Reserve constitutional changes for serious matters; reject Props 2-6

I urge statewide voters to make a forthright statement at the polls on Nov. 6 that the Michigan Constitution is not for sale.

Voting no on Proposals 2 through 6 stops special interest groups from hijacking the constitution, which is the state’s basic governing document.

None of the matters addressed by these amendments belongs in the Michigan Constitution:

* Proposal 2 would insert collective bargaining rights for public employees into the constitution. It is an attempt to roll back a bunch of recent legislation in Lansing, legislation that has limited union power and resulted in a wide range of public employee concessions. Passage of Proposal 2 would undoubtedly result in years of costly lawsuits to determine exactly what this poorly worded ballot proposal actually means in practice. The proposal is supported by a wide swath of in-state and out-of-state labor unions.

* Proposal 3 would require 25 percent of the state’s electricity to be generated by renewable energy sources by the year 2025. It builds on the state’s 2008 renewable energy standard passed in the Legislature, which is where such policy debates belong.  As the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan has noted, the Michigan Constitution does not direct any other sort of private sector industry to so specifically change behavior or investment or business model. Like Proposal 2, this one is destined for lengthy court battles if passed by voters.

Proposal 3 is backed by a wide range of in-state and out-of-state environmental groups, with much of the proposal’s funding coming from outside Michigan.

* Proposal 4 would provide for collective bargaining for home health workers, many of whom are family members of the patients receiving care. In the full scope of public policy, this is a low level labor-management debate that belongs somewhere in a legislative committee or a state government agency. In the words of Center for Michigan Steering Committee member and journalist Jack Lessenberry, the constitution is meant to “set broad outlines for government, not serve as a Christmas tree to be hung with goodies for various special interest groups.”

* Proposal 5 would require a two-thirds vote in order to raise any taxes. Probably the most damaging of all of this year’s proposals, Prop 5 would shackle elected leaders’ ability to manage the affairs of the state. In effect, it makes it nearly impossible for the governor and legislators to reform the tax code over time. Had Proposal 5 been in place, last year’s business tax reforms or the school tax reforms of Proposal A in 1994 never would have happened. This effort has been bankrolled in large part by funds connected to the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

* Proposal 6 would require a public vote to approve any international bridge or tunnel. This is an attempt by Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel Moroun and his team to stop construction of a second international bridge over the Detroit River as agreed to by Gov. Rick Snyder and the Canadian government. Littered with a never-ending stream of highly erroneous and misleading political ads, the Proposal 6 effort is possibly the most cynical and self-interested political campaign in Michigan history.

Baking these special recipes for special interests into the state constitution is simply not good government in the public interest. In expressing these views, I’m also setting out the concerns and opposition to Proposals 2-6 expressed by a nearly unanimous majority of the Center for Michigan’s Steering Committee, a bipartisan group of veteran public leaders, which I chair.

The terrible truth of these ballot proposals is that most of the signatures that got them on the ballot were bought and paid for by signature solicitation companies. That puts basic government policy as articulated in the Constitution up for sale to the highest bidder. Michigan voters are the last line of defense against this kind of government for sale.

Editor’s note: Former newspaper publisher and University of Michigan Regent Phil Power is a longtime observer of Michigan politics and economics. He is also the founder and chairman of the Center for Michigan, a nonprofit, bipartisan centrist think–and–do tank, designed to cure Michigan’s dysfunctional political culture; the Center also publishes Bridge Magazine. The opinions expressed here are Power’s own and do not represent the official views of the Center. He welcomes your comments via email.

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Tue, 10/23/2012 - 9:13am
Respectfully, you err Mr Powers: Michigan' s utilities with their territorial monopolies are NOT comparable to other "private sector" Michigan businesses! The closest thing in Michigan to the monopolies of the utilities on power generation is the Moroun family's Ambassador Bridge. Do you appreciate what it took for Michigan to get the minimal 10% by 2015 RPS (renewable portfolio standard) in 2008? DTE required and received a quid-pro-quo restoration of the 10% cap against third-party power providers, i.e., restoration of definitive territorial monopoly. Whereforeto now that the achievement of 10% renewables - and the accompanying dramatic start up of supply chain businesses has been jump-started in Michigan since 2008? DTE and Consumers offer no proposal or promise for movement toward additional clean energy investments - already adopted by our neighboring states and Ontario. By your encouragement, our start-ups flounder, new investments are trammeled and monopoly power is enshrined. A tragic case of myopia, Mr Powers! A YES still leaves 75% for legacy fuels after 2025 but prevents the natural obsolescence of these next 13 years from locking in imported coal for what will be a NEW lifetime of fossil fuels. A YES recognizes the valued assessment of credible Michigan thinkers and leaders including G. William Milliken and a great many business leaders not tied to "old money" and its legacy of monopolistic control - all to the detriment of real economic competitiveness and progress for "Pure Michigan".
Tue, 10/23/2012 - 7:06pm
"The terrible truth of these ballot proposals is that most of the signatures that got them on the ballot were bought and paid for by signature solicitation companies." I know when I buy somehting, I actually pay the person for the service/product I am buying and I even get a receipt. I wonder how Mr. Power can be so sure that the signatures were 'bought and paid for'. For if he weren't a 'journalist' such statements by us in the general public could be sued for slander unless we had proof of the transactions. I know that all my life and especially here in Michigan that there have been the prenial claims of politicians being 'bought and paid for'. It seems to be a common refrain though seldom proven or even taken up in the medai. I must acknowledge the exception, its Detroit. I can't believe Mr. Power would use such hyperbole to make his point rather than trust his readers to make an informed choice. Because if Mr. Power doesn't trust his readers to think through each ballot issue, especially after all the information he and the Bridge has provided to us, what must he think of us? For that matter of himself and his skills?
Tue, 10/23/2012 - 7:48pm
Most of the proposals are reactions to extreme legislation. For those who oppose these extreme measures, the only option is to correct the problems with referendums. Amendment referendums make more sense than statute referendums because a referendum statute can be easily repealed or replaced by radical legislatures. Even an election won't be able to reverse radical legislation because the people upset with this legislation would have to control every branch of government to pull this off. Most of us opposed to these radical measures will be dead before that happens. The bottom line is that if radical legislation is to be changed, it must be via referendum and it must be via constitutional changes. There is no other choice.
John Q. Public
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 1:42am
The constitution is not for sale, sayeth the bipartisan group of veteran public leaders. The Michigan Compiled Laws, though, says the legislature...well, let the bidding begin!
Wed, 10/24/2012 - 11:42am
Sometimes constitutions need to be amended. Our federal constitution is a case in point. Sometimes legislators and governors with the majority are not doing what is best for the State and amending a constitution is the only redress. Our reliance on oil and coal is a case in point. We are not investing in alternative energy sources as we need to due to special interests. As we have found out in this depression, the market is not always right.
Jan Wolter
Sat, 11/03/2012 - 9:26am
I'm curious - how often has the Michigan Constitution been amended since 1963? What is the general nature of those amendments? I'm having difficulty finding this data anywhere, but I get the impression that the Michigan Constitution has been much more liberally amended than the US Constitution. I'm not sure that these "don't muddle up the constitution" arguments make sense given what has gone before.