Ballot issues are troubling and confusing

Guest Editorial
Michigan voters will likely be facing six statewide ballot issues in November. Five are initiatives to amend the state constitution. The sixth is a referendum in which petitioners are asking voters to rescind an existing law.

The right of referendum and initiative are essential constitutional vehicles in which a citizenry can overcome recalcitrant and obstructionist lawmakers. Both rights, however, can be used by special interests to ram through constitutional law that will hamstring future generations. Further, even some well-intended initiatives are using a constitutional hammer for items better suited to the legislative process, however unwieldy and frustrating.

Further, as the medical marijuana ballot issue proved, an initiative by nature carries simplistic language and fails to provide the precision and structure provided in carefully crafted legislation.

Voters who carefully study the six proposals may find that it is best to not support the goals of those who put the issues on the ballot.

Here’s a quick look at them:

The only referendum on the ballot (Proposal 1) will seal the fate of Public Act 4 of 2011, which greatly expanded the power of governor-appointed emergency managers to rule financially beleaguered municipalities and school districts.

Because this is a referendum, the voting may be tricky. In Michigan, a referendum vote is for or against the existing law. So those who favored the referendum — that is, those who wanted the question on the ballot — will have to vote “no” in order to repeal the law. Those who favor the expanded role of the emergency manager — to the point where they took extraordinary steps in a failed attempt to keep it off the ballot — will have to vote “yes” to retain the law.

The expanded powers of the emergency manager are concerning in that they can usurp the role of elected officials. But the insolvency of some cities is so great that emergency managers may be the only way to prevent further financial chaos. The power of the emergency manager can be maintained by voting for the referendum.

The initiatives are troubling. They bake in expensive and restrictive wording into the state constitution. The consequences of the proposals should give voters pause.

One initiative (Proposal 3) is to require that 25 percent of the state’s energy consumption be from renewable sources by the year 2025. That’s a noble goal but such specifics take no account of technology or market changes and have no place in the constitution. It would be like a constitutional amendment to determine fuel efficiency for cars.

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Maroun financed a petition drive to place on the ballot a requirement that a statewide vote be taken before the state can construct an international crossing, such as the proposed second bridge between Detroit and Windsor (Proposal 6). The constitution is not the place for Maroun to protect his assets.

Public employees fearful of right-to-work legislation are supporting an initiative that would embed collective bargaining rights within the constitution (Proposal 2). This would have untold impact on existing laws and it would prevent future legislatures from reigning in labor costs, regardless of the state of the budget. This would be a very bad addition to the constitution.

Even worse would be the proposal (Proposal 5) to require a two-thirds super majority of both chambers of the Legislature in order to approve a tax hike. That’s a recipe for disaster. As few as 13 state senators could block legislation — say a tax hike for better roads — that is overwhelmingly favored by the other 135 members of both chambers.

Finally, an attempt to provide collective bargaining rights to home health care workers (Proposal 4) is a power grab by unions who no longer have a friendly face in the governor’s office. If this issue has any credibility, it should be handled in the Legislature, not embedded in the constitution

—Livingston Daily Press and Argus