In less than two weeks, supporters and opponents of a variety of ballot issues will know exactly how voters in Michigan feel about the six statewide proposals put before them in the Tuesday, Nov. 6 general election.
The proposals range from those seeking to limit the scope of the government’s ability to increase taxes to those wanting to enshrine within the Michigan Constitution collective bargaining rights.
What follows is a look at each of the half-dozen state proposals voters will be asked to decide on Nov. 6. You can read the ballot language for each of the six proposals in the sidebar article on page X.
Emergency Manager Law Referendum
National media attention has sparked a measure of outcry in some circles over Public Act (PA) 4 of 2011 — which expanded the powers of state-appointed emergency financial managers (EFMs) — and some are looking to get rid of the law that was one of the first legislative priorities of the 95th state Legislature when it was sworn into office in January 2011.
The way the proposal is written, a “yes” vote would be to uphold the EFM law, the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act; a “no” vote would be to repeal the act.
Supporters of PA 4, including Gov. Rick Snyder, argue that the 2-year-old statute helps keep local units of government financially stable and solvent by giving EFMs broader powers to make tough choices that help bring their budgets back in order.
Detractors contend that it strips people of their constitutional right to choose their representatives in local government since EFMs can effectively neuter the authority of elected officials, as well as those who are appointed.
Effectively, PA 4 of 2011 institutes a 12-step process by which a state-appointed official intervenes in the fiscal well-being of a community or school district and comes up with a written plan to address underlying causes of what the state considers a financial emergency.
After several steps, if there is confirmation that a financial emergency exists, the governor is required to declare a local government in receivership and appoint an emergency financial manager, who serves at the pleasure of the state’s chief executive.
Upon being placed in receivership, both the chief executive officer and governing body of a local government in receivership are prohibited from exercising any powers of their offices without written approval of the emergency financial manager. Their compensation and benefits are also eliminated.
Within 45 days of being appointed, the EFM is required to develop a written financial and operating plan. A local unit of government is removed from receivership when the financial conditions on which the underlying financial emergency was founded are corrected in a sustainable fashion as determined by the state treasurer.
Collective Bargaining Constitutional Amendment
With many believing that collective bargaining is under assault in Michigan, voters across the state will be asked whether to enshrine into the state Constitution the right of public and private sector employees to collectively bargain.
Proposal 2 would also strike down current or future state laws that limit the ability to collectively bargain, join unions, and negotiate and enforce union contracts. It would also define “employer” as a person or entity who employs one or more people, and override state laws regulating hours and conditions of employment to the extent that those laws conflict with collective bargaining agreements.
The proposal has received support from a variety of groups, including the Michigan Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
“When teachers have the right to collectively bargain, they use their voice to fight for what’s right for our school children,” said Michigan PTA President Shaton Berry. “Teachers bargain for training, smaller class sizes, and the materials they need to keep kids safe and to improve educational outcomes. As the voice of parents across our state, we support collective bargaining.”
Yet Protecting Michigan Taxpayers, a group opposed to the measure, calls it an effort to carve out “sweetheart deals” for government workers at a time when those in the private sector are faced with fewer benefits, wage freezes, and scaled back perks in light of the dour economic situation.
The group says experts have already identified over 170 laws that Proposal 2 would overturn (including the Teacher Tenure Act allowing for discipline and removal of underperforming teachers) — and that’s just the start of it. Because of the proposal’s ambiguous wording, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers says, the exact consequences of a “yes” vote are still unknown.
It would also hamstring state lawmakers from enacting any labor related legislation, according to opponents.
Protect Working Families, a group backing Proposal 2, disputes the claim about the proposal overturning 170-plus laws; that’s a “scare tactic” by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and “corporate special interests,” the group says.
Renewable Energy Constitutional Amendment
Some are looking for a constitutional amendment that would require that utility companies by 2025 produce 25 percent of the state’s electricity using renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.
The ballot language states that electric utility rate increases charged to customers only to achieve compliance with the mandate would be limited to not more than 1 percent per year.
Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs, the group backing the proposal, says if passed it would attract $10.3 billion in new business investment in Michigan and create “at least 74,000 Michigan jobs that can’t be outsourced” in areas such as operations, maintenance and construction.
“Michigan will see job creation, increased economic development and a reduction in DTE bills by passing Proposal 3,” said Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office Director Samuel Offen. “Using more clean, renewable energy supports local communities by increasing their tax base and lowering dangerous pollution in the air and water, improving the health of families across Michigan.”
Detractors of the proposal, including the Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Committee, say that the mandate would cost Michigan at least $12 billion and raise energy costs for homeowners.
The group, based out of Hartland, also says that the mandate would “eliminate the flexibility Michigan needs to provide families and businesses with safe, reliable and affordable electric service” while also “requiring as many as 3,100 wind turbines, each taller than the state Capitol, spread all across the state and perhaps even in the Great Lakes.”
