We continue our Tuesday, Nov. 6 general election editorial endorsements with this week’s focus on the six statewide ballot proposals and two lakes area school district millage renewal proposals. Keep in mind that the general election ballot is quite long, given the many candidate races, state ballot questions, and local funding proposals. Those local ballot questions will be found at the end of the ballot, so be sure to look for those and cast your vote on these several important local proposals.
Readers looking for advice on approximately 40 contested candidate races impacting the lakes area — from those involving seats in the U.S. Congress down the ballot to local school board races — will find our endorsements in those contests in next week’s edition of the Spinal Column Newsweekly.
The following is our take on the six statewide ballot questions facing general election voters, followed by our stance on the Huron Valley and Waterford school districts’ non-homestead millage renewal requests. You can read more details about the statewide proposals and the two local school district millage renewal requests in the pages of this week’s Spinal Column Newsweekly.
Emergency Manager Law Referendum
The first state ballot question presented to voters involves Michigan’s controversial emergency financial manager (EFM) law — the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act, or Public Act (PA) 4 of 2011. The way the ballot language is written, a “yes” vote would be to uphold the EFM law; a “no” vote would be to repeal the act.
The act, which was among the first laws enacted by the current state Legislature, expanded the powers of EFMs as outlined in previous statute. Enacting that legislation sparked outrage among much of the public, particularly by Detroit officials and residents, who claim the expanded EFM powers rob citizens of their constitutional right to choose their representatives in local government. We’ve found that to be a somewhat hysterical, over the top complaint, and have no hesitation urging the public to vote YES to uphold the EFM law.
PA 4 outlines 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 the underlying causes of what the state considers a financial emergency. After several steps, if there is confirmation that a financial emergency exists, the governor must declare a local government in receivership and appoint an EFM. After 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 EFM — thus the laments about disenfranchised voters.
In reality, the several steps under the law preceding the declaration of a financial emergency serve as fail-safes, or opportunities for local governments to get their finances in order before an EFM is appointed. These preceding steps offer communities multiple opportunities to avoid coming under the authority of an EFM. It’s only under the most dire of circumstances that an EFM can be appointed — when elected officials repeatedly fail to fulfill their primary responsibility, which is to manage a municipalities finances. A single year of failing to balance a budget isn’t enough to trigger appointment of an EFM — it takes multiple years of mismanagement and neglect before a community could realistically be in a situation where an EFM takes over. As such, PA 4 isn’t as much about stripping the people’s right to elect their own officials as much as it is about making sure somebody steps up to make tough decisions and do the people’s bidding, which is to balance the municipal budget — a requirement of state law, by the way.
No, we’re not thrilled about EFM’s ability to nix all or portions of labor contracts previously negotiated in good faith by both sides; but, sometimes aggressive, unpleasant steps such as that are necessary, particularly when the issue is a lack of money to maintain labor pact provisions.
The EFM law ensures that municipalities live within their means, while first giving communities plenty of chances to get their house in order. The law needs to stand with a YES vote.
Collective Bargaining Constitutional Amendment
This ballot question was prompted by efforts across the nation to limit, if not eliminate, collective bargaining rights for public employees. Proposal 12-02 seeks to enshrine in the state’s Constitution the right of public and private employees to collectively bargain. It would also strike down current or future state laws that limit the ability to collectively bargain, join unions, and negotiate and enforce union contracts. While Michigan workers may have had some collective bargaining rights infringed — such as public employees no longer being able to negotiate for health insurance co-pays below 20 percent of total premium costs — they still can unionize if they so choose; and with no guarantee that the fundamental right to collectively bargain will ever be eliminated in this state, Proposal 2 is a solution to a problem that doesn’t, and may well never really exist. We don’t see this as a constitutional issue, and advocate a NO vote.
We believe the Constitution should provide for protection against discrimination and various government abuses. Frankly, providing for collective bargaining rights isn’t a constitutional issue — or at least it shouldn’t be.
Chalk up Proposal 12-02 as a backlash against the nationwide GOP assault on unions. If Republicans in several states hadn’t railed against unions by, in some cases, moving to severely limit or eliminate them, Michigan wouldn’t face the potential of writing collective bargaining guarantees into the Constitution. Yes, we, too, believe that unions over the years have bargained for and received benefits and contract provisions that are either unnecessary or unsustainable; but, eliminating unions isn’t the way to address that situation.
