CHICAGO - Midwestern voters delivered a mixed bag of results for local governments and school districts that sought approval for more than $800 million worth of bonding or tax increases Tuesday, with voters in the Elgin Community College district outside Chicago approving the day's largest ballot measure for $178 million.
Voters in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin weighed in on various measures, with more than two dozen school districts in Wisconsin seeking approval for $200 million worth of borrowing and revenue proposals and voters in Illinois deciding more than $600 million in requests.
Voters in the growing Elgin Community College district northwest of Chicago narrowly approved $178 million in borrowing by just a 29-vote margin with nearly 39,000 votes cast. The debt would finance the first phase of a $378 million capital program designed to accommodate the school's needs through 2030. The initial phase includes a library expansion and classroom and facilities renovations for high-demand programs like health care that have student waiting lists.
The library expansion is needed or the school could lose its accreditation, officials had warned. They also promoted the measure for its economic development impact, including the projection that 4,000 jobs will be created.
Far west of Chicago, voters in St. Charles Community Unit School District No. 303 rejected a referendum to permit $114 million in borrowing for various projects. Supporters pushed the fact that the borrowing would not increase the tax rate while opponents argued that it still amounted to a tax hike because rates would no longer go down as old debt is retired.
In Wisconsin, voters rejected three requests from the Middleton-Cross Plaines School District in Dane County. The proposals included a request to exceed state imposed tax revenue caps by $1.9 million annually, a bonding measure for $34.7 million that would have financed construction of a new elementary school, and $33.9 million that would have financed the expansion of a middle school.
Voters in West Bend School District outside of Milwaukee approved a $27.4 million measure for renovations and additions to a middle school but rejected $41.5 million in borrowing for a new elementary school and improvements to two other elementary schools.
In the suburbs of St. Louis, the University City School District won approval for $53.6 million of bonding for school improvements and Clayton School District voters approved a $51 million issue for improvements as well.
Voters in Illinois also weighed in on several non-referendum measures that are significant to the state's largest county. Cook County voters handily embraced Democratic board commissioner Mike Quigley in his bid for the U.S. House seat vacated late last year by Rahm Emanuel, who became President Obama's chief of staff.
Long considered a voice of independence on the highly political 17-member county board, Quigley was known largely for his high-profile battles with county President Todd Stroger. Most recently he led a successful effort forcing Stroger to abandon a $740 million bond issue and an unsuccessful fight against Stroger's move to raise the county's sales tax by 1%.
Quigley was also a frequent critic of the use by Chicago and the county of tax increment financing district funds, and had planned to introduce legislation that would require TIF district revenue information to appear on property tax bills.
Anger over the county's sales tax hike - which pushed Chicago's sales tax to the highest in the nation - was reflected in the approval of several suburban referendums advocating secession from Cook County. Voters from at least three suburban townships voted to secede from and to roll back the tax increase. Both referendums, however, were only advisory and nonbinding.
The issue also surfaced in at least one mayoral race. Northwest suburban Palatine's 20-year Mayor Rita Mullins, one of the biggest supporters of secession, was defeated by former Chicago Bears player Jim Schwantz, who has voiced more limited support for the idea.