Some of the hardest-fought election battles in Michigan this year are not between candidates.
Campaigns for and against the four state-wide ballot proposals will see the results of their money and effort Tuesday, when voters weigh in on matters related to finances, environment, elections and employee pay.
The party line
After a bill banning straight-ticket voting became law in January, a successful petition drive put the issue to a referendum.
If Proposal 02-1 passes, the law will go into effect and voters will no longer be able to choose a party’s slate of candidates with one mark on their ballots.
Democrats are asking voters to deny the proposal. It’s passage would remove “a way that people who are comfortable for what a party stands for can vote quickly and easily,” Democratic Party spokesman Ben Kohrman said.
He said banning straight-ticket voting would lower attendance at the polls.
But state Sen. Bill Bullard (R-Highland Twp.), who sponsored the bill, said approving it will force some voters to become more informed about individual candidates, and make them reach the bottom of the ballot to vote on proposals and nonpartisan races.
Down the drain
Proposal 02-2 asks voters to approve the sale of $1 billion in state bonds for the purpose of funding sewage treatment infrastructure improvements.
As a result of many communities using the same pipe for both raw sewage and clean stormwater runoff, the sewers overflow after heavy rains, sending sewage into Michigan’s waters.
If approved, the state would sell the bonds, with 90 percent of the proceeds providing low-interest loans to localities to improve their sewer infrastructure. Ten percent would go to loans for septic tank improvements.
Some groups have questioned the prudence of issuing the loans, saying it rewards cities that neglected their infrastructure and now want a bail-out.
Not true, said Bethany Renfer of Clean Water Action of Michigan. Communities spent $250 million from localities last year, she said. “The thing is it’s expensive – uprooting roads, upgrading the infrastructure, and then putting the roads back down.”
According to the non-partisan state Senate Fiscal Agency, the proposal would cost Michigan taxpayers $334 each over the next 30 years, or $11 per year.
Striking a bargain
The Michigan Employee Rights Initiative is leading the charge for Proposal 02-3, which amends the state Constitution to guarantee Michigan government employees the right to collective bargaining.
It also allows them to initiate binding arbitration through a third party in case bargaining fails.
Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for the state Department of Management and Budget, said employees have had bargaining rights for years and a system is already in place to resolve conflicts.
But the state government changes contracts without consulting employees, making a neutral arbiter necessary to address grievances and hold the state accountable, MERIT president Alan Kilar said.
He said state workers merely want the same rights that Michigan State Police troopers have had for more than 20 years.
“We don’t want the right to strike, and this is an alternative,” he said. But Chesney said the proposal could allow striking by not explicitly ruling it out.
Because binding arbitrators do not have to consider the state’s budget in awarding money, the proposal “ties the state’s hands to manage out of difficult periods,” Chesney said. Tobacco and the test
The last and most contentious of the four proposals asks voters how to spend the funds – more than $8 billion over 25 years – the state receives as a settlement from tobacco companies.
The money is spread over state programs, mainly the Michigan Merit Awards. Proposal 02-4 would divert 90 percent of the settlement to health care and anti-smoking efforts by amending the Constitution.
Supporters of the proposal, including Citizens for a Healthy Michigan, say it puts the money where it was supposed to go in the first place – saving lives.
“There is no more worthwhile issue, as far as we’re concerned, than to succeed in a public policy that will save thousands and thousands of lives,” Citizens spokesman Roger Matin said.
But the coalition to defeat the proposal criticizes it for removing the government’s budget oversight.
David Waymire, spokesman for the anti-proposal group People Protecting Kids and the Constitution, said it could put an end to the $2,500 Merit scholarships that students who pass the MEAP test receive.
“They are taking money out of the hands of Michigan students and putting it into the hands of hospital executives,” he said.