CHICAGO – The Midwest's voters will decide Nov. 8 on an array of bond and tax questions requesting new funding for schools, infrastructure, transit, and highway projects and fill key leadership roles.
In Michigan, voters in the four-county Detroit region will decide on a 20-year property tax levy projected to generate $3 billion in new revenues while leveraging another estimated $1.7 billion of state and federal funding for the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan.
"The question of increasing property taxes for enhanced transit services is one of the more significant questions appearing on the ballot in four Southeast Michigan counties," Citizens Research Council of Michigan President Eric Lupher wrote in a review of the proposal.
The package would fund 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.
Recent polls show overwhelming support among the public for the measure. The research council, a nonprofit policy research organization, has some concerns.
"While there are elements to the proposed use of the funding we can consider positive to the region, it must be recognized that the use of a property tax as the funding mechanism increases an already high property tax burden relative to the rest of the state and many other metropolitan regions in the nation," Lupher said.
Indianapolis voters will decide the fate of a 0.25% income tax increase to fund major public transportation upgrades.
The tax would raise approximately $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.
The new funding would finance improvements to the local bus network and three rapid transit lines on high-ridership routes.
In Illinois, voters will decide whether to put the clamps on future diversions of state transportation related revenues limiting their use to transit, highway, and other road projects.
"The wording of the amendment is vague. Its lack of clarity may result in more revenues than intended being diverted to transportation needs at both the state and local level," wrote Amanda Kass in an analysis for the Center for Municipal Finance at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy.
"The fiscal ramifications have not been thought through by proponents," she added. "Because this is a constitutional amendment and not a statute any modifications or adjustments would be extremely difficult."
Detroit Public Schools will officially transition from state oversight to a locally run school board in January after voters elect the board's seven members Nov. 8.
The school board is charged with restoring local control to the new Detroit Public Schools Community District. The district's $617-million restructuring took effect on July 1.
The plan split the district into two entities. The former Detroit Public Schools now exists only to collect taxes pledged to pay off outstanding debt. Its old school board was dissolved.
The new board will hire a superintendent and hold policy-making authority but the Detroit Financial Review Commission will oversee its finances and hiring of key administrators. The new district is now overseen by transition manager Steven Rhodes, the retired federal bankruptcy judge who presided over Detroit's Chapter 9 case. He was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder
"Voters will confront an exhausting list of 63 candidates, because there was no primary," Frank Shafroth, director of the State and Local Government Leadership Center at George Mason University, wrote on his blog.
"It is likely an election unlike any other the city has seen," he wrote. "It was called four months ago, there was no primary, and only the top seven finishers will win seats on the board."
Shafroth highlighted the backgrounds of many candidates, noting that 36 of the candidates have had either a bankruptcy, a foreclosure or lien for unpaid taxes, or been sued for unpaid debts.
Indiana voters will pick their next governor.
Former Indiana Speaker of the House John Gregg is the Democratic candidate running against the Republican candidate, Lt. Governor Eric Holcomb.
Holcomb was originally on the ballot as the running mate of incumbent Gov. Mike Pence, who dropped out of the race to run for vice president on Donald Trump's GOP ticket.
Missouri voters will choose a new governor to replace incumbent Democrat Jay Nixon, who can't seek re-election under term limits. Republican Eric Greitens, a businessman and former Navy Seal, is vying for the post against Democrat Chris Koster, the state attorney general.
North Dakota voters are also voting on a new governor to replace Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, who did not seek re-election. Republican Doug Burgum, a Fargo businessman, and Democrat Marvin Nelson, a state representative, are vying for the job.
In Wisconsin, local voters face more than 40 bond referenda from school districts totaling $1.1 billion, according to The Wheeler Report website. Chippewa Falls Area is seeking two measures, one for $61 million in bonding authority and another for $98 million.
Milton area schools are asking for $87 million in borrowing authority to fund capital improvement and projects required under federal disabilities rules. The Arrowhead Union High School District in Waukesha County, outside of Milwaukee, is asking for $65 million of borrowing authority, Sun Prairie Schools are asking for $89.5 million of borrowing authority, Germantown schools are asking for $84 million to fund districtwide improvements, and McFarland Schools are asking for $65 million in borrowing authority.
In Ohio, the state's triple-A rated capital city Columbus is asking voters to support a $950 million bond proposal to finance a host of citywide work, including new sewer and water lines, street resurfacing and improvements to recreation centers and parks. If voters approve, the city would have authority to raise taxes if needed to repay the borrowing.
In Indiana, voters in Marion County will face a $185 million bond question that would increase the property tax rate for debt service by a maximum of $0.28 per $100 of assessed valuation.
In Nebraska, voters across the Southeast Community College's 15-county service area are being asked to grant $369 million of general obligation bonding authority to finance the demolition, new construction, renovation of projects at its three campuses in Beatrice, Milford and Lincoln.
In Illinois, a $130 million bond authorization is being sought by Palatine area Consolidated School District 15, which covers a suburban area northwest of Chicago.
North Dakota has several statewide initiatives on the ballot.
Measure 2 would amend 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 could occur only when the balance exceeds 15% of the general fund appropriation for state aid to school districts for the most recently completed biennium. As of September 1, there was about $570 million in the fund, according to the state's treasurer website. About $121 million was used to offset budget cuts this year.
Voters in Cass Count and Fargo, North Dakota will decide whether to extend an existing flood-protection sales tax to pay for new flood diversion projects.
In Missouri, voters are being asked whether continue 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 also will decide whether to raise taxes on cigarettes to fund a childhood health and education trust fund and transportation and infrastructure projects.
Another question asks whether the constitution should be amended to prohibit new state or local sales and use taxes.
"The Missouri Budget Project opposes this amendment because of the many unintended consequences that would result from creating a constitutional limit on Missouri's sales tax," the group wrote in an overview of ballot initiatives. MBP is concerned the measure could result in local governments raising local property taxes and would compromise funding for education, health, and other critical services.