CHICAGO — Midwestern voters head to the polls tomorrow to cast decisions on elected offices, new casinos, and more than 125 ballot questions that would authorize more than $3.3 billion worth of borrowing, led by Detroit Public Schools' $500 million request and $750 million for a new public hospital in Indiana.
Ohio leads the Midwest with at least 47 bond referendums totaling $1.1 billion, followed by Michigan with 19 ballot items worth $825 million, Indiana with two for $800 million, Minnesota with nine worth $206 million, Missouri with 40 questions totaling $302 million, and eight in Wisconsin for $94 million.
Most of the bonding questions come from school districts. Many are seeking approval to issue bonds under the qualified school construction bond program in the federal stimulus program, which allows districts to sell interest-free, tax-credit bonds for qualified projects.
In what some observers have called Detroit's most important election in years, voters will also elect a mayor, City Council, and City Charter Revision Commission; decide the fate of a $500.5 million school bond proposal; and choose whether the city's mayor should take control of the struggling district. Voters will also consider a ballot proposition that would create a district-based City Council — members are currently elected city-wide — by creating seven districts and two at-large council members.
If approved, the $500.5 million DPS bond issue would include $246 million of tax-credit qualified school construction loan bonds and $256 million of direct-subsidy Build America Bonds. The bonds would be repaid by extending a current bond repayment levy by six years, to 2039.
Ahead of the election, DPS emergency financial manager Robert Bobb announced last week he would stay on at least another year to oversee the district — a move widely expected to boost voter support for the bond issue.
Voters will choose among 18 candidates vying for the nine-member City Council. At least a majority of members will be new, as five incumbents are not running for re-election.
In addition to a new City Council, voters will select nine members to make up a new Charter Revision Commission that will be tasked with revising Detroit's charter through November 2012. Among other tasks, the commission will likely design the new district-based structure of the council.
Mayor Dave Bing, who has won a total of three primaries and special elections held throughout the year, is largely favored in polls over challenger Tom Barrow.
Voters across the state will consider 17 additional bond proposals, including a $65.7 million proposal for the Warren School District and a $59 million proposal for Pinckney Community Schools.
In Ohio, voters will decide the fate of a controversial proposal to amend the state constitution to allow for the establishment of four casinos in the state's top four cities, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Toledo.
The proposal has generated months of debate and heavy lobbying from both advocates and critics.
A partnership between Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns casinos and racetracks in several states, and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, the gaming measure would create up to 34,000 new jobs for the struggling state, said advocates.
Under the proposal, casino profits would be taxed 33%, money that would then be distributed to local governments across the state. The measure would generate up to $643 million annually for local governments, according to projections from the Ohio Department of Taxation and Office of Budget and Management.
Though Ohioans have defeated four ballot propositions that would have allowed casinos over the last 19 years, recent polling suggests nearly 60% of voters favor the gaming proposal. Voters will also decide whether to allow the state to issue $200 million of bonds to provide bonuses for veterans of recent wars in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Voters in Marion County, Ind., will consider a $754 million proposal for a new hospital in Indianapolis. The Marion County Health and Hospital Corp. is sponsoring the proposal, which would finance a new facility to replace Wishard Hospital, one of the largest safety net health care systems in the country.
The 1.2 million-square-foot complex would be built on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus. Wishard currently provides 64% of all the indigent care in Marion County. The only other bond proposal on Indiana's ballot is a $99 million bond proposal for the Perry Township school district.
In Minnesota, the largest school referendum comes from Hermantown Independent School District, which is seeking $58 million to finance construction of a new high school and other projects.
In Missouri, the largest question comes from the Independence School District, which is seeking approval to sell up to $85 million of bonds that would include some qualified school construction bonds, and to retire some other more costly debt. Most of the districts seeking approval for debt issues in Missouri intend to issue QSCBs.
In Wisconsin, the Whitefish Bay School District is seeking approval to sell $13.6 million and $9 million of bonds to fund school improvements. The district also intends to issue some portion as QSCBs.
The district is one of five southeastern Wisconsin districts that filed a lawsuit against several financial firms over a troubled investment scheme involving collateralized debt obligations for their other post-employment benefit liabilities. A court decision on whether the lawsuit can proceed is expected as soon as next week.