Voter confusion

HOUGHTON – Proposal 1 on the May 5 ballot is a mystery to some Michigan voters, so representatives of the League of Women Voters have been traveling the state giving presentations to explain it, and Tuesday the LWV of Michigan president was at Houghton High School.

Sue Smith gave a PowerPoint presentation, which broke down the parts of Proposal 1. It was her seventh presentation, and one of 25 given by LWV representatives during April.

Smith began her presentation by giving a short summation of the proposal.

“It is complicated,” she said.

Smith said the LWV of Michigan doesn’t support or oppose the proposal, and its only reason for giving the presentations is provide voters with information.

The main reason for the ballot proposal, Smith said, is because it calls for an increase in sales tax, which has to be an amendment to the Michigan Constitution, requiring a vote of the people.

Ballot language has to be approved, and it has to be no more than 100 words, Smith said. The language of the proposal was created by a committee of Republicans and Democrats, which is why it reads the way it does.

“The words can help pass or defeat a proposal, depending on how it’s worded,” she said.

Smith said Proposal 1 is before the voters because in 2014, the Michigan House and Senate each presented different bills to fund road work and other issues, but they didn’t come together on the bills.

“They couldn’t agree,” she said. “(Proposal 1) is the granddaddy of all compromises.”

Smith said in 1997, the Legislature increased the fuel tax from 15 cents to 19 cents.

“It hasn’t changed since,” she said.

If approved, Proposal 1 will raise the state sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent, eliminate the sales tax on fuel, and increase the fuel tax to 42 cents per gallon. That tax would be adjusted annually based on the wholesale price of fuel. Vehicle registration fees will also be raised.

Any revenue raised by Proposal 1 would be reduced the first two years because it will be put toward the debt for bonds sold in 1997 by the Legislature to pay for road work in the state, Smith said.

“The bonds have not been paid off,” she said.

Smith said according to the nonpartisan House fiscal agency, if approved, the increase to a 7 percent sales tax will raise $1.6 billion in the 2017-18 fiscal year. That would be used for schools ($200 million), revenue sharing ($111 million), general fund ($173 million), and returning the state Earned Income Tax Credit from 6 percent of the federal credit to 20 percent (an estimated cost of $269 million). Proposal 1 will raise $1.25 billion for roads. The total estimated revenue raised by the passage of Proposal 1 will be $1.88 billion, with estimated expenditures of $1.88 billion. The estimated revenue would also provide $116 million for public transportation projects.

It’s estimated that the per-gallon cost of gasoline would increase 7 cents if Proposal 1 passes, Smith said.

Some proponents of Proposal 1 claim it will help reduce the cost of vehicle repair, which they claim is the highest in the country because of poor road conditions, Smith said.

After the presentation, Gil Lewis of Houghton said he did learn something about Proposal 1, but he’s no closer to making a decision about how he will vote on May 5.

“It did help me, yes,” he said. “I haven’t totally made up my mind.”

Susan Bagley, also of Houghton, said she doesn’t like the fact the Legislature put the decision about funding roads on the voters.

“I think we’re over a barrel,” she said. “I don’t like being put in this position. If we want to have roads improved, what’s the alternative?”