Bill requires 'gag order' for millages

Posted: 8:42 AM, Jan 05, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-05 08:42:28-05

It may be getting harder for schools and cities to give voters information about millages and bonds as elections draw near. A bill on the governor's desk would put a virtual gag order on them for 60 days before the election.

Many districts including Waverly Community Schools, hope the governor vetoes it.

"It's very important that they have factual information," said Superintendent Terry Urquhart. "Then they can say 'yes we support that' or 'no we don't.' "

Under current law districts asking for a millage can only give voters the facts about why they need the additional funds: they're banned from pushing for a negative or a positive vote. Districts are also allowed to use public funds to get the word out.

"That law should be able to be used to make sure that schools don't violate that, that they only tell the truth and that they aren't trying to convince people to vote either yes or no," Urquhart added.

The law that's sitting in the Governor's office, SB 571, would change that. It would make it so schools wouldn't be able to use public money to give information about a millage starting about two months before an election.

Urquhart says that could make it nearly impossible for districts to inform voters.

"The public needs to know the facts," Urquhart said. "If we can't give them the facts up to 60 days before an election sometimes they go without being informed and that can't be good."

Some voters like Matt Virta admits millages aren't normally on his radar until right before the election.

"When you see it, then you think about it," Virta said. "But until you see it you have no idea."

Virta says he voted in favor of a millage for his daughter's school, but he did have some doubts about the information the district was giving him.

"Are they honest or are they not honest?" Virta questioned. "Anybody can feed you what they want to hear as long as they can get what they want out of it."

That's leaving Virta hoping the information he's getting isn't trying to sway his vote.

The National Federation of Independent Business is pushing the governor to sign the bill. The organization's State Director Charles Owens said in a statement "we think that local governments have abused public trust by using taxpayer dollars to promote tax increases through millage elections."

Owens added that many local governments and school districts break the current law by giving more than just the facts, but many are not punished for it.

Governor Snyder has until Monday Jan. 11 to either sign or veto the bill.