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Finance expert: Economy, need contribute to bond, override success

Randie Stein, Director Of The Public Finance Team At Stifel Nicolaus In Phoenix.

School district bonds and overrides were approved by Arizona voters in this most recent election at a higher rate than in the past five years, said Randie Stein, director of the public finance team at Stifel Nicolaus in Phoenix.

Voters may recognize the state has cut education funds for the past several years, and they may also see public schools’ increased needs, Stein said.

Finance expert: Economy, need contribute to bond, override success RandieSteinInside

Randie Stein, director of the public finance team at Stifel Nicolaus in Phoenix.

“This evidence of need and an improving economy may have come together and resulted in improved pass rate statistics in 2014,” Stein said.

Bonds and overrides are voter approved community support for schools generated by local property taxes. They are for a specific period of time and purpose.

Maintenance and operations overrides are used to directly impact the classroom, typically by reducing class sizes, providing all-day kindergarten, which is no longer fully funded by the state, more teacher training and instructional materials. They often are continuations of existing overrides. Capital outlay overrides often are used for technology, upgrading network infrastructure and buses. Bonds can be used for school construction and renovation, and many districts now use bond money for buildings repair, since the state has not provided money for building renewal since 2008.

Stein provides financial studies for state, city, town, county and school districts, assists with bond transactions and provides capital consulting services to school districts. Stein joined Stifel Nicolaus as part of its merger with Stone & Youngberg.

For more than 10 years, Stein served as a key fiscal advisor and finance committee analyst in the Arizona State Senate, and was an economist/budget analyst with the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. She has also served as interim director of the Arizona School Facilities Board and as a public policy consultant.

Stein graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s degree in economics, and earned her Master’s degree from Arizona State University. She is a member of the Arizona Economic Round Table, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s Finance Advisory Committee and the Board of Trustees of the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.

Q: What percentage of school district bonds and overrides were approved statewide in the elections earlier this week?

A: The pass rate for maintenance and operation overrides was 67%, for capital overrides the pass rate was 50%, and for new money Class B bond elections the pass rate was 88%.

Q: How have bond/override approval rates in Arizona changed much over the past five, 10 and 15 years?

A: In all cases, maintenance and operations overrides, capital overrides and bonds, the pass rate in 2014 is higher than the pass rate in the 2009-2013 period, but lower than the pass rate in the 2004-2008 period.

Q: What factors, including the recession, have influenced voters the most on these ballot measures over time?

A: It is always difficult and imprecise to ascribe motive to voters, but from the pass rate statistics over the past 10 years it seems pretty clear that voters were more reluctant to approve school district measures during the recession.

Also, the fact that pass rates were higher in 2014 than they were during the 2009-2013 period may be reflective of recognition by the voters of the state funding cuts education has sustained over the past several years – meaning voters may be seeing increased needs in public schools.

This evidence of need and an improving economy may have come together and resulted in improved pass rate statistics in 2014.

Q: Why are mail-in ballots so important in the outcomes of these measures?

A: There are a couple of evolving trends related to mail-in ballots that are seemingly heightening the importance of the mail-in vote.

First, with the advent of the permanent early voting list (PEVL), more and more people are opting to vote by mail instead of at the polling place. In Maricopa County, of all active voters, approximately 65% are currently on the PEVL.

The second trend to note is that the voter participation rate of those requesting mail-in ballots is generally higher than the overall participation rate. When these two trends are considered together, it is easy to understand why the importance of mail-in ballots is on the rise.

The other factor focusing attention on mail-in ballots is actually the counting process.  Mail-in ballots that are actually “mailed-in” are continually being verified and processed during the early voting period.

Similarly, polling place ballots on election day are verified when voters present themselves and are processed throughout election day.

Conversely, mail-in ballots returned to polling locations on election day require verification and processing after polling locations are closed.

As a consequence, in close elections, these final mail-in ballots take center stage and can be the votes on which the elections seem to hinge.