Michigan Ballot Initiatives
Article written for Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Tuesday, November 6 is a big day. Not only will Michiganders vote for a U.S. President, Senator, and Representative, we will also be select leaders for a host of other positions: State Legislature, State Board of Education, county, city and local offices, judges, school district officials, community college trustees, and library district board members, among others
In addition to selecting these officers, Michigan voters will also face 6 important ballot initiatives. And while any one of these proposals could have a big impact on how government is run in the state of Michigan, many people are still unclear on exactly what these ballot initiatives will mean for Michigan.
THE SIX BALLOT PROPOSALS
There are a total of 6 initiatives on the ballot for November 6. Below are summaries of the proposals using language from the Citizens Research Council (CRC) of Michigan (www.crcmich.org). CRC is a nonpartisan policy organization that provides analysis on these proposals without taking an explicit position on any of the proposals.
- Proposal 12-1: Petition seeks to invoke the right of referendum for the emergency financial manager law, 2011 PA 4.
- Proposal 12-2: Initiative to amend the Michigan Constitution to create a new right to collective bargaining.
- Proposal 12-3: Initiative to amend the Michigan Constitution to require utilities to obtain at least 25% of their electricity from clean renewable energy sources.
- Proposal 12-4: Initiative to amend the Michigan Constitution to establish the Michigan quality Home Council, provide certain information to consumers, require training of providers, and provide limited collective bargaining rights.
- Proposal 12-5: Initiative to amend the Michigan Constitution to prohibit the imposition of new or additional taxes or expansion of the base of taxation by the State of Michigan unless approved by a 2/3 majority of members in each chamber of the legislature or by a statewide vote of the people.
- Proposal 12-6: Initiative to amend the Michigan Constitution to require a vote of the people before the State of Michigan can construct or finance new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles.
Below is a summary of the positions taken by seven key groups in Michigan: the Governor’s office, the Michigan Republican Party, the Michigan Democratic Party, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Business Leaders for Michigan, the Small Business Association of Michigan, the Michigan Retailers Association, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Of the six proposals, there is fairly consistent opposition against three: Proposals 3 and 6. None of the groups support these proposals, although the Michigan Democratic Party takes no position on these two Proposals and the Michigan Retailers Association takes no position on Proposal 6. For the other four proposals, there is at least some disagreement. Below we look at some discussion of each proposal.
Proposal 1 is a referendum on Public Act 4 from 2011. This law provides more authority for the Governor to handle local government affairs in order to avoid bankruptcy. Those who oppose Proposal 1 say that the Proposal encroaches on the rights of local officials to run the local government and is, therefore, undemocratic. Those who support Proposal 1 say that the Governor needs to have authority to step in to prevent a crisis.
Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM) explains their support of Proposal 1. “Proposal 1 is a referendum on whether or not Michigan should retain Public Act 4 of 2011, which helps Michigan communities in financial emergencies regain fiscal stability. In cases where communities are unable to meet payroll, pay vendors, or are operating under continuous deficits, the law allows the state to appoint an emergency manager to help address these problems.”
Most business-friendly policy groups seem to agree. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, for example, is a well-known think tank focusing primarily on Michigan economic policy. As a nonpartisan policy group, the Mackinac Center outlines the effects anticipated from the ballot initiatives but does not take an official stand on any ballot initiatives.
Joseph Lehman, President of the Mackinac Center, explains the Center’s views on Proposal 1.
“Proposal 1 is not anything like the others. It does not amend the constitution. The Proposal merely asks the people if the current emergency manager law should be upheld. People who like the current emergency manager law and think we are better off with the law would vote ‘Yes’ for Proposal 1, and those who think that we are better off without the emergency manager law would vote ‘No’ for Proposal 1. We are not recommending one way or another on his Proposal, but the analysis we’ve run does show that the emergency managers have been effective in keeping some municipalities from going bankrupt.”
Proposals 2-6 all involve amending Michigan’s Constitution. Those who support these ballot initiatives believe in the necessity for the change. Those who oppose Proposals 2-6 do so primarily on principle that the Constitution should not be amended in such ways, even if the Proposal itself has merit.
BLM articulates this position well. “Proposals 2-6 attempt to use our Constitution to re-write legislation passed by our elected leaders or bypass Michigan’s legislative process. The Michigan Constitution sets forth our basic rights and freedoms. It should not be used to undo legislative action because a group doesn’t like it.”
Lehman agrees. “People should be very careful when amending the constitution. The constitution cannot easily be changed. Michigan has just begun a turnaround, and now may not be the time to make radical changes in the way that political power is wielded in the state.”
Proposal 2, specifically, amends the Constitution to solidify collective bargaining rights. Supporters believe that bargaining rights are being jeopardized by legislators (largely Republicans) and that bargaining rights must be protected constitutionally to ensure collective bargaining rights for public workers.
Lehman explains the Mackinac Center’s view of Proposal 2 as the most important Proposal of them all. “Proposal 2 is, by far, the most important proposal on the ballot. The key attribute of Proposal 2 is that it would allow government union contracts to veto the Michigan legislature.
“For example, let’s say that the legislature passed a law that said that teachers had to pay 20% of the cost of their health insurance. If the legislature passes it, and the Governor signs it, it would become law. However, if a teacher’s union managed to negotiate a contract that said that teachers don’t have to pay any part of their health care costs, that contract would actually supersede the law.