Don’t forget, bargaining involves two sides — labor and management. So, management is just as culpable for unions’ excesses as the rank and file. Instead of trying to dismantle the entire collective bargaining apparatus, why not just say “no” to unions when they bargain for something that doesn’t ensure workers’ health and safety, or when they want something and there’s no money to pay for it? Management in government and the private sector should have started doing that decades ago. It’s that simple — just say “NO,” which is exactly what state voters need to do on Proposal 12-02 in the voting booth on Nov. 6.
Renewable Energy Constitutional Amendment
The third statewide proposal before general election voters is a constitutional amendment that would require utility companies to produce 25 percent of the state’s electrical power through renewable energy systems by 2025. It also states 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; and provides for annual extensions of the deadline to meet the 25 percent standard in order to prevent rate increases over the annual 1 percent limit. Finally, the proposal would require the Legislature to enact laws encouraging the use of Michigan-made equipment and employment of Michigan residents.
We are firm believers in the benefits of, and the need to develop, greater reliance on renewable energy sources and systems. However, the free market, not the state’s Constitution, should be the vehicle for reaching the laudable goal of greater use of alternative forms of energy. Once again, this isn’t a constitutional issue, and we’re suggesting a NO vote on Proposal 12-03.
It’s interesting that while supporters of the proposal claim its approval would lead to lower utility bills for consumers, the ballot language actually provides for higher rates — albeit with a cap. So much for lower energy bills for customers. And, with the ability of utility companies to get extensions on meeting the 25 percent mandate, the 2025 deadline is — well, toothless and empty.
We would be thrilled if utility companies used Michigan-made equipment and state workers in their move toward use of alternative energy sources; but once again, the free market needs to be the arbiter on these issues, not the state Constitution.
If you’re one of those people who recognizes the importance of using renewable energy sources and systems in your home or business, there’s nothing stopping you from, say, installing a geothermal heating/cooling system, for example. Individuals and the market need to be left with the option to implement — with some reasonable restrictions, in some cases — wind, solar, biomass and hydropower energy systems. A forced movement in that direction written into the Constitution is completely inappropriate.
Home Health Care Workers Constitutional Amendment
This proposal is about writing into 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, develop a registry of workers who have cleared 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.
Not unlike our thoughts on Proposal 12-02, there’s some value to be found in this proposal — training for in-home care workers, a registry of workers who have passed background checks, financial counseling for patients, and minimum terms and condition of employment. Yet all of that is possible through the legislative and executive branches of state government, so there’s no reason to add those requirements to the Constitution. This is another proposal that deserves a NO vote.
We don’t quibble with the notion that in-home care workers and the patients who rely on them have some serious needs and issues. This proposal looks to address those legitimate needs and issues. We’d much rather see the in-home care industry regulated like so many other aspects of our economy and society — through statutes and administrative rules, and even industry standards. Our Constitution contains no provisions relative to minimum standards for doctors, lawyers, engineers, police officers and firefighters, bus drivers, etc … so, why should it include the like when in comes to in-home care? The answer, of course, is simple — it shouldn’t, so vote NO.
It’s important to consider that just as workers should be able to unionize for collective bargaining, they should also be allowed to opt out of being part of a union, and this proposal, if approved, would force workers into unionizing.
Tax Increase Constitutional Amendment
This proposal seeks a constitutional amendment requiring 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. It would be foolish and short-sighted to enact this amendment, so please vote NO.
At least this proposal focuses on an issue — taxation — that’s ripe for constitutional provisions. Sure enough, our Constitution already contains many provisions on the taxation issue, including multiple limitations on taxes, tax increases, borrowing and loans, investment of public funds, accounting and auditing of public funds, etc. We’re not aware that those provisions are “broken” and in need of a major fix, thereby making this proposal completely unnecessary.
No one likes new taxes, but voter approval of this proposal would create a serious impingement on lawmakers’ ability to fulfill their fundamental duty and job. It would take a Herculean effort to implement a new tax, raise an existing tax, or restructure the overall tax system in this state under the provisions of this proposal. Actually, all of that may well be impossible if Proposal 12-05 is backed by a majority of state voters.