“Locking at least $12 billion into our Constitution and on the backs of Michigan’s most fragile families is ill-advised, especially during these difficult economic times when folks are trying to stand on two feet,” said Maureen Taylor, the chairwoman of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.
Home Health Care Workers Constitutional Amendment
Supporters of Proposal 4 are looking to enshrine in the state’s Constitution the right for in-home care workers to collectively bargain with the Michigan Quality Home Care Council.
If passed, the council would be required to provide training for in-home care workers, create a registry of workers who pass background checks, and provide financial services to patients to manage the costs of in-home care.
In addition, the proposal would authorize the council to set minimum compensation standards and terms and conditions of employment.
“Proposal 4 will help ensure our loved ones can remain safe, healthy and independent in their own homes,” said Jeff Breslin, a nurse and president of the Michigan Nurses Association. “Health care professionals see first-hand how staying at home helps seniors and people with disabilities stay happier, healthier, and more positive overall. By passing Proposal 4, we can help many families and their loved ones choose home care knowing that the providers they select will be screened and have access to essential training that can save lives.”
But the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a conservative-leaning think tank in Midland, has concerns, including what it says would be the “forced unionization of tens of thousands of home-based caregivers in Michigan.”
“There are no new services or cost savings for the disabled included in this proposal, only the legalization of a dubious arrangement that forced private citizens into a government union,” said Derk Wilcox, a senior attorney for the Mackinac Center who authored a recent study critical of the proposal. “This proposed ‘collective bargaining’ is bargaining in name only, and pursued for the sole purpose of allowing the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) to pad its political coffers.
“If the proposal’s backers truly wanted to provide services such as training, a registry and background checks for these caregivers, they would have delinked it from the unionization issue. They did not, and it has turned out to be a poison pill.”
Tax Increase Constitutional Amendment
This proposal — which would create a constitutional requirement that a two-thirds majority of the state Legislature, or a statewide vote of the people in a November election, for the creation of new or additional taxes, expansion of the tax base, or an increase in taxes — has been roundly criticized by officials of both parties at the state and local government levels.
Yet the Michigan Alliance for Prosperity, which is backing the measure, says that even though tax increases haven’t been a focus of the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder nor the Republican-led state Legislature, the group is looking to put “a more stringent legislative requirement on tax increases because tax increases can have such far-reaching and long-term impact on the state’s taxpayers and economy.”
“On the face of it, it looks good,” said Gov. Rick Snyder in a video explaining why he doesn’t support Proposal 5. “But when you get to the details, it really could restrain us in future tax reductions and other good things we can do to make us more competitive. While it may sound good, it’s not good public policy.”
He specifically talked about the state Legislature’s repeal of the Michigan Business Tax, which did not pass with a two-thirds majority. If Proposal 5 had been in place when the MBT was repealed, the tax criticized by many would still be in place, Snyder said.
International Bridge Construction Constitutional Amendment
If passed, Proposal 6, which is sponsored by a group called The People Should Decide, would make it so that the state’s voters are the final authority on whether any new bridge or tunnel from Michigan to Canada is constructed.
The proposal specifically states that a majority of voters would have to approve at “a statewide election and in each municipality where ‘new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles’ are to be located before the State of Michigan may expend state funds or resources for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges or tunnels.”
In addition, the proposal would create a new definition for “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” as “any bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012.”
The issue came to fruition because of opposition to a new bridge — which has been a crucial and at times contentious plank in the Snyder administration’s first two years in office — linking Detroit and Canada. The Detroit International Bridge Co., the Moroun family company that owns the Ambassador Bridge, has vehemently opposed the proposed construction of a new international trade crossing (NITC).
“It is imperative that any discussion of such a massive government-sponsored project should give taxpayers a final say,” wrote Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “A yes vote on Proposal 6 ensures that federal and state lawmakers must make the case to voters that any new bridge to Canada is in Michigan’s best interest.”
Snyder’s proposal for a new bridge has hinged on that it wouldn’t cost Michigan taxpayer money based on an agreement forged with Canada, something that critics dispute on a variety of levels.
Some estimates touted by Proposal 6 backers peg the bridge’s cost at between $1.9 billion and $6 billion.
The bridge’s construction was the center of a major battle this legislative session, and some Republican state lawmakers are leery of the project that Snyder has been trying to see come to fruition.
“Proposal 6 is an attempt by one special interest to enshrine a protection of their monopoly in our sacred Constitution,” said Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in an Internet video arguing against passage of the Moroun family-backed proposal. “The governor has secured an agreement with the Canadians whereby they take on all of the risk and put up all of the money in order to fund the improvements of a new bridge. A private sector concessionaire will be selected in a competitive bid process to build and finance the bridge structure itself. This is an opportunity to create jobs in Michigan.”