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GOP wish list


According to Senate Majority Leader Dick Posthumus, here is what Republicans would do with complete control of the Legislature:

Cut taxes

Push through Engler's plan to lower the state's income tax from 4.4 percent to 3.9 percent. The cuts would be phased in beginning in the year 2000. Democrats object, saying that across-the-board cuts benefit mainly the wealthy. They favor a plan that would start cuts next year that would do more for middle- and lower-income families.

Reform welfare

Mandate drug testing for all welfare recipients. Democrats call the proposal demeaning to those on welfare.

Increase school safety

Expel students who assault teachers. It is unclear what would happen to those children. Posthumus says they could possibly attend private or reform schools. Democrats agree with kicking violent kids out of class, but favor the creation of facilities with staff trained to deal with troubled children.

Stealth agenda

What else might the GOP push for?

"Whoever runs the Legislature makes the rules. That's how the game is played," says former state Sen. John Kelly, who teaches political science at Oakland University. "Unless there's a governor to stop them with a veto, which there wouldn't be. They can run amok and there's nobody to rein them in."

Ballenger says there may or may not be a Republican "stealth agenda," but notes that the GOP didn't campaign on taking away teachers' rights to collectively bargain before the 1994 election, when Republicans gained the control of the Legislature under Engler. That year, Republicans passed a law to penalize teachers and their unions for striking, effectively taking away their right to collectively bargain. They also slashed unemployment benefits and workers compensation, and hampered unions' ability to give to campaigns.

In the past, Republicans have discussed making Michigan a so-called right-to-work state for government employees. Such a move would suck power from organized labor by allowing teachers and other public-sector employees under union contracts to work without paying dues. The GOP also has talked of nixing the state's prevailing wage law, which forces private companies working under state contracts to pay their workers union wages.

"They're not going to get out and talk about stuff like this if they know most of the people hate it," Ballenger says.

Sarpolus says if the GOP gains control of the Legislature, Republicans might try to reduce the clout of teachers unions or ban them altogether.

Political observers expect Republicans to propose tax credits for people sending their children to private schools.

U-M's Barry Rabe says, he wouldn't be surprised if Engler "launched a fairly broad experiment in the use of vouchers or unloaded something much more expansive in terms of school choice than we have seen."

Democrats, who count public school teachers among their important contributors, will likely oppose any move toward school choice. Engler, on the other hand, has had an antagonistic relationship with school unions for many years.

Rabe says moving on education issues could help position Engler to run for a national office -- perhaps the U.S. Senate or the presidency. Rabe refers to education and taxes as "red meat issues" for Republicans nationwide.

As for Hertel, he says he fears a Republican-controlled House would put less money into health care and education, allow corporations to pollute more, and hurt organized labor.

Ballenger says the GOP's pro-business initiatives could include limits on judgments against businesses in product liability claims, a measure opposed by trial lawyers.

"Basically, this would be a business-run state," says Sarpolus "Whatever is in the businesses' best interest will pass."

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