By BREANNA SHEPHERD
Capital News Service
LANSING — On Nov. 5, Romeo voters will help decide the fate of four statewide ballot proposals, including one proposal that would take money from a scholarship fund and put it into health care.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, the tobacco proposal would require that 90 percent of the $367 million a year in Michigan’s tobacco settlement money go to health programs.
The settlement money came as a result of a nationwide lawsuit. Many states, including Michigan, sued major tobacco companies and will receive settlement money spread out over a period of years.
Right now, about 25 percent of the money is spent on health and a large percentage of the rest is spent on the Michigan Merit Award Program. The program, which awards scholarships to students who do well on MEAP tests, would be eliminated if the proposal were passed and another source of funding isn’t used.
Between 2000 and 2002, Romeo Community Schools had 507 students take advantage of the Michigan Merit Award, according to the Michigan Department of Treasury.
“The scholarships have been an incentive for students to do well on the MEAP test and we’ll be sorry to lose a source of post-secondary education funding,” said Kathy Slater, interim superintendent of Romeo Schools.
“All of the major organizations in the state not benefiting from this proposal oppose it,” said David Waymire, executive vice president for Marketing Resource Group and spokesman for People Protecting Kids and the Constitution, an organization chaired by Sen. Joe Schwartz, R-Battle Creek.
Waymire said that he opposes this proposal because “it hands over money to special interest groups to spend as they see fit.”
He added that Michigan already spends $28 million a year on advertisements aimed at smoking cessation and prevention and on programs in junior high and elementary schools.
According to Citizens for a Healthy Michigan, a group promoting the proposal, $1.1 billion is spent every year in Michigan on treating tobacco-related illnesses.
In 2001, Macomb County accumulated almost $11 million for tobacco-related illness treatments and Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital was reimbursed for $4.8 million, said Rachel Warner, field director for Citizens for a Healthy Michigan.
“This proposal is really about prevention. At small, rural hospitals we have difficulty making ends meet and can’t always offer prevention programs. This proposal would give us the resources to start,” said Stephanie Riemer- Metuzak, chief executive officer of Mercy Hospital of Grayling.
The three other proposals on the statewide ballot this fall are: binding arbitration for state employees, straight- ticket voting and a proposal that would give local governments money for sewage and water pollution projects. The first two are heavily debated and the last has little opposition and has already been backed by Gov. John Engler.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By BREANNA SHEPHERD