We fear that placing these provisions in the Constitution would set the state up for the kind of gridlock and insanity that’s been witnessed in California, for example. There, when lawmakers can’t reach an agreement on a budget that includes any kind of hike or change in taxation, any potential increase in taxation must go before the voters, who historically shoot the new, expanded, or increased tax down. Unfortunately, that tends to lead to annual bouts of budgetary chaos.
The notion of a two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers seems like an impossible dream when it comes to taxation, especially in this era of hyper-partisanship and gamesmanship. Add in the public’s newfound right to potentially weigh in on every proposed increase, expansion or restructuring of taxation, and you have an overly onerous set of constitutional provisions that easily could cause dire problems for one and all in this state.
With Proposal 12-05′s provisions in place, Michigan almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to revise the business tax structure that officials and civilians alike screamed for over many years. So, wrap yourself in the warm, fuzzy glow of this anti-tax-driven proposal if you like, but be prepared for the paralysis and financial crisis that leads to the loss of all kinds of essential services and functions coming out of Lansing if this proposal is passed. Indeed, voting is a fundamental right in our nation and in this state, but the people shouldn’t have to, or be allowed to, vote on every tweak and twist of the taxation system; nor should a two-thirds super-majority in the Legislature be necessary to bring about changes from time to time. Just say NO.
International Bridge Construction Constitutional Amendment
Sponsored by a group called The People Should Decide, the sixth state proposal going before voters next month would forbid the state from spending money or resources on acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting a new international bridge or tunnel between Detroit and Windsor, Canada unless authorized by a majority of state voters casting ballots in a November election. It’s another proposal that needs to be nixed by voting NO.
This is probably the silliest of this election cycle’s overall laughable batch of statewide proposals. While a majority of state voters would have to back a new bridge or tunnel project, so too would a majority of voters in each municipality where a new bridge or tunnel would be developed.
Let’s look at this proposal honestly — it’s nothing more than a means to ensure what amounts to a monopoly in southeast Michigan international crossings enjoyed by The Detroit International Bridge Co. Another way to look at it is the proposal amounts to being a proposed Moroun Family Fortune Preservation Amendment to the state Constitution, since it’s the Moroun family that owns the Ambassador Bridge and desperately wants to kill any project that would present competition. It’s surely not about the people’s choice, or sound public policy. Do we get to vote on highway, bridge, airport, water or sewer infrastructure projects? No. Why should we have the ability to vote on a something like a new international crossing? The Morouns are banking on their ability to scare people into opposition to such a project. Don’t give them that opportunity.
HURON VALLEY SCHOOLS
Non-homestead Millage Renewal
Without equivocation, voters in the Huron Valley School District need to resoundingly approve the district’s request for a 10-year non-homestead property tax millage renewal with a YES vote.
The millage renewal represents more than 10 percent of the district’s budget at $9.17 million per year. But more than that, this is a levy that non-homestead property owners — those who own commercial or industrial property, and second homes — are already paying. Those who own a single residential property that has been claimed as a homestead exemption don’t have to pay this tax and never have.
The ballot proposal asks to levy the statutory rate of 18 mills on all eligible property, which is required for the school district to receive its state per-pupil foundation allowance, and renew the millage that will expire with the 2012 tax levy.
Huron Valley’s current per-pupil foundation allowance is $6,966 per pupil. District officials say that if the millage renewal doesn’t pass, the district would be docked $1,000 per pupil. Simply put, that is unacceptable, especially when this proposal doesn’t represent a new tax — it’s already being paid, and merely needs reauthorization for another 10 years.
Non-homestead Millage Renewal
Likewise in the Waterford School District, voters should have no beef with supporting overwhelmingly the district’s request for a renewal of the non-homestead millage at 18 mills.
The renewal would be for a period of 10 years from 2014 to 2023 and the district expects to collect $11.9 million in the first year of the renewal in 2014.
Similarly a substantial chunk of the district’s budget, an $11.9-million annual funding hole would be created for Waterford Schools if the renewal is rejected.
Like in Huron Valley, this levy is already imposed on non-homestead properties — businesses and non-principal residences. It is not a new tax, and it’s key to funding the district, just one of many across the state that are hampered for money.
A YES vote on the non-homestead property tax levy is imperative for the district and Waterford students.