Persistent Politicians

Some politicians just won't take no for an answer. In 1993, the Board of Supervisors of suburban Loudoun County, Virginia, placed a $35 million bond issue on the ballot, intended to finance a county government building. By a 2-to-1 margin, the voters said no.

Still salivating for the new office space, the board attempted to make an end run around Virginia's constitutional provision that requires voter approval for all government debt. The supervisors created Gilcorp, a nonprofit corporation, which then secured a contract for a 22-year lease on a building yet to be erected. After raising $30 million with bonds and securing an additional $11.3 million in public funds, Gilcorp constructed a building, which it then leased to Loudoun County. Loudoun voters rewarded the supervisors' creativity by turning seven of the nine out of office in the November 1995 election.

The new board placed a $13.8 million bond issue on the November 1996 ballot to fund an addition to the county courthouse. This also failed by a 2-to-1 margin. Not to worry: Six months later the board announced plans to build a $30 million courthouse addition. Unable to issue debt, it financed the project by accelerating collection of Virginia's hated car tax. Outraged locals formed Voters Insisting Government Listen (VIGL), a grassroots advocacy group that has sued the board, arguing that its creative financing violates the state constitution. The case is before the Virginia Supreme Court, which is expected to hear arguments this fall.

Loudoun's citizens are not alone in their fight against bond-happy local politicians. In California, former Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate Richard Rider is suing San Diego County for forgetting to get voter permission to fund a $200 million convention center expansion. (See "Edifice Wreck," Citings, October 1997.) The Wall Street Journal reports that courts in Texas, North Carolina, West Virginia, and New Mexico have censured governments for attempting to circumvent the will of their constituents by coming up with creative bond financing schemes.

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