The November 2019 midterm election was a mixed bag for the state. Proposition DD, a statewide ballot measure legalizing sports betting, passed with 51.4% of the vote and is set to effective in six months. The state was less fortunate on Proposition CC, a measure to end the cap on state tax revenue as required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Compared to the November 2018 election, which approved $1.6 billion of bond issuance, this election was a success for local governments. Although results are preliminary and have yet to be certified, nearly $1.0 billion of general obligation bonds were approved by Colorado voters. By election measure, approximately 50% of issues were approved, which represents 72% of the total requested par amount.
There were more than 100 municipal measures on November ballots in Colorado. Ballot measures covered affordable housing, broadband, bond proposals for public improvements, economic development, governance, marijuana, tax increases, sports betting and transportation. All four TABOR over-ride ballot measures were approved by voters in addition to $124.4 million of city bond issues.
Colorado voters were faced with $1.2 billion of school bond issues and mill levy overrides in 22 school district elections, almost on par with the $1.4 billion school districts requested from voters in 2018. School district bond issues on the ballot ranged from $1.6 million to $400 million. Voters approved five of the twelve school district bond issues for $900 million that will fund new schools and capital improvements. In addition, voters also approved $27.0 million in school districts mill levy overrides.
Overall, voters continue to demonstrate a willingness to approve local bond issues, which provide new schools and other capital improvements throughout the state. The results of these elections will provide a significant source of additional supply to the Colorado bond market later this year and into 2020.
On November 5, 2019, Colorado voters will decide on approximately $1.2 billion of K-12 municipal issuance and mill levy overrides in 20 local elections, as well as Proposition CC, a statewide ballot measure that would end the cap on state tax revenue as required by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). TABOR is a constitutional limit to the amount of revenue that Colorado and local governments are able to retain and spend or save. Excess revenue collected over the TABOR limit must be refunded to taxpayers unless voters authorize retention of the excess amount.
Historically, the State has experienced difficulty passing funding for K-12 public schools and transportation projects. As a result, the State is requesting voters approve Proposition CC, which permits excess revenue to be distributed to public schools, higher education, roads, bridges and transit beginning in fiscal year 2019-20.This strategy has recently been successful at the local level, with Colorado cities exercising similar strategies to spend TABOR funds. If the measure passes, the increases in funding may benefit our holdings of public school, higher education and transportation bonds. However, TABOR funding is unpredictable and, therefore, difficult to budget. The Colorado Legislative Council Staff projects revenue exceeding the TABOR limit will be $428.5 million in 2019, $264.3 million in 2020 and $142.9 million in 2021.
Unlike at the State level, Colorado voters have historically shown a willingness to approve local bond issues. These measures are used to finance new schools and other capital improvements throughout the state. School district bond issues on the November ballot range in size from approximately $2.5 million to as much as $395 million. Depending upon voter sentiment, this election could potentially provide the Aquila Tax-Free Fund of Colorado with a broad opportunity to invest in a variety of projects as bonds are sold later this year and into 2020.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) has been positive for the supply and demand dynamic in the Colorado municipal bond market. TCJA eliminated tax-exempt advanced refunding, which has resulted in lower municipal bond issuance this year. The new law also limits state and local tax deductions to $10,000, which we expect will increase municipal bond demand from investors. Advanced refunding issues accounted for 18% to 29% of municipal bond supply from 2012-2017. The TCJA was the largest overhaul of the US tax code since 1986, and reduces individual and corporate income tax rates, which will affect most states by eliminating or reducing exemptions and deductions that were available prior to its passage. Individual and corporate income tax revenues in Colorado will increase by an estimated $196 to $340 million a year as a result.
The passage of TCJA is also expected to increase Colorado’s general fund by an estimated $309.3 million in fiscal year 2017-18, $207.3 million in fiscal year 2018-19 and $326.3 million in fiscal year 2019-20, according to the Colorado Office of State Planning and Budgeting’s December 2017 forecast. The substantial growth in fiscal year 2017-18 is a one-time increase, as investors postponed capital gain sales and corporations deferred tax liabilities in anticipation of federal tax law changes.
While TCJA is a positive for the state, Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association’s (PERA) unfunded liability is still a concern that we are monitoring. Senate Bill 18-200 was passed in the Colorado Legislature on May 9, 2018, to make modifications to PERA to reduce its unfunded liability. The TCJA is expected to provide consumers with more disposable income and will continue to expand Colorado’s economy at lower levels due to higher costs of living, tight labor markets and inflationary pressures as interest rates increase.
Colorado started 2017 by “running out of the gate” with strong supply of tax-exempt municipal bonds evidenced by net issuance hitting $1.28 billion in January, due primarily to a record $3.21 billion in general obligation bonds approved across the state during the November 2016 election. Net issuance is the difference between the volume of municipal bonds issued and the amount matured or called. More recently, net issuance in Colorado has declined by $1.54 billion in June, due to $1.82 billion of municipal bonds maturing or being called.
Demand for Colorado bonds has strengthened in recent months due not only to the impact of declining net issuance, but also the increased dollars sitting on the sidelines as the result of bonds maturing or being called. We expect supply constraints and strong demand for municipal bonds will continue for at least the next several months as municipal bond issuance is unlikely to satisfy investor demand. Lipper US Fund Flows data released recently indicates municipal bond mutual funds have seen an average weekly year-to-date inflow of approximately $236 million as investors are facing increasing difficulty sourcing bonds. In addition, credit spreads between high and low investment grade municipal bonds have tightened to the point that investors are assuming measurable credit risk for the addition of only a few basis points.
Vice President, Municipal Bond Credit Analyst
Kirkpatrick Pettis Capital Management
Investments in bonds may decline in value due to rising interest rates, a real or perceived decline in credit quality of the issuer, borrower, counterparty, or collateral, adverse tax or legislative changes, court decisions, market or economic conditions.