Prop 1 fight continues with bus tour, town hall meeting

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

The Proposal 1 road funding tax fight ramps up Monday as supporters continue a bus campaign with stops in Lansing and Metro Detroit, while opponents hold a telephone town hall targeted at 150,000 probable voters before Tuesday’s election.

The Safe Roads Yes ballot campaign, which supports the proposed increase in the 6 percent sales tax to 7 percent, is deploying teams of volunteers to call voters and track down unreturned absentee ballots over the proposed constitutional amendment linked to boosting road funding $1.3 billion annually. Supporters say while the proposal isn’t perfect, it is the best available option to fix Michigan’s deteriorating bridges and roads.

The yes campaign has three call centers operating that have made hundreds of thousands of calls and done door-to-door canvassing in selected areas of the state, including Detroit, Flint and west Michigan, said Roger Martin, a spokesman for Safe Roads Yes. It also planned to drop literature Sunday at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner.

“We’ve knocked on literally tens of thousands of doors,” he said.

Voters also have been targeted with mail as well as television and digital advertising, Martin said.

The campaign plans three stops Monday on its bus tour, featuring Gov. Rick Snyder. The tour ends at Detroit’s Eastern Market in midafternoon. The campaign says business leaders, local elected leaders, public safety officials as well as leaders from the tourism industry, faith and environmental communities will be there.

But organizers in four opposition groups also have been targeting voters who reject the ballot measure, which would raise an additional $600 million to $700 million for schools, local governments and an expanded tax credit for the working poor. They have attacked the overall tax increase of $1.8 billion to $1.9 billion a year and opposed the additional spending on non-road items — including $300 million for schools, $95 million for local governments and $260 million on a tax break for the working poor.

Proposal 1 foes used Sunday to work the phones to reach voters, said Randall Thompson, a spokesman for the Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals opposition group. It also held rallies during the weekend, he said.

Opponents view a big turnout of voters as favoring their side.

“This last weekend is an essential push for us because Facebook post don’t count. Polls don’t count. E-mails don’t count,” Thompson said. “The only thing that counts is being able to encourage your friends and be able to make sure that we are consistent with what the polls say.”

Recent polling suggests voters might reject Proposal 1. But Martin said the Safe Roads Yes campaign is not concentrating on polls. “We are focused on getting supporters of Proposal 1 to the voting booths on Tuesday,” he said.

The Coalition Against Higher Taxes and Special Interest Deals — spearheaded by Saginaw area businessman Paul Mitchell — has another phone “town hall” discussion about Proposal 1 scheduled for Monday. Organizers say they have invited 150,000 people from across the state to participate, but Thompson expects more like 30,000 to 40,000 to actually take part.

Both sides are trying to rally not only like-minded supporters but also undecided likely voters such as Jessica Beamer of Farmington, who said she wants to fix the state’s roads but doesn’t like a sales tax increase.

“I want to send a message to Lansing to go back and come back with a better plan for funding,” Beamer said. “But I’m afraid that’s not going to happen. ... It’s a lose-lose situation.”

She also plans to vote on the Farmington school millage proposal. “I’m decidedly a yes on that,” she said.

As of Thursday, 398,073 of the 510,124 absentee ballots issued had been returned to local clerks — a 78 percent return rate, according to the Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office.

The rate of return suggests about 450,000 absentee ballots will be voted, said Mark Grebner, voter data expert at Practical Political Consulting in East Lansing. He still forecasts overall voter participation Tuesday at 1.5 million or about a 20 percent turnout.

Proposal 1 foes continue to bang away at the proposed hike in the sales tax rate and the $800 million in non-road spending.

“Vote ‘No’ to send a message to the Legislature that they need to fix our roads without raising taxes on the middle class,” said John Yob of Citizens Against Middle Class Tax Increases.

But Safe Roads Yes countered that Proposal 1 is the best way to fix roads and deal with other issues negotiated by legislative leaders.

“The overwhelming bipartisan majority of Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature who voted to put Proposal 1 on the ballot agreed that funding for Michigan’s public schools, for classrooms, equipment, supplies and other budget items, and funding for local governments — largely to pay for police and fire protection — was important,” Martin said.

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Detroit News Staff Writers Chad Livengood and Gary Heinlein contributed.