‘Michigan blogger’ to talk CABs to California

By Joel Thurtell

At 2:15 PM on Friday, May 10, I’ll be in Sacramento telling members of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees how I learned about Capital Appreciation Bonds in Michigan 21 years ago. I’ll talk about how bad CABs were for Michigan schools, and how our Detroit Free Press reports on prompted the Michigan Legislature to ban CABs.

I’ll also explain the chain of events that led me to write about California’s CAB problem.


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One Response to ‘Michigan blogger’ to talk CABs to California

  1. Kevin Dayton says:

    Retired Detroit Free Press reporter Joel Thurtell is an excellent storyteller and can add a human element to what can be a complicated and arcane public policy issue. Here’s an excerpt from my May 10, 2013 blog post about his presentation:

    Retired Detroit Free Press reporter Joel Thurtell, now a blogger at , was the last speaker at the conference. His investigative report ”Michigan Schools Load the Future with Debt” was the headline story in the April 5, 1993 Detroit Free Press, and it led to a 1994 state law banning Michigan school districts from selling Capital Appreciation Bonds.

    One of the reasons why the article was effective in changing public policy was the directive of a Detroit Free Press editor to Thurtell to produce a “Big Graphic” showing the extent of Capital Appreciation Bond sales by Michigan school districts. Thurtell had to perform many days of tedious paper-based research at the state treasurer’s office in Lansing, but the result was stunning. (Likewise, I believe that the graphic elements of the <a href="http://www.VoiceofSanDiego.org&quot; title="www.VoiceofSanDiego.org" articles on Capital Appreciation Bond sales by California school districts was a major factor in finally bringing state and national attention to the issue.)

    In January 2009, Thurtell posted the text of his old Detroit Free Press articles on his web site. Nothing more happened with them until March 2012, when Alicia Minyen, a member of the Board of Directors of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees (CalBOC), found his articles with a web search using the terms “Capital Appreciation Bonds” and “ban.” At this time the word was beginning to spread about the astonishing 10:1 debt service to principal ratio for bonds sold in 2009 by the Poway Unified School District, and the Los Angeles County Treasurer was publicly warning against Capital Appreciation Bond sales.

    Minyen contacted Thurtell and then reported on what she learned at the 2012 California League of Bond Oversight Committees. I heard Minyen’s presentation on Capital Appreciation Bonds and then reported it on my blog on May 11, 2012 as Please Read This, Even If You Think Municipal Bonds Are Really BORING: We’re Setting Up the Next Generation of Californians to Pay Staggering Property Taxes, apparently being the first Californian to post a journalistic report on the web about this practice in California.

    Thurtell noted today that the worst abuse of Capital Appreciation Bonds in Michigan was at a school district that even used bond proceeds to buy personal computers. I immediate thought about how California school districts are using bond proceeds to buy electronic tablets, with Los Angeles Unified School District and San Diego Unified School District being two prominent examples.


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