CHICAGO – Midwestern voters delivered mixed results on transportation proposals Tuesday while picking new governors and settling legislative races that stand to impact fiscal decisions in Illinois and Minnesota.
In Illinois – where partisan political gridlock has stalled passage of fiscal 2016 and 2017 budgets – Democrats lost four state House seats in an election that pitted longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, against Gov. Bruce Rauner, the state's first-term Republican governor.
Democrats still control the House, but no longer have their narrow 71-seat supermajority.
"By handily breaking the supermajority, Illinois voters sent a strong message that it is time for Democrats to join Governor Rauner and legislative Republicans in enacting reforms to lower property taxes, create more jobs, address the pension crisis and place term limits on the career politicians alongside a balanced budget," House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said in a statement.
Advertisements for contested races sought to highlight and criticize candidates' respective ties to the two leaders. Rauner spent $30 million to help those he backed. The outcome on budget negotiations expected to resume ahead of a lame-duck session early next year are unclear.
Madigan was already unable to command all Democratic votes to support veto override attempts, so the losses may have little impact. Many believed the greater impact would be felt If Madigan had picked up seats to cementing his supermajority.
"This has been a long, grueling campaign cycle, both nationally and locally. For the good of the people of Illinois, let's put the election behind us. Let's come together and focus on the future and improving the quality of life for every family in our state," Rauner said in a statement Wednesday.
Madigan sought to highlight the number of seats retained despite record Republican spending and the other Democratic victories.
Democratic nominee Susana Mendoza, Chicago city clerk, defeated Republican Leslie Geissler Munger in the state comptroller's race. Munger was handpicked by Rauner to serve out the term of Judy Baar Topinka after her sudden death. State Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., beat incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.
"Voters stated clearly that they wish to maintain a wide Democratic majority in the Illinois House of Representatives and maintain a strong check on Bruce Rauner and his anti-middle class agenda," Madigan said in a statement.
Democrats lost two of their 39 Senate seats but retained their supermajority of 36.
In Indiana, Marion County voters approved a mass transit ballot referendum authorizing an income tax hike that's expected to raise $56 million annually to expand bus services throughout Indianapolis. As part of the expansion, Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, also known as IndyGo, plans to build a bus rapid transit line. Residents will see up to a 0.25% income tax increase to fund the major public transportation upgrades.
"This will be the first dedicated revenue stream for transit in Marion County," said Mark Fisher, vice president of government relations and policy development of the Indy Chamber. The referendum now heads to the Indianapolis city council for a final vote, said Fisher.
In Illinois, voters overwhelmingly approved placing a so-called "lockbox" on transportation revenues, barring future diversions to balance budgets or fund non-transportation related expenses.
The constitutional amendment known as the "Safe Roads" amendment had created deep divisions, drawing warnings that it would hinder local government and state fiscal flexibility, and raised questions over its impact on future borrowing. Supporters say the lockbox is needed to protect against ongoing diversions of highway-related tax and fee collections that should be reserved for transportation infrastructure.
Backers argued that $6.8 billion has been swept from the state's road fund between 2002 and 2015, harming the state's road system. The amendment comes amid warnings from state transportation leaders that a six-year, $11.2 billion highway improvement plan won't be enough to stop an ongoing decline of infrastructure.
Opponents worry that the issue isn't as simple as laid out by the coalition because it could stymie local and state fiscal flexibility and some worry that the impact on state and local bonding programs that draw from transportation funds is unclear.
In Michigan, a mass transit tax proposal for the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan met with a different outcome. Voters in the four-county Detroit region narrowly turned down a 20-year property tax levy that was projected to generate $3 billion in new revenues.
The package would have funded the expansion of transit with additional bus lines planned, a new rail link between Detroit and Ann Arbor, and better direct access to the Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
"The extremely narrow defeat of the proposed millage for regional transit is a deeply disappointing setback for efforts to create a modern transit system that would position southeast Michigan to be a stronger competitor in the 21st Century both nationally and internationally," RTA Board Chairman Paul Hillegonds and RTA chief Michael Ford said in a joint statement.
The RTA can try again in two years.
Voters picked a new seven-member Detroit Public Schools Community District board. Voters chose one member of the previous school board, that member's wife who is a retired teacher, and representatives of Detroit's business community from among 63 candidates on the ballot. The district's finances will still be overseen by a fiscal commission.
The school board is charged with restoring local control to the new school district established under the state approved $617 million Detroit Public Schools restructuring which took effect on July 1. The overhaul saved the district from insolvency.
Republicans held on to governorships in multiple states and picked one up.
Indiana voters picked Republican Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, to replace Mike Pence, now the vice-president elect. Pence dropped out of the race to run for vice president. Holcomb defeated Democrat John Gregg.
North Dakota voters chose Republican Doug Burgum, a Fargo businessman, as the new governor to replace Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican who did not seek re-election. Burgum defeated Democrat Marvin Nelson and Libertarian party candidate Marty Riske.
Missouri voters chose to replace outgoing incumbent Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, with Republican candidate Eric Greitens, a political newcomer and former Navy Seal, over the Democratic nominee Chris Koster, the state attorney general.
In Minnesota, Republicans expanded their House majority and stripped control of the Senate from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, setting the stage for more intense fiscal and policy battles with Gov. Mark Dayton, a DFLer. Past battles during times of divided leadership that occurred in economic downturns drove the state's loss of its top credit marks and resulted in a state government shutdown.
Several races were tight in the Minnesota Senate race and face recounts.
In Iowa, full control now belongs to Republicans after the GOP won a Senate majority. The party held on to its House majority and Gov. Terry Branstad is a Republican.
Wayne County, Mich., voters approved a countywide millage proposal to raise an additional $385 per student for the 33 school districts located in the county. The proposal raises property taxes across the county by two mills to generate $80 million over a six-year period. The county says the money would help fill gaps in the state funding formula.
In North Dakota, voters passed measure 2 which amends the constitution to allow lawmakers to spend part of The Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund, a fund set up to collect 10% of revenue from the oil extraction tax, on education.
The diversion can occur only when the balance exceeds 15% of the general fund appropriation for state aid to school districts for the most recently completed biennium.
In Missouri, voters renewed an existing sales and use tax of one-tenth of 1% for 10 years. The $90 million generated annually by the tax funds water conservation and state park operations. Voters shot down measures to raise taxes on cigarettes to fund a childhood health and education trust fund and transportation and infrastructure projects.
Also, Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment banning any extension of sales tax to services, the first such limit approved in the country.