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Presidents urge "no" vote on Proposal 4

Tomorrow (Nov.5), voters will be asked to consider Proposal 4, called "Healthy Michigan" by its proponents. We believe, however, it is unhealthy Michigan government. We urge voters to reject it.

This proposal seeks a constitutional amendment to permanently tie up most of the $300 million the state receives annually from the tobacco settlement.

Using a constitutional amendment to allocate state funds circumvents the annual legislative budget process. This unwise amendment would remove huge sums of public money from the public's annual review and ultimate control.

While proponents might argue that this is the only way to fund some important initiatives, it is the Legislature's constitutional responsibility to ensure that the best use of the public money is tested every year against other crucial and compelling needs.

Responsible budgeting demands frequent reassessment of needs and resources and a good deal of compromisehallmarks of the legislative process.

A fatal flaw in the proposal is the funneling of a significant share of the public money$50 million annuallyto a newly created private corporation. The private corporation will determine how the public monies are spent and, inexplicably, there is no accountability to anyone on how that is done. The private corporation will get the same amount of public money year after year no matter how well or poorly it performs.

Moreover, there is significant doubt as to whether the private corporation would be subject to the state's Freedom of Information and Open Meeting laws. Lack of application of these laws limits what the public can understand about the workings of this private corporation, even though it would be funded by millions of dollars in public monies. This doubt remains, even if proposed legislative solutions to this problem are passed.

We want to be clear that we have a stake in the allocation of tobacco monies. University students, such as ours, benefit from current tobacco monies through appropriations by the Legislature for Merit Award College Scholarships, and university researchers receive funding from Michigan's Life Sciences Corridor.

Of course, we are concerned that these important initiatives continue to be funded. However, our position against this ballot initiative is driven by the long-term negative consequences of the lockup of state monies that is at the heart of the initiative.

It seems highly likely that if "Healthy Michigan" were to be approved, other groups with narrow and specific interests would rush to carve out their own constitutional lockup of state resources. Groups would feel that without their own constitutional amendment to protect them, they would be faced with an ever-shrinking pool of public monies. Eventually, "Healthy Michigan" would become the equivalent of clogged arteries in the heart of the state's annual legislative budget review.

This amendment is especially troublesome in economically unpredictable times such as these. Important decisions will have to be made regarding the state's priorities; these decisions must continue to be made in a framework of flexibility and open discussion.

Michigan needs to be able to actively evaluate, reassess, debate and balance its governmental priorities in light of the budgetary circumstances that it faces. This ballot initiative is anything but healthy. It would set an ominous precedent with negative long-term implications.

We hope voters will consider the consequences and keep public monies where they should bepart of the annual allocation process of Michigan's Legislature and in the public's view.

 

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