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More Borrowing for California Educational Construction in 2016 (Section 2 of 9)

See the complete California Policy Center report For the Kids: California Voters Must Become Wary of Borrowing Billions More from Wealthy Investors for Educational Construction (complete, printable PDF Version, 4 MB, 361 pages)

Links to all sections of this study readable online:
Executive Summary: “For the Kids” – Comprehensive Review of California School Bonds (1 of 9)
You are here: More Borrowing for California Educational Construction in 2016 (2 of 9)
Quantifying and Explaining California’s Educational Construction Debt (3 of 9)
How California School and College Districts Acquire and Manage Debt (4 of 9)
Capital Appreciation Bonds: Disturbing Repayment Terms (5 of 9)
Tricks of the Trade: Questionable Behavior with Bonds (6 of 9)
The System Is Skewed to Pass Bond Measures (7 of 9)
More Trouble with Bond Finance for Educational Construction (8 of 9)
Improving Oversight, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility (9 of 9)
Guide to all Tables and Appendices – Comprehensive Reference for Researchers


Why This Report Matters: More Borrowing in 2016

Californians will be asked in 2016 to continue taking on debt for construction of educational facilities, but one elected official is leery. Governor Jerry Brown wants to change the funding system for school construction. He is concerned about debt that Californians have accumulated from years of allowing the state and local educational districts to relentlessly borrow.

That money borrowed through bond sales will have to be paid back — with interest — to the investors who bought them. Voters have limited understanding of bonds and how bonds provide funds for construction, and elections focus on what voters will get rather than how they will pay for it. To the detriment of future generations, few Californians realize the huge amount educational districts have been authorized to borrow and the huge amount of debt accumulated.

Interest Groups Want Voters to Consider Another State Bond Measure

When the California Policy Center published this report, the California Attorney General had approved circulation of petitions through September 21, 2015 for a proposed statewide ballot initiative entitled the “Kindergarten Through Community College Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016.” Professional signature gatherers set up tables at grocery stores and other public locations trying to cajole citizens into signing petitions to “help the kids” by putting the measure on the ballot.

If this proposal qualifies for the ballot and voters approve it, the State of California will have the authority to borrow $9 billion through selling bonds to investors. According to the petition, this $9 billion will ensure that “K-14 facilities are constructed and maintained in safe, secure and peaceful conditions.” As reported in the Sacramento Bee, school construction interests and residential housing developers want this bond measure, or one like it, on the ballot in 2016.

Proponents point out, accurately, that most of the money that voters authorized the state to borrow in 1998, 2002, 2004, and 2006 has been distributed as matching grants to local educational districts. As of April 15, 2015, $195.4 million remains3 from $35.4 billion approved to borrow as a result of three statewide ballot propositions in the 2000s.

The petition for the Kindergarten Through Community College Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016 lists four “findings” explaining what the state could do if it borrowed $9 billion:

1. Career technical education facilities to provide job training for many Californians and veterans who face challenges in completing their education and re-entering the workforce.

The history of recent bond measures on the state and local level shows that voters are inclined to support more government spending when veterans are cited as beneficiaries. Poll results confirm this. A “State of California School Bond Measure Feasibility Survey” of likely voters conducted January 30 to February 9, 2014 for California’s Coalition for Adequate School Housing (C.A.S.H.) indicated that “more than six-in-ten are highly concerned about unemployment among veterans.”

2. Upgrade aging facilities to meet current health and safety standards, including retrofitting for earthquake safety and the removal of lead paint, asbestos and other hazardous materials.

Again, the “State of California School Bond Measure Feasibility Survey” concluded that “more than two-thirds agree that many California public schools need significant health and safety improvements,” specifically the statement that “many schools and community colleges throughout California are old, outdated and need upgrades to meet current health and safety standards, including retrofitting for earthquake safety and the removal of lead paint, asbestos and other hazardous materials.”

3. Studies show that 13,000 jobs are created for each $1 billion of state infrastructure investment. These jobs include building and construction trades jobs throughout the state.

Influential construction interests are part of the coalition supporting this statewide bond measure. This statement acknowledges their pivotal role in the campaign to pass it.

4. Academic goals cannot be achieved without 21st Century school facilities designed to provide improved school technology and teaching facilities.

Once again, the “State of California School Bond Measure Feasibility Survey” concludes that “in particular, voters believe that funds must be directed towards upgrading vocational/career education programs, repairing classrooms and science labs and upgrading technology.”

These are deliberately chosen arguments to justify borrowing another $9 billion for community college and K-12 school district construction projects. In fact, these were the same arguments used in newspaper opinion pieces and position papers in 2014 to support Assembly Bill 2235, which if signed into law would have asked state voters in the November 2014 election to authorize borrowing $4.3 billion for school construction through bond sales.

Regardless of whether the four arguments listed above for a statewide bond measure are factually valid, they have been tested through polling and other voter research and shown to be effective in winning voter support. Surely a 2016 campaign for a state bond measure will use them.

How do these arguments stand in the larger context of bond indebtedness for the State of California and its community college districts and K-12 school districts? This report provides some of that context and introduces information never before available to the public.

Governor Brown Worries About Debt and Seeks Change in School Construction Finance

Governor Jerry Brown has used his executive power to thwart legislative efforts to place a statewide bond measure for educational construction on the 2016 ballot. Assembly Bill 2235 never received an opposition vote as it passed the Assembly and moved through Senate committees with support from numerous interest groups. Voters didn’t get to consider it in the November 2014 election only because Governor Brown didn’t want it on the ballot. As reported by a Capitol Public Radio reporter, the bill author issued a statement explaining its abandonment: “The governor has made it clear that he does not want a school bond on the same ballot as the water bond and rainy day fund. We do not expect the legislature to send the bill on him.”

Meanwhile, the Governor is taking a leading role in calling for change in how state and local governments fund California school construction. He submitted a state budget proposal to the California legislature in January 2015 with an introduction stating that funding commitments “must be honestly confronted so that they are properly accounted for and funded.” It warned that “budget challenges over the past decade have also resulted in a greater reliance on debt financing, rather than pay-as-you-go spending…From 1974 to 1999, California voters authorized $38.4 billion of general obligation bonds. Since 2000, voters authorized more than $103.2 billion of general obligation bonds”

Table 1: All General Obligation Bonds to Be Paid Off Through
California’s General Fund
Amount Authorized to Borrow$135.2 billion
Amount Borrowed$105.7 billion
Amount Authorized But Not Borrowed$29.5 billion
Amount Owed in Principal (June 1, 2015)$72.4 billion
Amount of Debt Service Owed (June 1, 2015)$131.8 billion
Amount of Debt Service to Be Paid 2015-2016$6 billion
Sources: “Schedule of Debt Service Requirements for General Fund Non-Self Liquidating Bonds (Fixed Rate),” California State Treasurer, June 1, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.treasurer.ca.gov/bonds/debt/201506/general-fixed.pdf and “Authorized and Outstanding General Obligation Bonds,” California State Treasurer, June 1, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.treasurer.ca.gov/bonds/debt/201506/authorized.pdf

Concern About Debt Growing from State Matching Grants for Local Educational Districts

One funding commitment Governor Brown “confronted” in his proposed fiscal year 2015-16 budget was the State of California’s debt accumulated from funding construction of facilities for local school districts. California voters approved bond measures in 2002, 2004, and 2006 authorizing the state to borrow $35.4 billion via bond sales for school and college construction, and only $195 million remains to be borrowed. According to internal California State Treasurer documents, debt service on those three state bond measures is $56.7 billion.

