Voters in N.Y., Oregon Face Ballot Questions On Education Bonds

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The Nov. 4 state ballots may not generate the hoopla of a presidential election, but the stakes are high for schools in New York and Oregon, where voters will decide two education bond measures.

Nationwide, voters in nine states will consider 43 statewide propositions next week, most of which deal with taxes or crime, according to the Free Congress Foundation, a think tank in Washington.

New Jersey and Virginia also have gubernatorial races. ("Va. Gubernatorial Hopefuls Debate Education," Oct. 22, 1997.)

Voters in New York state, for the first time in recent history, will consider a statewide school construction bond. And it's a big one: $2.4 billion.

But while lawmakers there worked with the governor to pass the legislation that put the measure on the ballot, they've failed to agree on how the revenue would be distributed and other details of the plan.

"The language is so wide that you could drive a truck through it," said Bill Pape, the spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association, which is backing the measure.

State Assemblyman Steven Sanders, the Democratic chairman of the education committee in the legislature's lower house, is requesting a special session to address his plan to allocate the funds--if voters approve them--through needs-based grants.

There is no requirement that the ballot measure, Proposal 3, specify the recipients of the bond revenue.

But Mr. Sanders says that voters deserve such details.

And he wants to allay fears that all of the proceeds would go to New York City, as some critics contend.

"New York state needs $10 billion to $12 billion for school construction," he added.

"The $2.4 billion is an important first step toward underwriting that need."

Measure 52

In the other major school-related ballot measure, Oregon voters will decide on Measure 52, which would allow the state to sell up to $150 million in bonds to set up a school improvement fund.

The bonds would be financed with proceeds from the state lottery.

Revenue from the fund would go to school districts for projects such as improving technology infrastructure, buying books or furniture, and building or renovating schools.

While pleased with the potential revenue, supporters of the bond would have preferred that the legislature appropriate the money.

The bond revenue "won't do a lot, but if we took $150 million out of local budgets for these projects, it would mean cutting additional local programs," said James Sager, the president of the Oregon Education Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association.

Opposition for the bill comes from the Mainstream Liberty Caucus, an affiliate of the Libertarian Party of Oregon.

The caucus wrote the formal argument against the bill.

The group's position, which appeared in the state's official voter-information pamphlet, states: "Voting NO tells legislators you want reforms like charter schools that save tax dollars while expanding educational opportunities."

Other State Questions

In other state ballot measures next week:

  • Texas' Proposition 13 proposes amending the state constitution to prevent legislators from tapping into the state's prepaid-college-tuition fund, called the Texas Tomorrow Fund, to pay other state expenses.

Since its creation in 1995, 65,000 families have begun paying toward their children's tuition to two- and four-year Texas colleges through the fund.

  • Maine's Question 3 would approve a $10 million bond for projects to make state university buildings more accessible to the disabled.
  • And Washington's HJR 4208 would amend the state constitution to allow school districts to extend from two to four years the life of special maintenance and operations property-tax levies.

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