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Voters reject spending limits, OK Ohio casinos

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Voters in the U.S. states of Maine and Washington on Tuesday rejected measures to limit spending, while Ohio’s ailing economy swayed residents to approve casino gambling.

Meanwhile, voters okayed most of the estimated $10.5 billion of bonds on ballots in several states, according to Ipreo, a New York-based data company.

“Rejection of spending limits in Maine and Washington hint that voters may not be overly concerned with growth in government spending, despite a huge expansion in federal spending over the last year,” said a report by Ballotwatch, an election tracker based at the University of Southern California’s Initiative & Referendum Institute.

Ohio voters, after turning down casinos in previous elections, changed their minds as the state struggles with sinking revenue due to the economic recession. The measure, which passed with nearly 53 percent of the vote, allows casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.

Proponents of the measure, which included Penn National Gaming, have said the casinos will create 34,000 jobs, bring $200 million in licensing fees and generate an estimated $651 million annually in revenue for cash-strapped Ohio and its local governments and school districts.

Penn National’s shares were up 7.25 percent at $28.10 in afternoon trade on Nasdaq. The company plans to build casinos in Columbus and Toledo, according to analysts’ reports.

Ohio voters also approved selling $200 million of bonds to provide services and compensation to residents who are veterans of conflicts in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.

New Jersey voters said yes to issuing $400 million of bonds to safeguard land for parks and conservation.

In Texas, voters approved all the state-wide proposals on Tuesday’s ballot. They included a proposal to create a national research university fund to help state institutions. Another allows the Veterans’ Land Board to replace retired voter-authorized general obligation bonds to help ex-military members buy homes without seeking voter approval.

Other ballot questions that passed were whether to allow Texas to fund and run veterans’ hospitals and whether to enable municipalities or counties to issue debt to buy space that surrounds military installations.

There were only 26 state-wide measures on ballots this year compared to 34 in the last odd-year election in 2007, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

BOND SPENDING QUESTIONS

Voters approved nearly $8.2 billion of the estimated $10.5 billion of bonds requested by states, cities, counties and school districts, according to a preliminary report by Ipreo.

Despite economic hard times, some big bond issues were passed.

Voters in Marion County, Indiana, which includes Indianapolis, agreed to issue $704 million of bonds to build new facilities for Wishard Hospital.

Detroit voters approved a $500 million bond issue for its school district, allowing it to take advantage of federal subsidies on bond interest costs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Virginia’s Fairfax County received the green light from voters for nearly $233 million of school construction bonds. Utah’s Davis School district won approval for $250 million of bonds, while voters in Surprise, Arizona turned down nearly $185 million of bonds for various projects.

Reporting by Karen Pierog, additional reporting by Ros Krasny in Portland, Maine and Tom Ryan in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay

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