According to the Governor’s 2015-16 Budget Summary, “the Administration has noted the following significant shortcomings” related to school bond finance over the past two years:

The current program does not compel districts to consider facilities funding within the context of other educational costs and priorities. For example, districts can generate and retain state facility program eligibility based on outdated or inconsistent enrollment projections. This often results in financial incentives for districts to build new schools to accommodate what is actually modest and absorbable enrollment growth. These incentives are exacerbated by the fact that general obligation bond debt is funded outside of Proposition 98. These bonds cost the General Fund approximately $2.4 billion in debt service annually.

This statement is surprising and controversial recognition that some school districts spend money on new school construction that perhaps isn’t needed. The proposed budget summary also notes that large school districts have in-house professional facilities departments that can take advantage of the first-come, first-serve application system to get funding from the State Allocation Board for local school construction.

Another surprising admission in the Governor’s budget proposal is acknowledgement that voters approve four out of five proposed local bond measures, thus providing a relatively easy flow of money for school construction: “The current program was developed before the passage of Proposition 39 (which reduced the local bond vote threshold from a two-thirds supermajority to 55 percent) in 2000, which has since allowed local school bonds to pass upwards of 80 percent of the time.”

The budget summary also reported that the California Department of Finance had met with parties interested in educational construction and developed a set of recommendations, including three related to bond finance:

1. Increase Tools for Local Control: Expand Local Funding Capacity

While school districts can pass local bonds with 55% percent approval, assessed valuation caps for specific bond measures and total caps on local bonded indebtedness have not been adjusted since 2000. In order to provide greater access to local financing, these caps should be increased at minimum by the rate of inflation since 2000.

Based on the Consumer Price Index of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the inflation rate from November 2000 (when voters approved Proposition 39) to May 2015 was 36.6%. Therefore, under this proposal the California legislature would increase tax and debt limits at least 36.6% above existing amounts. However, the flaw in this proposal is that it does not account for increases in property value or total assessed property valuation in California since 2000. (See Section 5 of this report for background on tax and debt limits.)

2. Expand Allowable Uses of Routine Restricted Maintenance Funding

Current law requires schools to deposit a percentage of their general fund expenditures into a restricted account for use in maintaining their facilities. Rather than requiring that these funds be used solely for routine maintenance, districts should have the ability to pool these funds over multiple years for modernization and new construction projects. Expanding the use of these funds will provide school districts with yet another funding stream to maintain, modernize, and construct new facilities.

This proposal injects a bit of “pay-as-you-go” from district general funds into educational facilities construction — a departure from the bond debt financing that has driven school construction since the enactment of Senate Bill 50, the Leroy F. Greene School Facilities Act of 1998.

3. Target State Funding for Districts Most in Need

State funding for a new program should be targeted in a way that: (1) limits eligibility to districts with such low per-student assessed value they cannot issue bonds at the local level in amounts that allow them to meet student needs, (2) prioritizes funding for health and safety and severe overcrowding projects, and (3) establishes a sliding scale to determine the state share of project costs based on local capacity to finance projects.

This recommendation is based on the perception that the current first-come, first-served funding system allows certain school and college districts to win a disproportionate amount of state matching grants at the expense of other districts that may have a more legitimate need but lack the resources and wherewithal to take advantage of opportunities.

Finally, the list of recommendations concludes with a message:

…it is the intent of the Administration to advance the dialogue on the future of school facilities funding. School districts and developers should have a clear understanding of which limited circumstances will qualify for state assistance. Over the course of the coming months, the Administration is prepared to engage with the Legislature and education stakeholders to shape a future state program that is focused on districts with the greatest need, while providing substantial new flexibility for local districts to raise the necessary resources for school facilities needs.

These proposals are not new ideas. A 2003 report from the Public Policy Institute of California analyzed school bond measures and identified disparities among districts based on wealth and region. In response to these findings, the report suggested raising state debt limits for bond measures to reduce the impact of changes in assessed property valuation. It also recommended adoption of a plan that would give deserving school and college districts access to state construction funds without having to match these grants with local funding.

State Legislative Initiatives

The stage is set for change in California school construction financing. Subsequent to the release of the proposed budget from the Governor, state legislators introduced bills such as Senate Bill 114 and Assembly Bill 148. These bills would make some mild changes to the state’s school construction program, while at the same time placing a statewide bond measure on the November 2016 ballot to borrow money (for a yet unidentified amount) via bond sales for school construction.

The author of Senate Bill 114 explained the purpose of the bill:

Funding for the School Facilities Program is virtually gone and there is a backlog in applications for state assistance…while the state’s growing debt service is of concern, it is unclear whether local districts have the capacity to generate sufficient revenue at the local level to meet their specific facility needs. The “winding down” of the current program, and the Governor’s call for change, present an opportunity to rethink the administrative and programmatic structure of the State Facilities Program…

Supporting one or both of these bills are the California School Boards Association, the California Faculty Association, the California Association of School Business Officials, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME); the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Riverside County Superintendent of Schools. Further debate will reveal if these groups are willing to withhold potential objections to some of the Department of Finance proposed changes to educational construction finance in exchange for having another statewide bond measure on the 2016 Presidential general election ballot.

No formal opposition to these bills has yet emerged, but at this time the bills are just a frame, to be expanded with more detailed proposals.

Sources

“Request for Title and Summary for Proposed Initiative: Kindergarten Through Community College Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016,” Office of the California Attorney General, January 12, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/initiatives/pdfs/15-0005%20(Education%20Bond%20Act).pdf

“California School Builders, Others to Gather Signatures for November 2016 Bond Measure,” Sacramento Bee, January 12, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article6143364.html

“AB 148 School Facilities: K–14 School Investment Bond Act of 2016 – California State Assembly Education Committee Analysis,” California Legislative Information, April 28, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billAnalysisClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB148#

“State of California School Bond Measure Feasibility Survey,” California’s Coalition for Adequate School Housing, Date, accessed June 28, 2015, https://www.cashnet.org/meetings/2014_Annual_Conference/documents/38_LegislativeUpdate_Bond_Feasibility.pdf

“Text – AB 2235 Education Facilities: Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2014,” California Legislative Information, accessed June 28, 2015, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB2235

“No School Bond, Lawmaker Suspension Measures On November Ballot,” Capitol Public Radio, August 19, 2014, accessed June 28, 2015, www.capradio.org/articles/2014/08/19/no-school-bond,-lawmaker-suspension-measures-on-november-ballot/

“2015-16 Governor’s Budget Summary,” Department of Finance – California Budget, January 9, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.ebudget.ca.gov/2015-16/pdf/BudgetSummary/FullBudgetSummary.pdf

“2015 California’s Five-Year Infrastructure Plan,” Department of Finance – California Budget, January 9, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.ebudget.ca.gov/2015-Infrastructure-Plan.pdf

“Governor’s Budget Summary 2015-16: K Thru 12 Education,” Department of Finance – California Budget, January 9, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.ebudget.ca.gov/2015-16/pdf/BudgetSummary/Kthru12Education.pdf

“SB 50 – Chaptered. Leroy F. Greene School Facilities Act of 1998: Class Size Reduction – Kindergarten University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 1998,” Official California Legislative Information, August 27, 1998, accessed June 28, 2015, www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/97-98/bill/sen/sb_0001-0050/sb_50_bill_19980827_chaptered.html

“Fiscal Effects of Voter Approval Requirements on Local Governments,” Public Policy Institute of California, January 27, 2003, accessed June 28, 2015, www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_103KRR.pdf

