Polls close; vote count on Prop 1, local issues begins

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Polls have closed in a controversial statewide election that asked voters to approve an increase in the state sales tax to help fund infrastructure improvements.

Voters Tuesday were also deciding a number of local and school ballot issues throughout Metro Detroit.

Gov. Rick Snyder expressed optimism about the fate of the Proposition 1 road funding plan ahead despite some voters saying they had voted against the measure.

An early sampling of voters making their way out of Canton High School produced a strongly anti-Proposition 1 sentiment. Cheryl Golles knows the roads need work but just didn't like all of the clutter surrounding the issue — much of it not directly related to repairs. That uncertainty led her to vote against the measure.

"I did not like all of the things that were attached to that bill," the 50-year-old. "There was just way, way too much."

Peter Perdue, 58, also voted no, based mostly on a lack of faith in his state officials.

"I don't trust what they say they're going to do with it — don't trust it at all," he said. "Snyder? No."

Proposition 1 calls for the elimination of the 6 percent sales tax on gasoline/diesel sales and replaces it with a new wholesale fuel tax. Michigan is one of only a handful of states that tacks a sales tax onto its state fuel tax. The 6 percent sales tax has never gone to the roads but instead goes to schools and cities.

Proposition 1 would also increase the state sales tax from 6 to 7 percent and is expected to raise $1.2 billion in new road funding.

Snyder arrived at the Superior Township offices to vote just after 11 a.m. Tuesday and expressed optimism that Proposition 1 would be approved.

"I think there is a good likelihood," he said. "Again, it's really who turns out that makes the difference today because it's probably going to be a lower-turnout election. But the great part is we've got a huge coalition of 150-plus organizations — many of which are great at turning out the vote. So I hope their members, their families and their friends turn out to vote yes."

In response to criticism that Proposition 1 included non-road issues, such as school funding, that might have turned off voters, Snyder said those inclusions were necessary.

"It needed to be packaged together in many respects because one of the issues is our gas prices could have gotten too high if we simply would have added additional taxes on fuel without removing the retail sales tax from that," he said. "When you remove the retail sales tax, it's important we wouldn't create a problem for local schools and government."

Asked what his Plan B was if Prop 1 does not pass, Snyder said: "We go back to the drawing board and essentially have to start over," Snyder said. "A lot of plans were discussed. I proposed alternative plans. The challenge is to get something that will get through the Legislature."

Julie Brunzell of Canton Township would seem to be a perfect candidate to support Prop 1. A locally infamous pothole sits at the end of her family's driveway.

"Everybody has to swerve around it," the 40-year-old said.

Yet, she still found reason to vote against the funding plan.

"It just seems like there is a lot of money put in there for new stuff, and they don't want to tell us what the new stuff is," she said.

Tomi Payne-Walker, a retired grandmother who was voting at St. Tomas Catholic Church in Farmington Hills, said she didn't think either side of Proposal 1 provided enough information for voters to make an informed decision.

"When it first came up, it was so convoluted, I couldn't understand exactly what it was," she said. "My gut feeling is that there are some things in the proposal that we are not being told about. And this causes a great level of apprehension."

Donta Brown, 37, also voting at St. Thomas, said he felt he gleaned enough information on the road funding issue to make an informed decision. And real life also helped him decide which way to vote.

"I got most of my education on the roads and paying for car damage," he said.

Proposition 1 triggers a series of 10 new laws that would generate $300 million more for public education, $95 million for local government revenue sharing and $260 million for a tax credit for low-income residents with jobs, prompting opponents to call Proposal 1 a giveaway to "special interests."

Among voters at the Holy Family Catholic Church in Novi, it was also clear that many disliked the way road funding — something they supported — was packaged with other items they were less certain of.

Byron Rue remembered the earliest stages of the Proposition 1 campaign being much different than what it morphed into by the end. The result was a no vote from the 55-year-old Novi resident.

"At first, they were saying that the money was supposedly all going to be used for roads," he said. "They didn't say anything about schools. But then they came up with all of this other stuff.

"I wouldn't mind paying a penny or so extra if it was just for the roads."

Carolyn Pohlman also voted no and took particular issue with state officials complicating what should have been a simple issue in her mind.

"I have to say I was not real pleased with what we were offered," said Pohlman, 85, describing the nature of Prop 1. "They've been doing that kind of thing in Washington for years, so I guess we're used to it."

Jason Diamond, 36, was another no vote who had one of the more unique takes of the day.

"I've heard some numbers, but still don't really know how much it's going to cost to fix the roads," he said. "It might be cheaper just to fix my car."

Not everyone focused on the politics of Proposition 1. For some, the roads are simply too rough to ignore any longer.

Within minutes of the doors opening at St. Clare's Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, Proposition 1 garnered a pair of votes.

Mary Davis has been dealing with the state's roads since moving here almost 30 years ago, and the conditions are bad enough that she voted for the funding measure.

"I was somewhat wavery," the 58-year-old said. "But I felt it was the better of the options. Otherwise, nothing is going to get done."

Scott Diels, 62, also voted for Proposition 1. He regularly visits family out of state and said the difference between road conditions is stark.

"In general, the roads are pretty poor here," he said. "Especially coming back from Texas where they spend a lot on roads. They have so much money from oil coming in to spend on them."

But Ron Baumanis, 55, was unable to separate the roads from the debate other issues surrounding Proposition 1.

"I voted no," he said. "It's got too many other things mixed into it. If it was purely a road thing, I might have voted for it."

While Proposition 1 received most of the attention coming into Tuesday's statewide election, other issues were asked of voters in a handful of Metro Detroit communities:

■Oak Park will be asking whether to allow liquor sales by the glass.

■Lake Shore Schools in St. Clair Shores seeks nearly $35 million for upgrades.

■Ferndale has a $45 million local street and park bond proposal.

■Addison Township will ask whether to help fund the North Oakland Transportation Authority.

■Franklin has a police millage renewal.

■Pontiac has suggested revisions to the charter that will make two of the seven council seats at-large and establish a five-seat ethics board to oversee public services.

■Lincoln Park and Wayne want to set up a new retirement system for police and fire workers.

■School districts with bond proposals are Clintondale, Berkley, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Clarkston, Farmington, Huron Valley, Pontiac, Grosse Ile, Riverview, South Lyon, Pinckney, Webberville, Armada, Northville, South Lyon and Van Buren Township.

jlynch@detroitnews.com

Detroit News Staff Writer Ursula Watson contributed.