Gov. Rick Snyder is at the center of the debate in at least half of Michigan’s six ballot proposals this year.
He pushed for – and signed – the 2011 rewrite of the emergency manager law that voters will approve reject Nov. 6 with Proposal 1.
He pushed for – and signed – an agreement with Canada to build a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, prompting Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun to launch Proposal 6.
His assurances about his lack of interest in making Michigan a Right to Work state failed to ease the concerns of labor unions, leading them to launch the ballot campaign for Proposal 2 to place collective bargaining rights in the Michigan Constitution.
Bridge met with the governor last week for a brief interview on the ballot proposals and what his administration might do if some or all of them pass.
Bridge: A recent round of pro-Proposal 5 radio ads are basically built around this ominous gas tax increase that supposedly will strike if Proposal 5 isn’t passed. I presume you’ve heard them?
A: The big issue with Proposal 5 is that it’s terrible public policy. The real plan is -- the illustration I try to give people -- the Michigan Business Tax. (Proposal 5) is not about simply limiting tax increases. It really limits good tax policy, tax reform. I often walk through how we dealt with the MBT – we got rid of it. It was a job killer. It was a terrible tax. We couldn’t just simply eliminate it. We put in a replacement tax -- the corporate income tax. It’s much simpler, fair and more efficient. If Proposal 5 would’ve been in the constitution and (the tax plan) did not pass by two-thirds, we would still have the Michigan Business Tax today. So in terms of putting this in a real-life perspective for people, that’s the single best illustration.
Bridge: A hypothetical: What’s your plan on infrastructure policy in a post-Prop 5 world?
A: It’d make it much more difficult. We do need to invest more in our infrastructure. We are working on doing more best practices, and as we put those in place, we need to ask about the question of additional revenue to fund our roads, so Proposal 5 would be a major problem in that regard.
Bridge: Some of the opponents to Proposal 2 have linked its passage to the appearance of sexual predators in the classroom. If Prop 2 passes, could sex predators end up in Michigan classrooms?
A: That’s not what I emphasize when I talk to people about Proposal 2. I go to the big picture. I believe Prop 2 would be devastating to state of Michigan in terms of stopping the economic recovery of our state. Why do I say that? We are the comeback state right now in the country and we are doing better than the rest of the United States.
If you look at that proposal, it’s a massive overreach. It’s not just about collective bargaining. I believe in collective bargaining. I’ve done it twice successfully with state employees. And I intend to keep doing collective bargaining. What (Prop 2) does is it literally could wipe out provisions of the Michigan Constitution and a number of other provisions -- which we don’t even know which ones clearly until we litigated. It could wipe off the books up to 170 different laws.
To get to the specific instance you’re talking about … the biggest question of 170 laws, a number of reforms we passed, these are laws that go back 50 years that are well-established. If these laws were to be challenged, what’s going to happen? The first thing is you’re going to find a massive amount of litigation about what happens to the rest of the Michigan Constitution and what happens to the other 170 laws. And if you think about the normal process for litigation, that’s a year to two years of massive uncertainty. Then to the degree of deciding which ones get eliminated, they have to go to collective bargaining then. How long does that take and how many bargaining sessions is that? That could be another year or longer. And you’re talking thousands, potentially, of collective bargaining sessions …
And then you say: The reform should bring us in line with the private sector. And most likely this would cause our cost to increase. In these cost increases, it’s fairly easy to see how they could increase our cost by over $1 billion a year to our taxpayers, either at a state or local level.
Bridge: The view has been expressed that if Proposal 2 doesn’t pass, the day after the election, Right to Work legislation is moved because it’s going to be viewed as well OK we know there isn’t a public appetite for collective bargaining, so let’s make this a Right to Work state. Is that going to happen?
A: Well there is a lot of speculation. Right to Work had been introduced to the Legislature, but I told them I didn’t want it on my desk. So I’ve been fairly firm about keeping it off the agenda and stuff like that and … I asked the labor committee not to move forward with this because I said that you are going to make that a topic of discussion that I think we have been pretty effective about keeping it off the table.
