• WisPolitics


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

 8:11 AM 

Health care, education referendums share ballot with candidates

A good chunk of the expected record number Wisconsinites going to the polls today will get the opportunity to directly weigh in on education and health care spending in addition to top state and federal officeholders.

Voters in 34 school districts face school spending referendums today, while 22 county and city ballots will feature an advisory referendum on guaranteeing health coverage for state citizens.

The districts have 43 total school referendum questions totaling more than $307 million in additional spending. Most of the big referendums will be held in suburban and rural areas, with the largest total on the ballot in Jefferson. That community's school district is asking for $40.9 million -- $13 million-plus more than any other proposal.

Other large referendums include: the Kiel Area School District, seeking $27.4 million in three referendums; Watertown, with $26.3 million on the ballot in two referendums; Brillion at $23.7 million; Rhinelander, which proposed two measures totaling $23.6 million after identical proposals failed in April; Germantown, with two measures totaling $23 million; La Crosse at $18.5 million; Lake Mills at $15.6 million; St. Francis at $14.9 million; and Poynette at $13.7 million.

The next largest referendum, which would designate $13 million for the Madison Metropolitan School District, heads to almost-certain heavy turnout in one of the state's most important liberal population centers. That measure has already caused some controversy after city officials reported some early ballots were printed without the referendum. City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl says the total number of affected ballots appears to be less than 20, but urged the affected voters to come forward and receive corrected ballots.

Meanwhile, two referendums in one of the state's more critical conservative population centers have been left off the ballot altogether. The West Bend School Board voted earlier this month to move $68.9 million in proposed spending to the April 2009 election, citing voters' concerns about the nation's economic turmoil.

West Bend voters rejected a $119.3 million school referendum one year ago, and the new proposals would have been easily the highest total on the November ballot. Taking the controversial spending measure off the table could take a toll on turnout in the heavily conservative community, which has already reported relatively flat absentee ballot request levels to WisPolitics for this election cycle.

See all scheduled school referendums here.

Citizen Action-spurred health care referendum around state

Citizen Action of Wisconsin has launched an effort to move health care reform to the front of the legislative agenda next year, with up to 750,000 voters set to take up advisory referendums on universal health care Tuesday.

Robert Kraig, director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, predicted the measures will benefit from the estimated record turnout. The group helped land the referendums on 22 county and city ballots statewide.

In 20 of the 22 referendums, the question is: "Shall the next state Legislature enact health care reform legislation by December 31st, 2009 that guarantees every Wisconsin resident affordable health care coverage as good as what is provided to state legislators?" Dane and Douglas counties have slightly different language.

The referendums will be on the ballot in the counties of Barron, Dane, Douglas, La Crosse, Polk and Washburn, and the cities of Appleton, Altoona, Black River Falls, Eau Claire, Hudson, Green Bay, Menasha, Menomonie, Mondovi, New Richmond, Oak Creek, Oshkosh, River Falls, South Milwaukee, Tomah, and Viroqua.

Kraig said the group tried to get the question on the ballot in municipalities with competitive Assembly or Senate races. Citizen Action sees the referendums as "an agenda-setting" proposal that forced candidates to discuss it in their campaigns and beyond, Kraig said. By Citizen Action's estimate, 750,000 voters could cast ballots on the issue.

Kraig said the question shouldn't be seen as a referendum on Healthy Wisconsin, the universal health care package passed by Democrats who control the Senate. The package was included in the budget approved by the Senate, but was negotiated out of the final document. Dem Gov. Jim Doyle this week again voiced his disapproval for the Healthy Wisconsin plan.

"It doesn't have to be Healthy Wisconsin," Kraig said. "Healthy Wisconsin is a very bold plan, but all this referendum says is we would like to see a plan that meets these goals"

See more on the Citizen Action effort here.

-- By Andy Szal and Greg Bump

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