“Text – SB 114 Education Facilities: Kindergarten Through Grade 12 Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016,” California Legislative Information, June 3, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB114&search_keywords=

“Text – AB 148 School Facilities: K–14 School Investment Bond Act of 2016,” California Legislative Information, May 6, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB114&search_keywords=

“Senate Education Committee Legislative Analysis – AB 148 School Facilities: K–14 School Investment Bond Act of 2016,” California Legislative Information, March 25, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billAnalysisClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB114#

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Capital Appreciation Bonds: Disturbing Repayment Terms (Section 5 of 9)

See the complete California Policy Center report For the Kids: California Voters Must Become Wary of Borrowing Billions More from Wealthy Investors for Educational Construction (complete, printable PDF Version, 4 MB, 361 pages)

Links to all sections of this study readable online:
Executive Summary: “For the Kids” – Comprehensive Review of California School Bonds (1 of 9)
More Borrowing for California Educational Construction in 2016 (2 of 9)
Quantifying and Explaining California’s Educational Construction Debt (3 of 9)
How California School and College Districts Acquire and Manage Debt (4 of 9)
You are here: Capital Appreciation Bonds: Disturbing Repayment Terms (5 of 9)
Tricks of the Trade: Questionable Behavior with Bonds (6 of 9)
The System Is Skewed to Pass Bond Measures (7 of 9)
More Trouble with Bond Finance for Educational Construction (8 of 9)
Improving Oversight, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility (9 of 9)
Guide to all Tables and Appendices – Comprehensive Reference for Researchers


Capital Appreciation Bonds: Disturbing Repayment Terms

In 1993, California law was changed so that school and college districts could use an innovative form of debt finance called zero-coupon bonds, also known as Capital Appreciation Bonds. These bonds allow school and college districts to borrow now for construction and pay it back — with compounded interest — many years later. The borrowing strategy has been a tempting and dangerous lure for elected school and college boards.

Some people think Capital Appreciation Bonds are a “ticking time bomb” or the “creation of a toxic waste dump.” Others regard critics as uninformed and contend that these debt finance instruments are beneficial for school and college districts. Since the people who will be paying off many of these Capital Appreciation Bonds are now children or not even born yet, there isn’t much incentive to stop the flow of borrowed money that doesn’t need to be paid back for a generation or two.

Capital Appreciation Bonds Get Attention: Some Welcomed It, Some Didn’t

There was a brief time in the last half of 2012 when California news media and even national news media alerted the public to a neglected but long-festering problem involving municipal bonds sold by many California school districts and community college districts. These educational districts chose to borrow money for construction using an unconventional debt finance instrument called a Capital Appreciation Bond.

Capital Appreciation Bonds allow school and college districts to circumvent state laws that limit taxes and debt relative to the total value of property in the districts. But they also subject future generations of Californians to potentially burdensome taxes and debt.

Explaining and Contrasting Current Interest Bonds and Capital Appreciation Bonds

The traditional Current Interest Bonds (also called Fixed Rate Bonds) are relatively easy to understand. If someone buys a Current Interest Bond and holds it until it matures (reaches the end of its time period for borrowing), that buyer receives interest on a regular basis (usually semi-annually). The buyer gets the original principal paid back when the bond reaches the end of its term of maturity.

Here’s an example of how a Current Interest Bond works:

  • An entity buys a $1000 Current Interest Bond issued by a school district at face value (also known as par value) with a 25-year term to maturity at a 2.5 percent interest rate.
  • Each year, for 25 years, the buyer gets $25 in interest from the school district, because 2.5% of $1000 is $25.
  • When the bond matures, the buyer gets the principal of $1000 back from the school district.
  • The total interest earned over 25 years is $625, because $25 times 25 is $625.
  • Although the $625 is income, the buyer will never have to pay tax on that interest if the bond is tax-exempt, as is typical with municipal bonds.

Obviously the school district must levy taxes on property owners each year throughout the 25-year term to maturity so that it has enough money to pay interest each year (and ultimately pay back the principal at the maturity date).

Capital Appreciation Bonds (also called Zero Coupon Bonds) are more difficult to understand. Someone who buys a Capital Appreciation Bond pays for it at a price deeply discounted from the face value (par value) of the bond. The buyer does not receive interest payments until the bond reaches maturity, at which point the buyer is paid the face value of the bond, which is the deeply-discounted price (the principal) plus all of the interest earned during the term to maturity.

During the term to maturity period of the Capital Appreciation Bond, interest accumulates over time. The interest is compounded, meaning interest for a time period is earned on the original amount of money and also earned on any of the interest that has already been accumulated up to that time period.

Compound interest that accumulates as a Capital Appreciation Bond grows in value is called “accreted interest.” “Accreted” (a word derived from the Latin accrescere, to increase) means accumulated over time.

Here’s an example of how a Capital Appreciation Bond works:

  • An entity buys a $5000 Capital Appreciation Bond with a 25-year term to maturity at an interest rate of 5 percent.
  • The discounted price of the bond is $1477.
  • When the bond matures, the buyer gets $5000 back from the school district.
  • The total earned over 25 years is $3,523.
  • Although the $3,523 is income, the buyer will never have to pay tax on that interest if the bond is tax-exempt, as is typical with municipal bonds.

The school district benefits because for many years it does not need to levy taxes on property owners in order to make interest payments. It can borrow much more money through bond sales without being restricted by tax and debt limits established in state law. The community can enjoy the benefits of the bond sales without having to pay for them — at least for a while.

And although the buyer does not get a regular interest payment, the accumulated (“accreted”) interest is compounded over many years, making the wait a worthwhile investment. The cliché about “the power of compound interest” for an investor is accurate.

Why Did Capital Appreciation Bonds Become Popular?

The public first became aware of Capital Appreciation Bonds in 2012 when news media reported on a 2011 debt financing arrangement at the Poway Unified School District. Most reports insinuated that limits on taxes and debt established by the legislature in 2000 in conjunction with Proposition 39 had forced schools and community colleges to borrow money by selling Capital Appreciation Bonds. Allegedly these limits were constraining school and college districts from implementing necessary construction programs at a time of plummeting property values. Educational districts saw Capital Appreciation Bonds as the only debt financing option available to alleviate school overcrowding and ensure children’s safety.

But in reality, Capital Appreciation Bonds have been a component of bond issues by California educational districts for over twenty years. Signed into law in 1993, Senate Bill 872 authorized school and college districts to sell them. Voters in the Windsor Unified School District approved a bond measure on April 12, 1994, and the district proceeded to sell $5,054,761 in Capital Appreciation Bonds in its first series of bond sales. The Old Adobe Unified School District and the Oakland Unified School District soon followed.

Capital Appreciation Bond Origins

The first sentence in a 1982 article in the New York Times declared, “Give Wall Street a headache like double-digit interest rates, and someone will invent an aspirin like the zero-coupon bond.” According to this article, in 1981 J.C. Penney became the first corporation to issue Capital Appreciation Bonds. In 1982, E.F. Hutton became the first bond broker to underwrite Capital Appreciation Bonds for municipal governments.

A survey of news coverage on Capital Appreciation Bonds during the 1980s reveals that the focus of journalistic concern for this new form of municipal debt finance was the risk to investors. Needless to say, Capital Appreciation Bonds endured past the era of high interest rates, and the aspirin for investors became a headache for taxpayers.

Who Buys Capital Appreciation Bonds?

