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redistricting, government financing

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Redistricting and how to get involved in Michigan government

Voting, campaign financing and redistricting were the three subjects covered at the April 26 meeting of the League of Women Voters. Michigan state LWV president, Judy Karandjeff, was the featured speaker.

Karandjeff pointed out there is no guarantee of the right to vote in our constitution and at the start of our country the voting issue was given to the states to work out. Most states gave that right only to men who owned property. Slowly voting rights were given to all citizens, finally including women in 1920 and 18-year-olds in 1971. Along the way, there have been push-backs to prevent sections of people from voting, including a poll tax that was not eliminated until 1964 and current restrictions that make it difficult to register to vote, demand photo IDs to vote and cutback absentee and early voting. President Trump claims that three to five million people committed massive voter fraud in the November elections; however there has been no evidence for this claim.

We have struggled to bring about campaign finance reform but today rich donors can contribute to campaigns in many ways. This is a battle we continue to fight.

Redistricting is a strong concern. Ever ten years a census is taken in all states and from that census it is determined how many representatives the state will have in congress. Michigan currently has 14. Within our state, we have 38 senate districts and 110 house districts. After each census, the legislature draws the districts for these elections and the party in control of the legislature has a great incentive to draw districts to favor their own candidates. This results in gerrymandering, the forming of districts which hold either mostly Democrat or mostly Republican voters. Due to gerrymandering, the vast majority of districts have become non-competitive. Michigan is one of 26 states that give their legislatures power to draw the districts. There are other options. California, Arizona, Florida and Ohio have adopted politically neutral means of drawing the districts. The Michigan LWV is working with other groups to change the way we draw our districts. Some groups are talking of a ballot proposal but no language or petitions have yet been offered. The LWV of Michigan has not yet agreed to endorse a petition drive. Such a drive will be very expensive and opposed by people with strong financial backing. If the LWV commits large amounts of money and manpower to a ballot proposal, there must be strong reason to believe it can succeed.

Locally, what we can do now is work with our county clerk to see how voters are registered and help register voters; we can also volunteer to be poll workers. We can write to our stake senators and representative to tell them we want and need fair voting and transparency. We can keep writing letters to our local newspapers and speaking up to all those who will listen. Our biggest problem is getting the voters out to vote on election day; we can be sure our friends and neighbors get to the polls.

Michigan Government Finance - It's about the money after all?

Michigan Government finance was the subject of our community program Friday January 20. The State of Michigan and its budget are important to our local units.

Laura Grubaugh, Jerome Township Treasurer, pointed out that her township of about 5,000 residents gets 48% of their budget from state revenue sharing. This money is sent to the township every other month. Another 27% comes from tax collection and the rest from miscellaneous areas. This money pays for salaries and wages [which have stayed flat for a long time, since taxes and state revenue sharing have not increased], a water tower, roads, a fee to the city of Midland's Grace A. Dow Memorial Library so that Jerome Township citizens can use the library, a mortgage on the township building and a cemetery. The township also has to pay for training workers, elections, insurance and some miscellaneous expenses.

County Controller/Administrator Bridget Grandsen pointed out that Midland County is home to 84,000 residents who are spread over two cities, one village, 16 townships and 528 square miles. Money is needed for 252 full-time employees, 105 part-time and seasonal employees and the maintenance and upkeep of the county services building, the courthouse and law enforcement center, jail, juvenile care center, mosquito control building, Pinecrest Farms county infirmary and seven county parks. Main sources of money are from property taxes (53%), grants (16%), charges for services (18%), surpluses from prior years (6%), other revenue (6%), fines and permits (1%) and interests and rents (1%). The budget for 2017 is $30, 268,288. Grandsen pointed out that budget challenges include tax revenue regression, succession planning, recruiting and retaining talented people, technological advances, maintaining buildings and coping with legislative changes. 70% of the general fund dollars support programs required by statute or state constitutions, such as courts and government offices.

Midland City manager Jon Lynch oversees a consolidated $93.4 million budget. The city has about 42,000 people and covers 36 square miles. Most of Midland's money comes from property taxes; other sources are charges and sales, investment earnings, licenses and permits, intergovernmental funds, such as state sales tax and personal property taxes. The biggest overall expense is providing public safety, police, fire and emergency services and building inspection. The city provides parks, recycling, yard waste collection and public works. It also provides a library, a local television station, water and sewer services, a landfill, a golf course, a civic arena, Washington Woods and Riverside Place for Senior Citizens, and a Dial-a-Ride service.

All three units of government depend on revenue sharing for a share of their budget. Revenue sharing has always been #1 on the state finance-chopping block, causing great anxiety in local units. (Ms Grandsen, asked how the county gets money from the state, began by saying "We grovel!") 2016 has been the first year since 2004 that the revenue went up and this was by a very tiny amount; however, there was celebration that at least it was going in the right direction. All three panelists claimed they were trying to do as much as they had always done but now with fewer employees and less money.

Two big challenges our panelists agreed on: (1) unfunded mandates; and (2) getting citizens involved. Unfunded mandates are those items the state requires them to do but does not give them money to do it with. The other problem, getting citizens involved, is something the city and the county would like to see more of. The township, the city, and the county all have websites and are anxious for citizen involvement. There are also many boards and commissions that you can apply for. The city and county have difficulties filling all of these positions. [Note to all reading this: google your township or city, pull up their website and send them your thoughts on how they should spend the taxpayers money.]

The League of Women Voters of Michigan is studying state government financing and our local Midland Area League will meet to take a consensus on what to do with this financing on Friday, February 21. This meeting will be at the Gerstacker/United Way Building, Downtown Midland, at 10 a.m. Like all League meetings, it is an open meeting. Everyone is invited but only League members can participate in the census and be counted. Come to the meeting to learn; you will be welcome to join if you decide to participate in the consensus.

For study information, go to http://lwvmi.org/member/mem_studies.html

elections

Welcome to Vote411, a comprehensive source of election information, developed by the League of Women Voters Education Fund (LWVEF).

Nonpartisan information on candidates and ballot proposals for the 2016 local and general elections

State-specific voter registration requirements, election dates, and local polling addresses are also available on the site. You can also print out a Voter Registration application from the site.

To find your information, select Michigan as the state on the tab titled "On Your Ballot," and click on "GO." Enter the street, city and zip code in the "Personalized Ballot" box then follow the cues. Vote411.org