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Truth Squad | Scare tactics on Michigan redistricting measure get foul rating

Related: Michigan Proposal 2 redistricting group defends dark money as fighting fire with fire​
Related: Michigan redistricting group brings in whopping $13.9 million

[CORRECTION: This Truth Squad originally said comissioners' salaries would be 25 percent of the governor's pay. In fact, Proposal 2 calls for commissioners to be paid "at least" 25 percent of  the governor's salary, as decided by the Legislature. The article has been updated.] 

A new radio ad running throughout Michigan from Protect My Vote raises the prospect of unchecked spending if Proposal 2, the initiative to change the state’s redistricting system, is approved by voters.

The ad seizes on a major criticism by opponents to Prop 2: It would likely cost more money to create a proposed 13-citizen commission to decide how legislative lines are drawn in the state. Currently, whichever political party is in power in Lansing controls the drawing of state and congressional maps.

Related: Here’s how Michigan’s redistricting commission would work
Related: Michigan ballot issues: What to know about Prop 2 (redistricting)

Because the ad contains several whoppers, Truth Squad rates it a foul.

THE CLAIM

The minute-long ad says Prop 2 “will cost you an insane amount of money.” It continues:

Proposal 2 writes a blank check to 13 new “commissioners” for a new bureaucracy, and they can spend whatever they want. No limits on staffing, lawyers, or consultants. Or themselves. Unlimited pay and perks.

If Proposal 2 passes, their spending spree is in your constitution forever. Your taxes won’t be fixing roads or teaching children. You’ll be paying for a whole new lifestyle for 13 people picked out of a hat. Lucky thirteen!

THE FACTS

The nugget of truth at the center of this ad is the part of Proposal 2 (section 6, subsection 5 for those following along at home) that requires the state to “indemnify” — a.k.a. reimburse — the commission for any costs beyond what the legislature appropriates.

That may be considered a “blank check,” but the commission can’t indiscriminately spend money as this ad suggests.  

The ballot proposal specifically restricts spending to the tasks necessary for the commission to fulfill its duties. While that’s no guarantee some future commissioners won’t try to sneak in extra expenses (those unlimited “perks” the ad references), it would exceed a commissioner’s authority to do so. And commissioners’ spending would have many, many eyes on it: The commission would have to be audited annually and have spending reports sent to the legislature and the governor.

Individual commission members' pay is listed as at least 25 percent of the governor's salary. Currently, 25 percent amounts to $39,825 annually. They could theoretically get more than that but, importantly, it's lawmakers, not commissioners, who set their pay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary in Michigan is $48,300. So a commissioner’s salary of just under 40 grand may constitute a lifestyle, but hardly the kind suggested by the ad.

Without a doubt, Prop 2 would create a more expensive system than Michigan’s current one, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan: $878,000 was appropriated for the last round of redistricting in 2011 (not including the amount spent to defend maps in court, which can be significant).

If Prop 2 passes, the state would appropriate $4.6 million annually for the commission until all legal challenges to its work are over. The commission would be required to return unused funds. The CRC estimates that over a 10-year redistricting cycle, funding for the process would be around $10 million. That equates to .01 percent of the General Fund (and roughly $1 per Michigander per decade). By comparison the Michigan legislature appropriated $4.8 billion for the Department of Transportation and $14.8 billion for the school aid fund this fiscal year alone.

“Voters have a right to know just how expensive Proposal 2 will be,” said Tony Daunt, spokesperson for Protect My Vote and frequent critic of Prop 2, in a press release. “Worse, the proposal would cram this massive new bureaucracy and spending into the state’s constitution, which means voters would have almost no recourse to ever do anything about it.”

Daunt is right that putting a new redistricting system in the state constitution would make it harder to change. However, it wouldn’t necessarily be “in your constitution forever,” as the ad states.

There are three ways to change the state constitution, and constitutional amendments have been changed before. For example, Article IV Sec. 12 was amended twice — once in 1968 and again in 2002.

It’s also not true, as the ad claims, that paying for a redistricting commission means your tax dollars wouldn’t go to fixing roads or schools. In fact, the state constitution itself directly requires some tax money for roads and some for schools. Prop 2 would not change that.

CONCLUSION

It’s vital that Michiganders consider the cost of any new public policy before they vote on it. But Protect My Vote’s new ad uses a combination of scare tactics, exaggeration and falsehoods to reach  unsubstantiated conclusions.

We give it a foul.

Related: 2018 Bridge Michigan Voter Guide: Links to our relevant election coverage

Truth Squad rating categories

Truth Squad has reduced the number of rating categories to the following:

  • FAIR: The ad or statement is generally accurate and fairly and credibly presents the speaker’s position on the issue at hand.     
  • MISLEADING: While individual parts of the ad or statement may be accurate, it reaches a conclusion or leaves an impression about an issue or candidate that is misleading in important respects
  • FOUL: The ad or statement contains one or more material factual errors

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