Capital Appreciation Bonds are not necessarily a wise decision for an investor, so who sees an investment advantage in buying them? James Estes, Professor of Finance at California State University, San Bernardino tried to answer this question and reported the results of his investigation in a 2013 paper. After observing that Charles Schwab & Co, Inc. does not offer or sell Capital Appreciation Bonds, he contacted twelve companies that offer municipal bond funds. All twelve claimed they don’t market funds featuring Capital Appreciation Bonds. Company representatives told Estes that Capital Appreciation Bonds were undesirable to their investors because of their lack of current interest payments, their poor yield, and their high risk.

Estes also investigated rumors on the web that CalPERS might be holding many municipal Capital Appreciation Bonds. CalPERS spokesperson Danny Brown denied that CalPERS holds them and cited their risk. Finally, Estes mentions the claim of a finance reporter that international banks hold Capital Appreciation Bonds in a trust administered by Bank of America.

In response to a Twitter inquiry from the author of this report, a former reporter for Voice of San Diego tweeted that he never learned who held the district’s Capital Appreciation Bonds during his 2½ years reporting on Poway Unified School District’s Capital Appreciation Bond fiasco: “The word was that the debt had likely been sold and resold and resold. Also no repository for that info…I always wanted to know.”

In 2014, a municipal bond advisor named Dale Scott of Dale Scott & Company presented a plan to Poway Unified School District for the district to buy back some of its Capital Appreciation Bonds using funds from a property tax increase. One challenge for this district is identifying who owns the bonds so offers can be made to buy them back. Scott pointed out that he had managed to find owners of Capital Appreciation Bonds issued by the Stockton Unified School District and buy back about 30 percent of them. According to an August 20, 2014 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, “Scott said there is a myth that capital appreciation bonds are impossible to acquire once they are sold, but the reality is the bond holder may have many reasons for selling bonds that may take decades to mature.”

Tax and Debt Limits for Bond Measures Qualified Under Proposition 39 (Enacted Through Assembly Bill 1908 in 2000)
Type of Educational DistrictTax LimitDebt Limit
Unified School District0.06% of taxable property value ($60 per $100,000)2.5% of taxable property value
Elementary School District0.03% of taxable property value ($30 per $100,000)1.25% of taxable property value
High School District0.03% of taxable property value ($30 per $100,000)1.25% of taxable property value
Community College District0.025% of taxable property value ($25 per $100,000)2.5% of taxable property value

Tax and Debt Limits Meant to Assure Property Owners that a 55% Approval Threshold for School Bond Measures Wouldn’t Crush Them

From a school district’s perspective, Capital Appreciation Bonds are attractive because they enable the district to borrow more within its tax and debt limits. California Education Code Sections 15268-15270 sets the current limits. The state has not changed the limits since the enactment of Assembly Bill 1908 in conjunction with Proposition 39 in 2000, although Governor Brown proposed increasing them in his 2015-16 budget. (See Section 2 for background.)

Opponents of Proposition 39 in 2000 pointed out in their ballot arguments that these tax and debt limits were not part of the constitutional amendment enacted through Proposition 39 and therefore could be amended or repealed by the state legislature at any time. This is true.

Districts can set a lower tax or debt limit in the ballot statement for a bond measure. And K-12 school districts can get waivers from State Board of Education to impose higher tax or debt limits. (See Section 6 for background on waivers.)

Tax and Debt Limits Make Funding of Construction Programs Highly Dependent on Assessed Property Valuation

Because tax and debt limits are based on annual assessed property valuation in a district, the limits change yearly as a reflection of the real estate market. If property values increase compared to the previous year, the amount of money that can be borrowed increases relative to the previous year. If property values decline compared to the previous year, the amount of money that can be borrowed that year decreases. Educational districts hope (and usually project) property value to increase at a respectable rate for many years to come.

If the substantial increase in home prices during the mid-2000s gave school and college districts several years to borrow a lot more than perhaps originally anticipated, the dramatic drop in the following years hindered school and college districts, especially those with ongoing construction programs. From 2007 to 2011, assessed property valuation in some regions of California declined by as much as 50%, especially in exurban areas of California that grew rapidly in population during the 2000s as young families sought home ownership at prices they could afford.

Not surprisingly, these same regions needed new school construction to accommodate the children in these young families. Because of tax and debt limits, educational districts could not raise tax rates or borrow more money using traditional Current Interest Bonds to compensate for the loss in revenue resulting from the decline in property values.

Capital Appreciation Bonds are a clever way to circumvent the debt limits. A school or college district can take on a long-term debt obligation of $5000 by selling a bond but declare the debt to be $1300 because the bond was sold at the deeply discounted “principal” of $1300. And by deferring payment to bond investors until the bonds mature, the district can borrow money without exceeding the tax limit.

Hoping for the Best with Capital Appreciation Bonds

Of course, school districts will eventually have to collect a lot of money through levying taxes on property owners to pay principal and accreted interest to the buyers of Capital Appreciation Bonds. Essentially, Capital Appreciation Bonds represent a district’s gamble that assessed values will climb rapidly enough to produce sufficient tax revenue to allow issuers to pay off the bonds when they become due. If the anticipated increase in assessed property valuation fails to occur during the term of maturity, the district cannot pay principal and interest owed in future years.

There is little political disincentive for elected board members to borrow money today for school construction and impose a commitment on future generations to pay it off in 25, 30, or even 40 years. Only the elected board members of the Poway Unified School District have suffered political consequences from approving this kind of debt finance. But future school and college board members (who are children today) may be unjustly subjected to voter ire when the bill on Capital Appreciation Bonds is finally due.

2013: An Incomplete Fix for the Excesses of Capital Appreciation Bonds

Assembly Bill 182 was an attempt to restrain the worst excesses of Capital Appreciation Bonds while still allowing school and college districts to use them as a debt finance tool. It developed out of a proposal from San Diego County Treasurer-Tax Collector Dan McAllister as a response to high-profile Capital Appreciation Bond sales by school districts in his county.

Supporters of this bill were prominent critics of unrestrained Capital Appreciation Bond sales: California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, the aforementioned San Diego County Treasurer-Tax Collector Dan McAllister, the California Association of County Treasurers and Tax Collectors, the California League of Bond Oversight Committees, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and the California Taxpayers Association. Several rural county boards of supervisors supported the bill, as well as the board of supervisors for Contra Costa County, where the West Contra Costa Unified School District, the Mt. Diablo Unified School District, and the Acalanes Union High School District received local attention for risky bond finance schemes, including Capital Appreciation Bonds.

California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer wrote the following in support of Assembly Bill 182:

…many districts face a critical need to build or modernize facilities for their children, and I recognize that falling property tax assessments, revenue losses, and statutory debt service limits have all combined to reduce districts’ debt financing options, at least at the present time. However, we cannot continue to use debt financing tools, such as CABs, that force tax payers to pay, at times, more than 10 times the principal to retire these bonds. In too many cases, these transactions have been structured with 40-year terms that delay interest and principal payments for decades, resulting in huge balloon payments. Moreover, school board members and the public have not always been fully informed about the total costs and risks associated with issuing capital appreciation bonds. As a result of such CAB deals and lack of transparency, our future generations in many California school districts will be burdened with heavy taxes for years and years to come.