“Or, suppose Michigan had a law that school bus drivers must meet a certain training criteria to be considered as a bus driver. If a school employee’s union were able to negotiate a contract with a school that decided to opt out of this law, that contract would supersede the state requirement and nullify the law. In such a case, the Michigan legislature would be powerless to prevent the contract from overriding the law.”
The key point, says Lehman, is that Proposal 2 would dramatically change the way our state government works. “This Proposal puts government union contracts in place of the legislature for anything that unions could conceivable bargain. The Proposal completely changes the power structure of the state with respect to anything remotely involving government employment.”
According to CRC, Proposal 3 “would require that at least 25 percent of each electricity provider’s annual retail electricity sales be derived from the generation or purchase of electricity produced from clean renewable electric energy sources by 2025. It would require that the facilities used to generate clean renewable energy be located within Michigan or within the retail customer service territory of any electric utility operating in Michigan. And it would set limits on the extent to which compliance with this provision may cause rates charged to electricity customers to increase.”
“Supporters of the proposal,” says CRC, “think that adoption of the amendment will slow the rate of increase. Supporters . . . [also] believe that its adoption will lead to greater investment in Michigan.”
The Governor’s office, however, is clear about the negative impact Proposal 3 would have on the Michigan economy. “Proposal Three would be bad for Michigan consumers, Michigan families, and Michigan businesses . . . Current law sets a goal of generating 10 percent of electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydro and biomass by 2015. This is a standard that’s already difficult to meet. Proposal Three would set the bar even higher – and we would be the only state to have such a mandate in our constitution. Yes, renewable energy is important to Michigan’s future. But our state already has a comprehensive energy law that makes sure we have reliable, clean and affordable energy for Michigan families and businesses for the future.”
Proposal 4 amends the Constitution to establish a new union called the Michigan Quality Home Care Council (MQHCC). Proposal 4 would give exclusive rights to MQHCC to represent in-home care workers, enable the workers to collectively bargain, require training and background checks for workers, and authorized MQHCC to set minimum compensation standards and terms.
The Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM) takes a clear opposing view of Proposal 4. “Proposal 4 is meant to force the unionization of home health care workers, regardless of whether they are just taking care of a family member, friend, or are part of a health care network. By allowing this proposal to go through, taxpayer dollars will be put at risk and special interests will have carved out their own spot in the Michigan constitution.”
The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) provides a summary of Proposal 5. Proposal 5 is “a proposal to amend the Constitution to require a 2/3 majority vote of the State House and the State Senate, or a statewide vote of the people at a November election, to impose new or additional taxes, expand the base of taxation or increase the rate of taxation.”
NFIB breaks rank with many other business associations and supports Proposal 5. According to NFIB, “Proposal 5 is a way to preserve the recent gains that have been made in tax policy and an insurance policy against runaway government spending and spiraling taxes in the future. NFIB members have supported similar “supermajority” requirements before taxes can be raised in 1998 and 2006. A YES vote supports the small business position on this proposal.”
Governor Snyder’s office disagrees and opposes Proposal 5. “On the face of it, this concept may sound appealing; but the problem is the damage that the two-thirds amendment would likely have on tax reforms that make our system simpler, fairer, and are net tax reductions.
“Here’s one example. If the two-thirds amendment would have been in place a few years ago, we couldn’t have repealed the job-killing Michigan Business Tax. We couldn’t have made the reforms we needed to scrap it and put a better system in place. We couldn’t have taken the steps we did to improve Michigan’s business climate to bring more and better jobs to our state.”
Perhaps the most controversial and misleading information on these proposals surrounds Proposal 6. Proposal 6 requires the approval of a majority of voters at a statewide election and in each nearby municipality for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges or tunnels.
Support for this proposal seems to come mainly from the interest group The People Should Decide. According to this group, the international bridge project is unconstitutional. “Governor Snyder likes to say that his proposed ‘New International Trade Crossing (NITC) will be free. The truth is Michigan taxpayers could end up footing the bill for a multi-billion dollar new bridge to Canada, at a time when we need to be investing in jobs and schools. Before putting us on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, the people should have the right to make their voice heard.”
But according to the Center for Michigan, a nonpartisan policy group headquartered in Ann Arbor, messages from The People Should Decide are misleading. This group “continues to throw out figures and scenarios without sufficient evidence to back them. The Michigan-Canada agreement calls for Canada to cover bridge costs, even cost over-runs, utilizing revenue from the bridge itself. If that revenue falls short, Canada is pledged to cover the gap. The claims about Michigan giving up police, teachers and firefighters lack any visible basis. The ad questions traffic counts on border crossings, yet fails to mention that traffic on the Ambassador Bridge and other links is up in recent years. No evidence is provided for the claim that more Canadian trash is headed to Michigan; existing evidence points to the exact opposite.”
And Governor Snyder’s office, obviously, strongly opposes Proposal 6. “We need the new bridge to Canada – and modern infrastructure – if we want to reinvent Michigan and bring more and better jobs to our state. Thanks to an iron-clad agreement, we can build a new bridge to Canada without any cost to Michigan taxpayers. The project will help industries all across our state grow stronger which would lead to important long term job creation. In the short term, it will help create 10,000 new construction jobs.”
November 6 is a big day for us all. Consider the ballot carefully, especially the six proposals. We all need to think through these issues carefully as we continue to make a new Michigan happen.
Margaret Baker, Ph.D., and Audrey Robson are with Baker Strategy Group, a research and consulting firm in Ann Arbor specializing in SMART Strategy. They can be reached at email@example.com.