CHICAGO – Midwestern voters face a mixed bag of bond questions and candidates Tuesday, from bankrupt Detroit which will elect a new mayor, to Polk County, Iowa, which is asking to borrow to renovate its historic courthouse, and Cincinnati, which is considering a sweeping pension-related measure.

Cincinnati voters will consider a one-of-its-kind ballot measure to tackle the city’s troubled pension system. Issue Four, one of only three ballot measures nationally that address retirement benefits, would require the city to pay forecast pension obligation shortfalls within 10 years or create new revenues to do so.

It would also shift the city’s pension system for new hires to a defined contribution plan from a defined benefit plan, as well as implement employer contribution caps and link cost of living adjustments with actual increases in the consumer price index.

Cincinnati carries an $862 million unfunded pension liability, which contributed to a July downgrade from Moody’s Investors Service. The ballot measure was pushed by Cincinnati for Pension Reform Committee, a private group whose aim is to “ensure a fair and sustainable retirement system while preserving essential city services and protecting residents from payment of excessive taxes.” 

Across the Buckeye State, nearly 200 school districts are seeking approval for bonding and tax increases. The largest request comes from Columbus City Schools which is seeking approval for a $175 million bond issue to finance capital projects. The district is also asking for a tax increase to raise $340 million for operating costs. For the first time, an oversight panel would take into account a school’s academic performance in deciding if it receives funding for improvements.

The city of Columbus has four bond issues on the ballot totaling $842 million, with the largest being a $445 million borrowing request for water and sewer improvements.

School districts across Michigan also are asking for borrowing authority, with some of the largest located in the metropolitan Detroit area. Dearborn Public Schools has a $76 million bond issue on the ballot; the Troy School District has $125 million borrowing; and Farmington Public Schools has a $155 million borrowing request and a $32 million request. Three of the four requests will be used to finance security and safety upgrades.

In Detroit, voters will choose their next mayor, who could play a crucial role in shaping the city’s future as it moves out of bankruptcy and state-controlled emergency management over the next four years. Mike Duggan, former CEO of Detroit Medical Center and Wayne County deputy executive, leads in polls over Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon. If Duggan wins, he would be Detroit’s first white mayor since 1974.

In Polk County, voters will decide an $81 million bonding request to finance upgrades to the county’s judicial building including its historic courthouse, former county jail, and other facilities in Des Moines. The measure must meet a 60% approval threshold to pass. The county would issue general obligation bonds in phases to fund the renovations that are expected to be completed in 2021. Voters shot down a previous bonding question during a special election in 2008 to fund renovations.

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