Michigan voters say state constitution is not for sale

Guest Editorial
For a day, at least, Michigan voters sent a clear message: Our state’s constitution is not for sale.

Despite staggering expenditures and nearly nonstop television advertising, voters handily defeated the five statewide proposals that would change the constitution. In a much closer race, voters also repealed a law that gave stronger powers to emergency managers appointed by the state to run financially distressed school districts and cities.

There are estimates that expenditures promoting and opposing these proposals topped $150 million. After all that energy, not a single constitutional amendment came close to passing. In most of the issues, about 60 percent of voters turned down the constitutional change. Proposal 5, which would have required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise taxes, was defeated by nearly 70 percent of state voters.

The most unsuccessful expenditure of money appears to be Proposal 6, where Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel “Matty” Moroun tried to torpedo a competing international bridge by making it a constitutional requirement to hold a statewide vote before such a structure could be built.

Moroun’s interests dumped $33 million into a deceptive and fear-mongering advertising campaign. Opponents of the proposal — and backers of the new bridge — only came up with about $1.6 million.

Didn’t matter. Voters saw through Moroun’s trickery and easily defeated the proposal. Gov. Rick Snyder, who has adopted the project over the objections of his fellow Republicans in the state Legislature, now says ground will be broken on the new bridge in two to six months. Once completed, it will connect Detroit with Canada. Backers say that Canadian financing means no state dollars will be used.

The spending was even greater — and more evenly spread — on Proposal 2, which was billed by unions as a measure to protect collective-bargaining rights in the state constitution. Opponents said it was a sham and that the real purpose was to give unions unprecedented control over taxpayer funds while negating the reforms pushed by Snyder that have balanced the state budget and eliminated a $1.6 billion debt.

The spending on Proposal 2 was fierce. The United Auto Workers’ union, the state’s largest teachers’ union and other unions ponied up $23 million in support of the proposal. But business groups responded with $31 million, making this the most expensive proposal of the bunch. In the end, nearly 60 percent of Tuesday’s voters rejected it.

Proposal 3, which would have required at least 25 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by the year 2025, and Proposal 4, which would have directed taxpayer funds into a union to represent home health-care workers, were both easily defeated.

The voter rush to vote “no” may have torpedoed Proposal 1, which was a referendum on a law passed to give wide powers to emergency managers. It lost by a 52 percent-48 percent margin, which means the law is repealed.

Since the union position was defeated on Proposals 2 and 4, it’s possible voters didn’t fully understand the issue since unions supported the repeal of the law. Or it’s possible that voters were uncomfortable with giving an emergency manager the power to discard union contracts and virtually unseat locally elected officials.

Regardless, the overall results of the proposals are encouraging. Special interests tried to hijack the state constitution. Voters told them to keep their hands off. That’s a relief — at least until next time.