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Southeast Voters Pick Two Governors, Decide Bond and Tax Measures

BRADENTON, Fla. – Two new governors and a number of bond-related measures highlighted Tuesday's elections in the Southeast.

The day after the election in North Carolina, however, the gubernatorial race remained too tight to call until provisional ballots are counted.

Democrat Roy Cooper, North Carolina's state attorney general, had a 5000-vote lead or 48.9% of ballots cast to incumbent Republican Pat McCrory's 48.8%.

In West Virginia, the state's top job will remain in the hands of Democrats with businessman Jim Justice taking 49% of the votes to Republican Bill Cole's 42%.

Incumbent Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, was term-limited out of office.

Every legislative chamber among the region's 11 states is now in Republican hands after Kentucky voters turned its House over to the GOP after 95 years of Democratic control.

The GOP won 64 Kentucky House seats with Democrats winning 36. In the Senate, Republicans won 17 seats while Democrats took 11.

Two of the Southeast region's largest bond-related measures - both for transportation improvements - passed.

Atlanta voters, who in the past have rejected tax increases for transit measures, changed their minds and approved two sales tax increases by wide margins.

Voters approved by 71.5% a half-cent sales tax to support a 40-year, $6.11 billion capital program for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, and they approved by 68% of the vote an additional 0.4% local option sales tax over for five years to fund city road and pedestrian projects.

In Wake County, N.C., a local half-cent sales tax increase passed by 52.7% of the vote.

The tax will support the $5.1 billion, 20-year Wake County Transit Plan, which includes a start-up commuter rail system.

In an Alabama statewide referendum, voters approved amendment 14 to preserve the legality of hundreds of local bills, including some that authorized bond issues.

The measure was approved 992,114 votes to 447,995, a passing margin of 68.9%.

Amendment 14 ratifies local bills that have been passed by state lawmakers since 1984 that did not comply with voting requirements in Alabama's constitution.

The amendment was placed on the ballot after a legal challenge in Jefferson County uncovered the voting procedure as the county attempted to validate refunding bonds authorized in a bill by local lawmakers.

A class action lawsuit based on a faulty vote of a local bill was also filed in rural Chilton County where local the health care authority had already issued $38.13 million of bonds to build a 30-bed hospital.

Supporters of the Alabama amendment had said they hoped its passage would nullify the legal challenges, but one attorney said he doubted the amendment would have that affect.

In Louisiana, voters rejected constitutional amendment 2, which would have given public college system boards power to change tuition and fee rates on college campuses without approval from the Legislature.

Amendment 5, which was approved, creates a new Revenue Stabilization Trust Fund for Louisiana's budget that will be funded with oil and gas revenue and corporate taxes as those collections increase.

When the trust fund reaches $5 billion, up to 10% can be spent on construction and road projects, while some of the money will pay down state employee retirement debt.

Moody's Investors Service said Wednesday that the passage of amendment 5 is a credit positive, although it also "adds complexity to the state's already-convoluted budget rules and contains provisions that could allow continuation of the state's pattern of overreliance on temporary and nonrecurring budget fixes."

Moody's also said that the rejection of amendment 2 is credit negative for four Louisiana college and university system boards that would have benefitted from the autonomy to set tuition and fees.

"The inability to set tuition and fees is credit negative for Louisiana universities because it constrains their ability to offset stagnant or declining state funding in an already-challenging operating environment," said Moody's analyst Susan Shaffer. "A lack of price-setting freedom also inhibits universities' strategic planning and enrollment management."

Public universities in Louisiana have suffered seven consecutive years of budget cuts.



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