screen-shot-2014-11-03-at-2-57-06-pm-150x150-5452204Over the past 50 years, New York voters have been presented with 23 general obligation bond issues, including this year’s proposal to borrow $2 billion for school technology and the building of pre-kindergarten classroom space. The outcome of the last 22 votes is evenly split, with 11 proposals passing and 11 failing.

Proposal 3 on tomorrow’s (Nov. 4) ballot would allow the state to borrow up to $2 billion to finance the purchase by school districts of classroom computer technology and security upgrades (the aspect Governor Cuomo is highlighting), and to build new pre-kindergarten classroom space or replacements for portable classrooms (which is how Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to spend New York City’s $730 million share). 

This year’s bond proposition, the first in nine years, is also the first since 1990 to coincide with a statewide election for governor, comptroller and attorney general. If it passes, it will mark the first time New York voters have approved state borrowing mainly to finance expenditures by local school districts. New York’s long-standing practice has been to generously reimburse locally bonded school capital costs and to subsidize technology purchases through direct annual aid.* 

The record of past bond acts is summarized in the following table (click for expanded view), based on research by the Empire Center’s Daniel Russo


Some noteworthy points:

  • Bond issues used to be much more common.  Seventeen of the last 23 bond proposals were submitted before 1990.  This year’s proposal is only the third since 2000.
  • The percentage of voters who also cast a vote on bond propositions has ranged from a low of 48 percent expressing a preference on a failed transportation bond issue in 2000 to a high of 80 percent who cast a vote on the successful 1983 transportation bond act. Since 1986, the share of voters casting a vote on bond propositions has been lower downstate than upstate.
  • Upstaters tend to vote against bond issues, rejecting 12 of the 13 proposals since 1975.  Downstate residents tend to go in the opposite direction, voting in favor of 11 consecutive 11 bond issues since 1979.
  • The most popular bond issue ever was the Environmental bond of 1965, which garnered 81 percent of the vote, including large majorities throughout the state.  The least popular was a housing bond act in 1977, which was rejected by a 2 to 1 margin. 
  • The proposed $500 million prison bond construction bond issue of 1981 produced the closest statewide tally in history, losing by just 13,699 votes or 0.3 percent.
  • The $2.9 billion transportation bond act of 2005 was the most recent bond issue to go before voters.  It was approved by a 56-44 percent margin.

* In 2006, the state Legislature authorized $1.8 billion in non-voter approved backdoor borrowing for school capital construction—the same purpose rejected as part of the 1997 “School Health and Safety” bond act.

About the Author

E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

Read more by E.J. McMahon

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