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State Journal: Election-year victim?; Sending smoke signals

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The Michigan Senate's top Republican on school-finance issues says Democratic lawmakers' fears of being branded tax-and-spend liberals in an election year could doom a plan to raise some $406 million in new funds for schools by restructuring the state's sales- and property-tax systems.

Senator Dan DeGrow, who chairs a House-Senate conference committee on the finance bill, said early last week that he expected the legislature to miss a Sept. 9 deadline for placing the proposal before voters on the November ballot.

According to the senator, Democratic lawmakers have resisted Republican calls for a November election, saying they feared their votes for a sales-tax increase would be used against them in their re-election campaigns.

Democrats would prefer to place the issue before voters during a special election in March in order to avoid any potential political backlash. But Mr. DeGrow said he cannot marshal enough Republican votes to back that alternative because some members of his party object to the estimated $7-million price tag for the special election.

"I've tried to explain to the Democrats that their votes can't be used against them in November because Republicans would be voting to raise taxes themselves," he said, but his arguments have been unpersuasive. "Right now, things don't look so good."

Earlier this month, Gov. Booth Gardner of Washington signed an executive order that will ban smoking in the buildings of all agencies under his direct control effective Jan. 1, 1989.

Now, he wants all other government bodies--including public schools--to follow his lead.

In a recent letter sent to the heads of school districts, colleges and universities, and other state agencies, Mr. Gardner said he hoped they would use his order as a model for their own efforts.

"Full success of this policy will depend on all of state government working together," the Governor wrote. "I consider this policy as an important step in assuring that the state, as an employer, is creating a work environment that promotes the health and well-being of its employees."

Mr. Gardner added that economic concerns prompted him to sign the order.

He said that he expects his directive to help "combat the increased cost of building maintenance [caused] by smoking in state facilities, and, eventually, to lower health-maintenance costs."


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