School budget vote results — a new record for yes vote share

Monday, May 21st, 2012 at 7:23 am by

The State Education Department did not release its tabulation of school budget vote results until Friday, so we were delayed in producing our analysis until today.

Below are some highlights from the results, followed by further analysis and commentary.

Here is a collection of charts and tables summarizing the results.

Some highlights from the data:

Statewide, 96.5 percent of proposed budgets passed – the second highest rate in history (there are records going back to 1969.  The highest pass rate (97.3 percent) occurred in 2009.

This was the first year of voting under the tax cap law.

  • 92 percent of districts proposed budgets with tax increases within their calculated levy limit.  Of those, 99 percent (all but five) passed.
  • Of the 53 districts attempting to gain the 60 percent super-majority vote needed to over-ride the cap, 64 percent were successful.

Average proposed tax increases:

  • Statewide:  2.2%
  • Non-over-ride districts:  2.1%
  • All over-ride districts:  4.2%
  • Successful over0ride districts:  3.5%
  • Unsuccessful over-ride districts:  5.4%

A total of 802,283 people voted, down 9 percent from 2011.  SED has compiled vote counts since 2003.

The total turnout was 1.1 percent below the average for the preceding nine years (2003 through 2011).

530,742 people voted for their district proposal – 66.2 percent of the total, a new record for the “yes” vote percentage.

Statewide, the “yes” turnout was down 1.4 percent from 2011, but roughly equal to the average yes turnout for the preceding years with data (up 0.3 percent).

Statewide, the no vote turnout of 271,541 was down 22 percent from 2011, and 20.5 percent below the historical average.

Looking at districts which attempted to over-ride their tax levy limit and failed, yes votes were up 15 percent, but no votes were up 103 percent compared to 2011.  Total turnout was up 47 percent.

Of the 19 districts which failed to gain approval for an over-ride, eight received support from more than 50 percent of those voting, but fell short of the required 60 percent margin.

In districts which succeeded in gaining approval for an over-ride, yes votes were up 9 percent, no votes were up 13 percent, and total turnout was up 10 percent compared to 2011.

Analysis:

In a blog post the week before the vote, I wrote that we were wondering whether the shift to voting on tax levy would cause a change in who comes out to vote.  (Tax cap voting:  Ask a different question, get a different answer?)

Specifically, I wondered whether the opportunity to vote explicitly on whether to authorize a tax increase might bring out more voters predisposed to vote no.

Prior to this year, voters were deciding whether to authorize a spending level for their school districts.

As noted, the no vote turnout this year was 22 percent lower than in 2011.  But 2009 might be a better year to use in a comparison.

Again, SED has been compiling yes and no votes since 2003.  The lowest no vote total occurred in 2009.  That was also the year with the lowest statewide average proposed tax levy increase in the period since 2003 – 2.1 percent.

This year had the second lowest statewide average proposed tax increase since 2003 (2.2 percent).  Other things being equal, that would suggest another low “no” turnout this year and we did have the second lowest no vote total, 4 percent above the 2009 level.

Yes votes this year totaled 11 percent more than in 2009.  Some of that difference may be transitory,  attributable to unique efforts school districts made this year to educate voters about the change in voting procedures, as well as expanded pro-school budget promotional efforts by New York State United Teachers.

My conclusion— for now – is that the shift to voting on tax levy did not fundamentally change the composition of the school budget vote electorate.

Another concern is whether the tax cap will have a disparate negative impact on low wealth/high need school districts.

At least one analysis of the Massachusetts tax cap law found that poorer communities were less likely to attempt to over-ride the cap, and less likely to succeed when they did.

Our analysis of past voting patterns in New York State found that high need small city and suburban districts had much greater difficulty getting 60 percent of voters to approve higher tax increases than did average need and low need districts, or even high need rural districts.

With only 53 districts attempting over-rides, the sample size is probably too small to draw reliable conclusions.  Three high need small city and suburban districts attempted over-rides (6.5 percent of the districts in that category); one of the three was successful.

High need rural districts were least likely to attempt an over-ride (5.8 percent), but 78 percent of those who tried succeeded.

Over 8 percent of both the average and low need districts attempted over-rides.  Average need districts had the lowest success rate – 57 percent.  Low need districts had the highest success rate – 82 percent.

Again, however, with the sample size so small – especially for high need small cities and suburbs – it is hard to make firm conclusions.

We will be studying the results further to see if any distinct patterns emerge.

Commentary:

Newsday, the Buffalo News and Rochester Democrat and Chronicle declared that the tax cap had worked to hold down tax increases.  Tax cap advocate E.J. McMahon said that the cap had shifted power to voters, while cautioning that state leaders till have work to do – addressing mandate relief.

Asked about the results, Governor Cuomo said, “I feel very good about it,” and added that the tax cap “brought fiscal discipline to these discussions on budgets, and the automatic increase — which at one time were four, five, six percent per year … went down to like two percent.”

As we reported in our blog a few weeks ago, school tax increases slowed significantly starting in 2009.  Here is a chart.

An Albany Times Union columnist summed up the Governor’s approach to school finance as, “Throw grenade, walk away.”

Appearing on Time Warner cable television’s Capitol Tonight show last week, Tim Kremer of the New York State School Boards Association, Rick Timbs of the Statewide School Finance Consortium and I discussed the results, with a focus on concerns beyond this year.

In the Council’s statement on the results, we observed,

Budgeting in school districts is about balancing what students need and what taxpayers can afford. It is clear that the tax cap led districts to propose budgets with lower tax increases this year.  It will take longer to determine how the cap and other state policies are affecting their ability to provide the opportunities students need to succeed in life beyond school.

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