But there was also significant opposition to the bill from groups heavily involved in promoting bond measures for school construction, including California’s Coalition for Adequate School Housing (C.A.S.H.), the Association of California School Administrators, the California Association of School Business Officials, and the Small School Districts’ Association. The first legislative analysis written for a committee about AB 182 described the basis for the opposition:

All of the opposition letters submitted to the Committee have an “oppose unless amended” position. Generally, the opposition supports more transparency, but is concerned that the bill will inhibit school districts’ ability to secure funding to house students and provide for renovations as promised to voters through their bond initiatives. While some of the opponents do recognize the need to establish some parameters to prevent extreme CABs, they argue that CABs, if done appropriately and in a limited way, are effective. The requested amendments vary from organization to organization. They include expanding the term of CABs to 30 years, restoring the term of 40 years for CIBs, increasing the total debt service to principal ratio to 6 to 1 and applying the ratio to bond authorization, grandfathering in bonds that are already approved but not issued, and allowing districts to seek a waiver from the SBE to increase the tax rates.

In the end, the bill passed the State Senate 36-0 and passed the State Assembly 78-0. Soon after the bill was signed into law, governing boards of school and college districts were already initiating the sale of more Capital Appreciation Bonds under the new guidelines. This method of debt finance for school and college construction is not going away.

Table 12: Provisions of Assembly Bill 182 (AB 182)
The ratio of total debt service to principal for any series of bonds sold shall not exceed four to one (debt service four times greater than principal).
If the sale of bonds includes bonds that allow for the compounding of interest, including, but not limited to, Capital Appreciation Bonds, the agenda of the governing board meeting at which the sale will be approved shall include a proposed resolution to approve the sale of Capital Appreciation Bonds. Public notice for the resolution must be on at least two consecutive meeting agendas, first as an information item and second as an action item.
The governing board must be presented with the following information:
Disclosure of the financing term and time of maturity, repayment ratio, and the estimated change in the assessed value of taxable property within the school district or community college district over the term of the bonds.
An analysis containing the total overall cost of the Capital Appreciation Bonds.
A comparison to the overall cost of Current Interest Bonds.
The reason bonds that allow for the compounding of interest are being recommended.
A copy of the disclosure made by the underwriter as required by Rule G-17 of the federal Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board.
A Capital Appreciation Bond maturing more than 10 years after being sold must be able to be redeemed before its fixed maturity date, with or without a premium, at any time, or from time to time, at the option of the issuer, beginning no later than the 10th anniversary of the date it was sold.

Case Study: Poway Unified School District’s Egregious Debt Finance

Poway Unified School District created a special School Facilities Improvement District in 2007 and asked voters in February 2008 to authorize $179 million in bonds to finance capital improvements. The bond measure passed with 63.9% support, as it qualified under Proposition 39 for a 55% voter approval threshold.

As a campaign strategy, the district promised voters that the bond measure would not require a tax increase, supposedly because assessed property values would rise enough over time to bring in more tax revenue and pay off the debt service. To keep this promise, the school board subsequently adopted some excessive debt financing schemes.

From 2008 through 2011, the district borrowed the $179 million by issuing four series of bonds, including Current Interest Bonds and non-callable Capital Appreciation Bonds, with some bonds issued to refund earlier bond issues. It even sold some 40-year bonds at the maximum legally allowed interest rate of 8 percent. It used numerous controversial debt finance practices, such as selling bonds at a 20 percent premium over face value, and ended up incurring issuance fees totaling more than $6.7 million.

Perhaps people in the Poway Unified School District did not comprehend the dangers at the time, but the school board realized the district was doing something questionable. In 2010 it filed a validation lawsuit to subvert future lawsuits against their next bond finance deal. This provoked a warning letter from the California Attorney General, but in the end no party chose to be a defendant, thus giving the district legal cover to proceed.

Property owners in the School Facilities Improvement District now have the burden of paying $1.27 billion in debt service through 2051 for the privilege of borrowing $179 million. Poway Unified School District was described in the news media as having “shot to fame” as a “poster child for an era of reckless and risky school bond borrowing” through bond sales that have “reached legendary status.” And it became a rare example of voters making school board members accountable for its decisions on bond finance.

Three of the five board members who voted for the Capital Appreciation Bond deal in 2011 have lost their reelection campaigns, and a fourth chose not to run for re-election. The only remaining board member from 2011 may still be in office because only three candidates (two incumbents and a challenger) ran to fill two seats in the 2012 election. Seeing the popular demand for change, eight candidates ran for three seats in 2014.

Michigan Banned Capital Appreciation Bonds When California Legalized Them

On April 27, 2012, a former reporter for the Detroit Free Press newspaper named Joel Thurtell published a post on his blog entitled “Muni Bomb Ticks in California.” Thurtell wrote about the popularity of Capital Appreciation Bond sales by California educational districts.

Thurtell revealed that the practice was not new; in fact it was common at Michigan school districts in the late 1980s and early 1990s:

Joel on the Road LogoThere’s a school bond scandal brewing as California schools load taxpayers with horrendous debt for the next generation of taxpayers. The blight is called CABs — short for Capital Appreciation Bonds. It hit Michigan in 1988. Within four years of the first CAB issue, Michigan public school debt had doubled to reach more than $4 billion. That was just principal. The interest on the CABs amounted to 200 percent — 300 percent — even 575 percent of principal, depending on the terms of the individual bond issue. Nineteen years ago, I delved into this fascinating but arcane world with its private argot strewn with obscure words like “zeroes” and “basis points” describing fairly simple things in language you need a special dictionary to comprehend. It’s an industry with specialized documents that seem encrypted so that people like you and I will have trouble understanding them.

Thurtell had spent many days of difficult, tedious research at the Michigan State Treasurer’s office scrutinizing paper copies of “Official Statements” produced for Michigan school districts. He produced a “Big Chart” that quantified the prevalence of Capital Appreciation Bond sales and accumulated debt service. On April 5, 1993 the Free Press published the first of a series of Thurtell’s articles about how Michigan school districts were borrowing their money for school construction. The articles changed public policy in Michigan:

Because of my Free Press stories…the state Legislature banned future issues of Capital Appreciation Bonds and ordered that future bond issues be competitively bid rather than rigged through a process the underwriters euphemistically termed “negotiation.” It was huge that CABs were banned, because as you will read in these stories, schools were piling up enormous debt to be paid by future taxpayers. Imagine the predicament schools would have found themselves in had such debt been allowed to continue accumulating into today’s depressed economy. Debt payback was predicated on rosy assumptions called “present value” that predicted large increases in real estate valuation ad infinitum.

At the May 2012 annual conference of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees, the Los Angeles County Treasurer-Tax Collector Mark Saladino and Alicia Minyen, a school bond expert and certified fraud examiner, made presentations that included discussion of Capital Appreciation Bonds. Saladino had written a May 16, 2011 white paper about risky municipal debt finance that referenced school districts issuing Capital Appreciation Bonds. Minyen was a prominent critic of a few school districts in Contra Costa County that had issued Capital Appreciation Bonds in irresponsible ways.

Minyen referenced Joel Thurtell’s articles and blog posts. The author of this report then wrote articles for his personal blog about the Capital Appreciation Bond presentations, and local taxpayer activists throughout the state began contacting him with questions and concerns about Capital Appreciation Bond sales going on in their local school and college districts. Californians who paid close attention to tax and government finance issues from a critical perspective were confused — and suspicious.

Graphic Depictions of Poway Unified School District Bond Debt Inspire Limited Reforms

Voice of San Diego Pie Chart on Poway USD Capital Appreciation BondsFinally a breakthrough in bringing public awareness to the issue occurred in August 2012, when a journalistic web publication called Voice of San Diego published a series of investigative pieces written by reporter Will Carless about the 2011 Poway Unified School District bond sales. The first article hit on August 6, 2012: “Where Borrowing $105 Million Will Cost $1 Billion: Poway Schools.”

