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Spin Control

Renew what?

Campaign yard signs for Spokane School proposed ballot measures say one way the public can “Vote Yes for Kids” on March 10 is to renew a bond issue.

But that’s not quite accurate, even a co-chairwoman of the bond issue campaign concedes. Spokane School District 81 is not renewing  bonds, it’s selling new ones, totaling $288 million, and repaying the new bonds over 20 years.

“It’s not a word choice with an eye on the financial market,” Barb Chamberlain of Citizens for Spokane Schools said.

Although the signs are urging a renewal of the bonds, what the district is actually seeking is a renewal of voters’ 2003 commitment to a 25-year plan to renovate its schools, Chamberlain said. Six years ago voters approved the first phase, some $152 million in bonds. The district will pick up what’s left of the old debt and roll it in with the costs of new construction.

It expects to seek voter approval for new bond issues in 2015 and 2021.

Property owners will be facing the same tax levy as 2003, she said, so in that sense it’s also a renewal, she said.

Getting the correct verb on a campaign sign sometimes causes trouble for candidates. Someone who has only been appointed to an office can’t put “re-elect” on a campaign sign. Brad Stark had to add “elect” to his campaign signs when challenging incumbent Ralph Baker for Spokane County assessor in 2006.

But the Citizens for Spokane Schools campaign is in the clear on its signs, said Lori Anderson of the state Public Disclosure Commission. That’s because statutes governing statements in political advertising apply only to candidates, not to ballot measures like levies and bond issues.

The PDC would have no enforcement jurisdiction, even if someone were to complain.

“For ballot measures, they get to say whatever they want,” Anderson said.

Fitting “renew the commitment to the 25-year plan with the same tax rate” doesn’t fit well on a yard sign, Chamberlain said. But the campaign will be spelling out the details of the bond issue in literature being mailed out to voters in the coming weeks, she said.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.