Voters Decide Four Ballot Issues

November 1, 2002
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LANSING — Michigan voters tomorrow will decide on four statewide ballot proposals that, if passed, will amend the state constitution.

Proposal 1 would eliminate the option of voting a straight-party ticket in general elections.

"Voting a straight-party ticket means that an elector makes a single selection for all of the candidates of one political party," according to a Senate Fiscal Agency report.

The proposal also would require voters who don't appear on the list of registered voters to show picture identification and also provides penalties for stealing campaign signs and for public employees who work on elections while accepting payment for campaign work.

Other election changes under the proposal include requiring local election officials to submit a training report to the secretary of state, ballot-counting equipment that screens ballots for voting errors, and permission for voters at the polls to correct errors.

The last change would expedite a review of votes in a presidential election if the difference between the numbers of votes for the first- and second-place candidates were under 25,000 votes statewide.

The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates that Proposal 1 could increase the administrative costs of elections by requiring more poll workers and longer hours for clerks.

Proposal 2 would establish a $1 billion Great Lakes Water Quality Bond. Local governments could borrow money from the bond fund for water pollution projects and to fix or expand their sewer systems. This is the only proposal initiated by the Legislature and already signed by Gov. John Engler.

This proposal would have no impact on other state spending next year and could cost each Michigan taxpayer an average of $334, or $11 per year over a period of 30 years, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

Proposal 3 would create a constitutional right for state employees to bargain as a group, approved by the Civil Service Commission, for pay increases and other conditions of employment. The agreement reached would be binding without the approval of the Civil Service Commission.

Right now, contracts are negotiated between the Office of the State Employer, the chief hiring agency in Michigan, and unions, said Mary Ettinger, president of UAW Local 6000 in Lansing.

She explained that in the event of a disagreement, an independent party, the arbitrator, is called upon to resolve differences. The contract then goes to the Civil Service Commission for approval.

Under the current constitutional provisions, the commission can choose to agree with the arbitrator or make changes to the contract. The union then cannot reject changes made by the commission, Ettinger said.

The proposal won't affect the state's budget until the year 2004 when current contracts begin to expire. The exact fiscal impact depends upon the outcome of collective bargaining agreements reached after that year. The proposal could save the state money, could have no impact on the budget or could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Senate Fiscal Agency.

The Office of the State Employer estimates that a 1 percent to 2 percent pay increase for state employees could result in $30 million to $60 million in additional salary costs each year.

Proposal 4, the tobacco proposal, would require that 90 percent of the some $330 million a year in tobacco settlement money go to health programs.

The settlement was awarded to reimburse 46 states, the District of Columbia and six territories for Medicaid costs to treat smokers. It resulted in four tobacco companies paying states up to $206 billion from 2000 to 2025, according to analysis by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

In 2002, Michigan spent almost $28 million on anti-tobacco programs, according to the Office of the State Budget.

Currently, 75 percent of the settlement money is spent on the Michigan Merit Award Program, which funds scholarships for students who do well on their state Michigan Education Association Program (MEAP) tests. Money also goes to many other education-related programs, including nursing scholarships, the tuition incentive program (TIP), the Michigan Education Savings Plan and MEAP testing.

The proposal would create three new funds in the Michigan Department of Treasury: the Tobacco Illness Care Fund, the Tobacco Research and Education Fund and the Senior Citizen Prescription Drug Assistance Fund. In 2003, the first two funds would each get about $100 million, the last would get about $43 million, and $33 million would go into the state's general fund.

The Healthy Michigan Foundation, school-linked health centers, the Tobacco-Free Futures Fund Inc., the Life Sciences Corridor, the Council of Michigan Foundations and the nurse scholarship program would all be recipients of the funds and must file annual reports with the auditor general itemizing their expenditures. The auditor general would prepare a report for the public upon request, but the Legislature and governor would have no oversight over spending.

For more information about the proposals, visit the Secretary of State's Web site at www.michigan.gov/sos or the Senate Fiscal Agency's Web site at www.senate.gov/sfa or contact your county clerk.           

Recent Articles by Breanna Shepherd / Capital News Service

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