It’s possible that Voice of San Diego was successful in bringing sudden and dramatic attention to the practice because of the simple and colorful graphics produced by Keegan Kyle and included with the articles. These graphics portrayed the deals in a way much easier to understand than the analytical writing of policy experts.

Voice of San Diego on Poway Unified School District Capital Appreciation BondsThese articles and the associated graphics were the catalyst for intense statewide public criticism. Voice of San Diego created a spreadsheet, the Los Angeles Times created a database, and other news media outlets compiled information revealing that a couple hundred community college and K-12 school districts in California had issued Capital Appreciation Bonds, with many starting long before property values began to decline in 2007.

California and national news media, state and local taxpayer organizations, and many state and local politicians spent the next year criticizing California educational districts for poor decisions about borrowing money via bond sales for school construction. About a dozen educational districts received a disproportionate amount of negative attention for their Capital Appreciation Bond sales. Criticism ebbed but did not disappear after Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 182 in October 2013 to put limits and new oversight on Capital Appreciation Bonds.

Backers of Capital Appreciation Bonds Stubbornly Defend Them

Throughout the state and even at the Poway Unified School District, elected district officials and administrators defended their decisions to sell Capital Appreciation Bonds. Their response to criticism was common and consistent:

  1. Voters wanted school construction done as soon as possible.
  2. Capital Appreciation Bonds were the only way available to get the money.
  3. We didn’t do anything wrong.
  4. Look at the complete program instead of focusing on individual bond issues.

These claims generally echoed the arguments of parties involved in the preparation and sale of those bonds. These bond experts knew the obscure and complicated business of municipal bonds, but they also had a financial interest in seeing these bond sales continue.

Tables A-5 and A-6 are comprehensive lists of arguments for and against Capital Appreciation Bonds, with rebuttals.

