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October 22, 2002 - Aquinas College President Harry Knopke today joined a list of Michigan notables in expressing opposition to Proposal 4 which will appear on the November 5 election ballot. Knopke, speaking on behalf of all West Michigan-area colleges and universities, joined with former state Attorney General Frank Kelly and state Senator Joe Schwarz in calling for voter rejection of the proposed amendment to the State Constitution that would mandate how tobacco settlement funds should be used.

Appearing with state politicians, business leaders and members of the health care community at a downtown Grand Rapids Press Conference, Knopke pointed out that a historic coalition of all sectors of public and private K-12 and higher education have joined in strong opposition to Proposal 4 because it is "egregiously unfair to students and is fundamentally flawed public policy." He also cautioned voters that he plan would gouge a hole in an already vulnerable state budget, forcing major cuts in critical areas like education, at all levels, the arts and human services.

The president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Michigan stated that the Proposal would, among other things, wipe out the Michigan Merit Award Scholarship program. The scholarship program provides vital financial aid to college and university students who worked and studied hard to prepare for college. President Knopke noted that, in the Grand Rapids area alone last year, six thousand students entering college received Michigan Merit Award Scholarships totaling nearly $14 million.

Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce President John Brown called the Proposal "dangerous" and a "cynical attempt, by a special interest loot the state treasury of over $6 billion under a smokescreen of anti-tobacco rhetoric." Opponents of the plan contend that the Proposal takes money that was earmarked for such critical needs such as education, research and care for the elderly and hands it over to a group of private interests without accountability or oversight.

Michigan has nearly $8.5 billion still coming from the 1998 settlement of the multi-state lawsuit against cigarette makers. The measure, if passed, would mandate that 90 percent of nearly $300 million paid annually to Michigan through 2025 be appropriated to the health groups in addition to the billions of dollars already being spent by the state on various anti-smoking programs as well as various other health-related programs.

Sen. Schwarz, M.D., who co-chairs the "People Protecting Kids and the Constitution" - the anti-Proposal 4 coalition - said the measure "makes a mockery of the governmental process and a mockery of the appropriations process." He said when the tobacco settlement was awarded, the State Legislature worked hard and long to set up two trust funds designed to equitably, appropriately and intelligently allocate the money.

Currently, the Legislature divides the money for the following purposes: about one-third is spent on health-care initiatives, including Life Sciences Corridor health research including at Grand Rapids' Van Andel Institute; one-third on student scholarships, including the Michigan Merit Award Scholarships; and, one-third to the general fund to address state budget problems. Passage of Proposal 4 would require drastic cuts in existing state services that are funded with the tobacco funds.

Statewide, $112 million in Michigan Merit Award Scholarships were granted last year. If Proposal 4 passes, it's likely the Legislature will be unable to find those dollars elsewhere, which means tuition-paying students will have to find other financial resources to pay for their higher education schooling.

Former Attorney General Frank Kelley, who launched the successful 1996 lawsuit against the tobacco companies, called Proposal 4 the "greatest scam" he's ever seen. And, he warned, that, if the amendment passes, the majority of these settlement dollars "will not go to any tobacco-abatement programs, but rather to line the pockets of the owners of convalescent homes."