Bridge: If Proposal 6 were to pass, what’s the administration strategy to respond onto that, would you be looking to hold a statewide election, just to get voter approval or is it simply proceed as planned under the interlocal agreement and navigate the litigation?
A: Well again, we did an agreement, so in good faith with the Canadians, I think we should move ahead with that so we will have litigation. Because again, if you look at it, there’s a fairly strong legal doctrine of impairment of contract. To say this is a contract that was entered into with good faith then the Canadians are relying to build this bridge and that you can’t go retroactive with an amendment like this -- even if you put the words in there. The big issue is even if we are successful, what they have done is delayed job creation in Michigan for a couple years while it goes through litigation. So again, (Prop 6 proponents) have achieved some of their goals at the expense of all Michiganders because this is a proposal about creating jobs.
Bridge: Another hypothetical: If the emergency manager law is repealed via Proposal 1, what’s the strategy -- go back to the Legislature and try to come up with a new rewrite that stands up, while still giving sufficient power to deal with the fiscal crisis, or is it just managing with the 1990 emergency manager law?
A: Well one of the challenges. We aren’t actively working on a replacement. I want to see how the people vote on this issue. And there is an issue with Public Act 72, which is what we are currently acting under. We have an opinion from the attorney general that it came back in place, so we are working on good faith that it exists -- but there is a legal challenge on that. So one of the things we want to get some resolution to is, does Public Act 72 actually survive once it goes through the court system? If we don’t have Public Act 72, then there is nothing and then it really presents a question to say your only option left for a community is looking at bankruptcy, chapter 9.
So again, that would create much more urgency to potentially say, is there some alternative for emergency major law, that could be appropriate from a legislative thing, respecting that fact that people have spoken from the respect of some attributes of PA 4? And so there are a couple steps I would want to have answers for before I would speculate what happens next.
Bridge: There are municipal bankruptcies going out in California, Is there an example you would direct Michigan voters’ attention to and say, This is why you would want to retain (PA 4), so you don’t end up like them?
A: Vallejo is a pretty good example of something that didn’t go well. People seem much more in tuned of how bankruptcy works nowadays because we had the (auto crisis) and we went through some difficult times. So in some cases you are hearing people talk about how bankruptcy could be an OK course in how we handle this. But the problem is there is a big distinction between the private sector side or the personal side, were you have decades of well-developed law and precedent and experienced people know how that process works, versus chapter 9 that has very limited experience.
In theory, if you could do the structured bankruptcy kind of modeled in chapter 9, I could understand people saying, ‘Well you know this is something you should look at more seriously.’ Unfortunately, a lot of the experiences such as Vallejo, I think there are more experiences that turned out to be just a chaotic, unpleasant experience in terms of what happens during that process.
Bridge: What’s the one point you want to leave with the voters on the ballot proposals?
A: Yes on 1 and no on the rest.
Bridge: It’s standard practice for ballot efforts to use paid signature gatherers – and to pay them by the signatures gathered. Some voices are saying we should push a law that would ban the payment of petition signature gathers by the signature collected. Is that an idea you would consider or support?
A: I think after the election that there is a reasonable question about doing some reforms with respect to paid circulation petitioners. And again, I always want to make this clear, I don’t view this as interfering in our constitution; we always want to have a process for our citizens to do citizen-initiated activities. The challenge is, the feedback I have gotten from a lot of citizens is they don’t necessarily believe they have gotten the straight story. …
Another one we could look at is should we do something about the wording and font-size thing and say should they get pre-approved early in the process and theoretically if you are a paid circulator should you have some document that has 100 words for and 100 words against (the idea). So there is a list of all sorts of different ideas that people have thrown out at me so I wouldn’t characterize these things as items I am endorsing, but more that I think these are reasonable things and that could be on a list of maybe five plus ideas that should be a good subject matter for public discussion through the legislative process.
Senior Editor Derek Melot joined Bridge Magazine in 2011 after serving as an assistant editorial page editor, columnist and reporter at the Lansing State Journal, where he covered state and local issues extensively, earning awards from the Associated Press and Michigan Press Association. The Oklahoma native moved to Michigan in 1999.