Table A-5
Arguments for Capital Appreciation Bonds
ArgumentRebuttal
URGENCY
School facilities are desperately needed now: schools are overcrowded, deteriorating, outdated, and unsafe. These claims are rarely quantified. There needs to be an objective way to determine that need overwhelms the risk of massive tax and debt burdens for future generations.
Despite 14 years of Proposition 39, educational districts continue to increase the number of bond measures on the ballot and the total amount authorized to borrow. It seems that spending between $100-$200 billion on construction since 2000 has only increased the need for more.
It’s possible that educational districts are preparing for a population boom that may never occur. Average Daily Attendance for California K-12 school districts has dropped from 5,927,951 in 2003-04 to 5,631,709 in 2008-09 to 5,501,603 in 2013-14. Actual California population growth is lagging behind projections made in the 1990s.
When the bond measure was before voters for consideration, the educational district made promises to residents about what was going to be built and what the tax rate would be. Those promises must be fulfilled. Voters want the projects now.Anecdotally, it appears that voters aren’t necessarily keen on immediately proceeding with construction projects listed in bond measure ballot statements if it requires borrowing money under outlandish terms via sales of Capital Appreciation Bonds or other unconventional methods of debt finance. Taxpayers would rather give their money to their local educational district than to bond investors.
Who actually applies the most pressure on the educational district to proceed with borrowing money? Are educational districts selling Capital Appreciation Bonds or other unconventional methods of debt finance because parents and teachers are demanding it? Or is the political pressure coming from the various interests that contributed to the bond measure campaign and now want to reap the rewards of contracts for this construction program?
Interest rates are low. This is a good time to borrow money, perhaps with a mix of Current Interest Bonds and Capital Appreciation Bonds. Rates may not be so favorable when assessed valuation of property in the district goes up.Interest rates are low and provide an advantage for educational districts issuing Current Interest Bonds, but the outrageous nature of Capital Appreciation Bond negates the benefit of lower rates. The ratio of debt service to principal should not exceed 3 or 4 (at the most) for an individual bond issue.
Educational districts will jeopardize the quality of education for students if they don’t get funding for construction now.Is it true that new and modernized facilities significantly improve academic performance and life preparation for students? Is the impact of bond measures on test scores proportionate to the amount of tax revenue spent on debt service for those bond measures? Or are bond measures simply an easy method to get more money flowing into the district?
Ongoing construction programs would have to stop if funding isn’t obtained now, causing inconvenience, stopping momentum, and risking a higher cost of construction in the future.A realistic projection for assessed valuation of property would allow for better planning of construction-related contracts. Future generations should not have to pay for the risky borrowing practices of this generation’s leaders.
STINGY STATE LAWS COMPEL USE
Educational districts have to sell Capital Appreciation Bonds or other unconventional methods of debt finance because of unreasonably low tax and debt limits established in state law.The California legislature established these limits in state law in 2000 as part of a strategy to boost voter support for Proposition 39, a statewide measure on the November 2000 ballot to modify Proposition 46 enacted in 1986 - an initiative that modified the high-profile Proposition 13 enacted in 1978. Without limits and other additional taxpayer protections, Proposition 39 might have failed, as Proposition 26 failed in March 2000.
Educational districts have to sell Capital Appreciation Bonds or other unconventional methods of debt finance because assessed valuation of property in the districts unexpectedly declined, thus forcing districts to confront tax and debt limits.It’s important to obtain an independent projection of assessed property valuation that does not extend a current exceptional rate of growth for 40 years.
THESE BOND FINANCE DEALS ARE MISUNDERSTOOD
It’s wrong to consider Capital Appreciation Bonds in isolation. They are usually just a piece of a package of bond issues. When considered in conjunction with other bond issues, the debt to principal ratio is usually reasonable.This doesn’t eliminate the reality that bonds are issued that will need to be paid back decades later with compounded interest. Why include them at all?
Focusing on long-term debt service is misleading. Just because there is a high number for aggregate accreted interest in 40 years doesn’t necessary mean that amount will ever be paid. Many Capital Appreciation Bonds are “callable” and can be redeemed (and are being redeemed) with a new issue of refunding bonds that have lower rates and can be issued as traditional Current Interest Bonds. Because of the consistent increasing value of property in California over several generations, an amount that seems high to taxpayers now will not be so daunting decades from now. Routine inflation will reduce the “real” cost of paying back Capital Appreciation Bonds decades from now. This is public money. The decision to borrow money via Capital Appreciation Bonds assumes that assessed valuation of property and the rate of inflation will increase substantially over decades. And some districts (such as Poway Unified School District) have sold Capital Appreciation Bonds that are not callable.
Contrary to claims made after the fact, plenty of information is provided to educational district administrators and elected board members about bond sales. There isn’t an excuse for not understanding the proposal.Information is not presented in a standardized way that is easy to understand. Most school board members do not have a background in accounting, finance, or bonds. In addition, school board members may be hesitant to publicly acknowledge their lack of understanding, especially if everyone else in the room is nodding heads during the bond consultant presentation.
Critics have self-interested motivations to criticize. Traditional and consistent ideological detractors of government schools want to take advantage of yet another opportunity to undermine the system. Cynical politicians want to exploit bad news in order to build a reputation. News media wants to improve reader and viewer ratings through sensational and misleading coverage.Most people would acknowledge that criticism of at least a few bond issues by California educational districts has merit. In addition, there are self-interested motivations for people denying that Capital Appreciation Bonds and other unconventional bond financing are unusual or unwise. Community college and K-12 school district elected officials wanted to stay in office. District administrators wanted to keep their jobs. And of course professionals in the financial industry wanted to continue making a living from the transaction fees generated by bond sales.
Assembly Bill 182 (2013) wasn’t really needed, but it is now law and there are no valid arguments to impose more restrictions on this valuable tool for educational districts.Educational districts are still selling Capital Appreciation Bonds (and also Bond Anticipation Notes) under the assumption that assessed valuation will continue to rise for decades. The bond financing industry will continue to use these schemes to bloat borrowing and collect more transaction fees.
Table A-5
Arguments for Capital Appreciation Bonds
ArgumentRebuttal
URGENCY
School facilities are desperately needed now: schools are overcrowded, deteriorating, outdated, and unsafe. These claims are rarely quantified. There needs to be an objective way to determine that need overwhelms the risk of massive tax and debt burdens for future generations.
Despite 14 years of Proposition 39, educational districts continue to increase the number of bond measures on the ballot and the total amount authorized to borrow. It seems that spending between $100-$200 billion on construction since 2000 has only increased the need for more.
It’s possible that educational districts are preparing for a population boom that may never occur. Average Daily Attendance for California K-12 school districts has dropped from 5,927,951 in 2003-04 to 5,631,709 in 2008-09 to 5,501,603 in 2013-14. Actual California population growth is lagging behind projections made in the 1990s.
When the bond measure was before voters for consideration, the educational district made promises to residents about what was going to be built and what the tax rate would be. Those promises must be fulfilled. Voters want the projects now.Anecdotally, it appears that voters aren’t necessarily keen on immediately proceeding with construction projects listed in bond measure ballot statements if it requires borrowing money under outlandish terms via sales of Capital Appreciation Bonds or other unconventional methods of debt finance. Taxpayers would rather give their money to their local educational district than to bond investors.
Who actually applies the most pressure on the educational district to proceed with borrowing money? Are educational districts selling Capital Appreciation Bonds or other unconventional methods of debt finance because parents and teachers are demanding it? Or is the political pressure coming from the various interests that contributed to the bond measure campaign and now want to reap the rewards of contracts for this construction program?
Interest rates are low. This is a good time to borrow money, perhaps with a mix of Current Interest Bonds and Capital Appreciation Bonds. Rates may not be so favorable when assessed valuation of property in the district goes up.Interest rates are low and provide an advantage for educational districts issuing Current Interest Bonds, but the outrageous nature of Capital Appreciation Bond negates the benefit of lower rates. The ratio of debt service to principal should not exceed 3 or 4 (at the most) for an individual bond issue.
Educational districts will jeopardize the quality of education for students if they don’t get funding for construction now.Is it true that new and modernized facilities significantly improve academic performance and life preparation for students? Is the impact of bond measures on test scores proportionate to the amount of tax revenue spent on debt service for those bond measures? Or are bond measures simply an easy method to get more money flowing into the district?
Ongoing construction programs would have to stop if funding isn’t obtained now, causing inconvenience, stopping momentum, and risking a higher cost of construction in the future.A realistic projection for assessed valuation of property would allow for better planning of construction-related contracts. Future generations should not have to pay for the risky borrowing practices of this generation’s leaders.
STINGY STATE LAWS COMPEL USE
Educational districts have to sell Capital Appreciation Bonds or other unconventional methods of debt finance because of unreasonably low tax and debt limits established in state law.The California legislature established these limits in state law in 2000 as part of a strategy to boost voter support for Proposition 39, a statewide measure on the November 2000 ballot to modify Proposition 46 enacted in 1986 - an initiative that modified the high-profile Proposition 13 enacted in 1978. Without limits and other additional taxpayer protections, Proposition 39 might have failed, as Proposition 26 failed in March 2000.
Educational districts have to sell Capital Appreciation Bonds or other unconventional methods of debt finance because assessed valuation of property in the districts unexpectedly declined, thus forcing districts to confront tax and debt limits.It’s important to obtain an independent projection of assessed property valuation that does not extend a current exceptional rate of growth for 40 years.
THESE BOND FINANCE DEALS ARE MISUNDERSTOOD
It’s wrong to consider Capital Appreciation Bonds in isolation. They are usually just a piece of a package of bond issues. When considered in conjunction with other bond issues, the debt to principal ratio is usually reasonable.This doesn’t eliminate the reality that bonds are issued that will need to be paid back decades later with compounded interest. Why include them at all?
Focusing on long-term debt service is misleading. Just because there is a high number for aggregate accreted interest in 40 years doesn’t necessary mean that amount will ever be paid. Many Capital Appreciation Bonds are “callable” and can be redeemed (and are being redeemed) with a new issue of refunding bonds that have lower rates and can be issued as traditional Current Interest Bonds. Because of the consistent increasing value of property in California over several generations, an amount that seems high to taxpayers now will not be so daunting decades from now. Routine inflation will reduce the “real” cost of paying back Capital Appreciation Bonds decades from now. This is public money. The decision to borrow money via Capital Appreciation Bonds assumes that assessed valuation of property and the rate of inflation will increase substantially over decades. And some districts (such as Poway Unified School District) have sold Capital Appreciation Bonds that are not callable.
