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Voters Approve Big Spending Packages at the Local Level

Tax increases passed in most places they were on the ballot.

Voters in Dallas Tuesday approved a major local spending package, as did voters in Denver, Kansas City and elsewhere.
This story is part of our 2017 elections coverage.

Voters were in a mood to spend money on Tuesday -- that is, in the comparatively few places where they had the chance to decide tax and bonding questions.

Projects totaling roughly $1 billion in each city won approval in Dallas, Denver and Kansas City, Mo. "This gives the people of Denver what they want and what they need," Mayor Michael Hancock said at a victory rally Tuesday.

The Denver and Dallas bond packages run the gamut of infrastructure spending, covering basics such as roads and parks. In Kansas City, voters approved a makeover of the airport, with the current trio of terminals eventually being replaced by a single terminal, which will be privately financed.

On the other side of Missouri, voters in St. Louis approved a half-cent increase in the sales tax to fund raises for police and firefighters. Some voters were wary of a tax increase, criticizing police for their handling of recent protests in the city. But with St. Louis County having recently approved a similar measure, city officials were able to convince voters they needed the proposition to pass to offer competitive compensation.

"Our police and firemen are some of the most underpaid in the area, and they're some of the hardest working," says Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council. "I understand why some of the folks were against it, but I don't agree that blowing up the system and making it fail before we try to fix it is the thing to do."

Voters in Grand Forks, N.D., also approved a half-cent increase in the local sales tax, in their case to fund road and water projects. Voters had rejected a slightly larger proposed hike last year.

Election Day also saw a few notable measures to increase revenue for education. Voters in three Northern Virginia school districts approved a total of $515 million in school bonds. In districts around the Phoenix area, voters approved roughly two-dozen measures to increase school funding.

Not every local spending measure was approved on Tuesday. In Tucson, Ariz., voters rejected a plan to raise the city sales tax by half a penny to pay for early childhood education. A proposal to increase the sales tax by a tenth of a percent to fund improvements at the zoo appears to have lost by 350 votes, out of more than 70,000 cast. Tucson voters had approved a half-cent sales tax increase earlier this year to fund police, fire and infrastructure.

Across the country, local ballots this year were practically bereft of policy questions. In Athens, Ohio, voters approved a measure to depenalize marijuana. Possession will still be a misdemeanor, but no fines will be imposed. But, sorry, Ohio University students: The campus Police Department has already announced that it will issue citations based on state law, not the local ordinance.

This story is part of our 2017 elections coverage.

This story has been updated.

Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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