting Up the Next Generation of Californians to Pay Staggering Property Taxes

Today I attended the first annual conference of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees (CalBOC) in Sacramento.

Several speakers provided guidance on how to be an effective oversight committee for a school district and provided case studies of dysfunctional oversight committees. But for me, the most valuable part of the conference was learning that foolish bond sales to finance school construction today are leaving our children and grandchildren with a tremendous tax burden in 20 to 40 years.

Walking into the conference, I knew little about municipal bonds. Unlike many Californians, I had understood that taxpayers must pay back the principal on these bonds, must pay back significant interest payments to the investors who buy the bonds, and must pay fees for various professional services associated with selling the bonds. Bonds are not “free money.”

I will guess that even Californians who know that a bond creates a debt that needs to be paid back usually don’t consider that voters who approve a $100 million bond are usually assessing property owners with taxes of about $180 million (amount not adjusted for inflation) over the term of the bond, when interest payments and fees are included in the total debt.

Traditionally, school districts have sold typical “General Obligation Bonds,” in which investors buy bonds, receive regular interest payments, and then receive the principal at the end of the term of the bond. But the growing problem for future generations of Californians is that they will need to pay off more than 1200 “Capital Appreciation Bonds” (CABs) to fund school construction (or to fund the funding of school construction, in a few cases).

Capital Appreciation Bonds are sold at a price substantially less than the principal amount of the bond. Investors don’t receive interest payments regularly over the life of the bond, but instead get a single huge payment of the principal plus the accumulated compounded interest at the end of the term of the bond.

People tend to underestimate the power of compounded interest, in which interest is earned on the principal AND on the accumulated interest. One speaker claimed that Poway Unified School District (in San Diego County) sold 40-year Capital Appreciation Bonds that will cost taxpayers 2200% of the principal because of the compounded interest.

Elected school boards like Capital Appreciation Bonds because they defer payments on the principal and backload interest payments to the final years before maturity, therefore keeping the present tax rate for property owners under the maximum rate set in Proposition 39 as a condition to seek 55% voter approval for the bond (rather than two-thirds approval).

Evading higher property taxes helps school board members to stay in public office, of course. And the huge debt service payments resulting from the compounded interest in Capital Appreciation Bonds will start for taxpayers 30 to 40 years after the bonds are issued, at which time many of the voters who approved the bond measures will be dead, as well as the school board members who authorized the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds so many years earlier.

Does this story seem far-fetched because you’ve never heard of it? I think ordinary citizens rarely hear about municipal bonds because the topic can be complicated and dry. It doesn’t sell newspapers and it doesn’t attract TV viewers. Perhaps my layman status will allow me in occasional blog posts over the next few weeks to clearly and effectively explain the long-term dangers of these Capital Appreciation Bonds.