Contrary to claims made after the fact, plenty of information is provided to educational district administrators and elected board members about bond sales. There isn’t an excuse for not understanding the proposal.Information is not presented in a standardized way that is easy to understand. Most school board members do not have a background in accounting, finance, or bonds. In addition, school board members may be hesitant to publicly acknowledge their lack of understanding, especially if everyone else in the room is nodding heads during the bond consultant presentation.
Critics have self-interested motivations to criticize. Traditional and consistent ideological detractors of government schools want to take advantage of yet another opportunity to undermine the system. Cynical politicians want to exploit bad news in order to build a reputation. News media wants to improve reader and viewer ratings through sensational and misleading coverage.Most people would acknowledge that criticism of at least a few bond issues by California educational districts has merit. In addition, there are self-interested motivations for people denying that Capital Appreciation Bonds and other unconventional bond financing are unusual or unwise. Community college and K-12 school district elected officials wanted to stay in office. District administrators wanted to keep their jobs. And of course professionals in the financial industry wanted to continue making a living from the transaction fees generated by bond sales.
Assembly Bill 182 (2013) wasn’t really needed, but it is now law and there are no valid arguments to impose more restrictions on this valuable tool for educational districts.Educational districts are still selling Capital Appreciation Bonds (and also Bond Anticipation Notes) under the assumption that assessed valuation will continue to rise for decades. The bond financing industry will continue to use these schemes to bloat borrowing and collect more transaction fees.
Table A-6
Arguments Against Capital Appreciation Bonds
ArgumentRebuttal
THE BOND FINANCE INDUSTRY IS NOT TRUSTWORTHY
Promoters of bond deals are motivated by transaction fees and tend to advance funding proposals in their own interest but harmful to the public interest.Borrowing money for long-term investment is a well-accepted practice in the United States and a fundamental part of our economic system.
Most people involved with bond finance are ethical and enjoy being in a professional financial vocation that helps students and society.
The few bond finance professionals who are alleged to advise decisions not in the interest of their clients earn a bad reputation and can’t stay in the business.
Companies and individuals who work in the business of assisting with capital transfer and earn fees on those transactions are an easy target to malign, but they are essential to a prosperous economy.
Proving their lack of responsibility to the public, the California Public Securities Association in 2009 sponsored Assembly Bill 1388, a self-interested bill that repealed a law requiring that the maximum annual payment of principal and interest on a bond issue cannot exceed the minimum annual payment of principal and interest by more than 10 percent.Actually, this bill helped educational districts by allowing them greater opportunity to borrow money despite reaching state tax and debt limits or despite reaching tax and debt limits indicated in the bond measure.
Excessive competition in the market to win contracts from educational districts for bond finance services has compelled some companies to overstate benefits and understate risks of unconventional bond finance.Increased competition in municipal bond finance gives educational districts the opportunity to compare numerous potential contractors and chose the one that best suits its needs. Districts concerned about debt accumulated through Capital Appreciation Bonds can award contracts to professional service firms that adopt a conservative approach to bond finance.
Increased competition in municipal bond finance has encouraged the development and promotion of more creative and effective options to help educational districts in bond finance, such as Reauthorization Bonds and Ed-Tech Bonds.
Corruption is rampant in the municipal bond finance business, as proven by apparent “pay to play” practices between educational districts and bond underwriters.Many parties in the bond financial industry resent how their reputation is tainted by a few companies that make substantial contributions to bond measure campaigns and/or consult for those campaigns and then obtain no-bid contracts and/or higher transaction fees. They have asked the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (MSRB) to restrict parties in the financial services industry from contributing to bond campaigns. They have also collectively adopted a voluntary internal moratorium on the practice.
Some county treasurers, for example in Los Angeles County, have ended business with securities brokers that contribute to campaigns for bond measures. The problem is being addressed.
The Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board already has a regulation requiring brokers, dealers, and municipal securities deals to disclose their campaign contributions to allow public scrutiny of such political activity.
Political campaigns are expensive. Parents and students are unlikely to be major sources of contributions to a campaign to pass a bond measure. There is nothing wrong with companies contributing to a campaign and expressing their First Amendment constitutional right to free speech.
No one has ever proven this practice actually happens.
Claims about this practice come from firms that want to stifle competition from other firms that work harder for educational districts.
Educational districts are no different than victims of loan sharks, payday lenders, mortgage scammers, and other unsavory usurers.Comparisons of professional, certified financial service providers to criminals is unjust. Boards elected by the people consider and vote on proposals for bond issues at public meetings regulated by open meetings laws. The process is highly regulated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board. The news media has the opportunity to follow and report on the issue to the public.
LACK OF PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE COMPROMISES ACCOUNTABILITY AND ALLOWS TAXPAYERS TO BE EXPLOITED
Few Californians have ever heard of Capital Appreciation Bonds. An even tinier percentage of Californians could adequately explain them. As a result, the public is currently incapable of evaluating this method of bond finance and petitioning their school or college board members about it.Government does many things that the general public does not know about or understand. Accountability is inherent in the regular elections for governing boards. Candidates run for and get elected to public office based on their individual expertise and experience. Voters can subsequently choose to end the public service of those individuals based on their performance.
Educational districts have professional in-house superintendents and often have other administrators overseeing bond deals, including business officers assigned to work on bond finance.
Educational districts hire outside experts to maximize the effectiveness of their bond measures and best serve the public. Contracts for these experts include terms and conditions that provide protection for the district and accountability to the consultant.
State and county elected and appointed officials and their agencies serve as checks and balances for educational district decisions. In particular, county treasurers can and do play a role in evaluating questionable bond financing.
In the few cases in which excessive or inappropriate bond deals may have occurred, (for example, the 2011 bond issue at the Poway USD), elected county treasurers and the news media did identify the failure and publicized it. Assembly Bill 182 (now in law) is the product of research and reporting by elected government officials and the news media. The system of checks and balances worked.
Voters are not informed in election ballot material that some of the money they authorize to borrow via “general obligation bonds” ends up borrowed via Capital Appreciation Bonds and other unconventional borrowing practices.Actually, some ballot statements are now indicating that “no capital appreciation bonds shall be issued.” Inclusion of language specifying the type of General Obligation bonds to be sold should be a decision of the district board and not mandated by the state.
It’s unfair for educational districts to be forced to speculate to voters on how it might borrow money. Financing decisions are made by elected board members based on economic conditions that cannot be known at the time the bond measure is considered.
State law already imposes numerous burdensome and costly requirements on educational districts to ensure voters have a reasonable degree of information for consideration of a bond measure.
Ballot statements already are so long that few people would see any authorizations for the district to Capital Appreciation Bonds and other unconventional borrowing practices if they were included.
COST, TAXES, AND DEBT ARE FOOLHARDY
It’s foolish to borrow money and then wait for decades to start paying off the principal and accreted interest.What’s foolish are the tax and debt limitations established by state voters as Proposition 13 in 1978 and state laws (Assembly Bill 1908) enacted in conjunction with putting Proposition 39 on the statewide ballot in 2000. If those limits were set at a higher threshold or eliminated altogether, Capital Appreciation Bonds and other unconventional financing schemes would become rare.
Property taxes may increase substantially many years in the future when the district begins paying off the debt.It’s unlikely the taxes will end up being particularly noteworthy or burdensome after decades of increased property value and inflation.
The amount to be paid back under Capital Appreciation Bonds is too high.Just because there is a high number for aggregate accreted interest in 40 years doesn’t necessary mean that amount will ever be paid. Many Capital Appreciation Bonds are “callable” and can be redeemed (and are being redeemed) with a new issue of refunding bonds that have lower rates and can be issued as traditional Current Interest Bonds.
Because of the consistent increasing value of property in California over several generations, an amount that seems high to taxpayers now will not be so daunting decades from now.
Routine inflation will reduce the “real” cost of paying back Capital Appreciation Bonds decades from now.
Focusing on the amount of debt service generated by Capital Appreciation Bonds ignores the intangible benefits of high-quality schools with environments conducive to teaching and learning
Capital Appreciation Bonds are used too often.For most educational districts, Capital Appreciation Bonds comprise a small percentage of the total amount of bonds issued. Capital Appreciation Bonds are a legitimate and beneficial option for educational districts that want to obtain a bit more of the money that voters authorized to borrow for needed school construction.
Capital Appreciation Bonds allow educational districts to fund contracts with local contractors and vendors, thus encouraging economic growth and job creation in the community. Capital Appreciation Bonds pay for themselves by generating increased economic activity.
There are no legal or commonly accepted definitions of “too often.” The authority to issue Capital Appreciation Bonds is granted to the educational district’s board of trustees, who are elected by the people. Each educational district has its own comfort for Capital Appreciation Bonds, and this comfort usually reflected in the decision of the board. Trust our representative democracy.
Capital Appreciation Bonds assume an ability to pay based on projections of increased value of taxable property that may extend as many as 40 years into the future.Granted, no one can perfectly predict the future. But California remains a desirable place to live because of its climate, natural beauty, economic prosperity, and culture. It’s reasonable to assume that people with ability and ambition will always come to California, a beacon for the world, and thus increase demand for housing.
The best way to ensure increased property values in the future is to build a foundation of high-quality schools with environments conducive to teaching and learning. Funding for new construction - sometimes obtained through Capital Appreciation Bonds - allow these schools to be provided and fulfills the expectation for increased property values.
Without any sort of representation, future generations of taxpayers (children and grandchildren) are bound to repaying debts accumulated by unconventional borrowing practices of current generations.Schools built using Capital Appreciation Bonds are for the benefit of our children and grandchildren. Shouldn’t they contribute to paying for the system that helped to make them successful?
This is an unfortunate distortion of the concept of “taxation without representation” that applies to people who are deprived of their right for full participation in their current governance. Many of the important and transformational social programs in the United States and in California were adopted before the people now benefiting and paying for them were even born. Generations work together cooperatively to advance progress.

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