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Special Interests Trying to Get What They Want Through Amending Mich Constitution

by Rob Smith

Michigan Radio writer Lester Graham points out in a great piece titled, “Muddying the Michigan Constitution?”: “In the 224 years since it was ratified, the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times. The latest Michigan Constitution is less than 50 years old and it’s already been amended 31 times.  And the people could add five more amendments on election day.” Jack Lessenberry, in his piece titled, “Constitutional confusion,” writes: “Michigan’s Constitution is less than 50 years old, and already has been amended more than 30 times….If we continue going at this rate, Michigan’s constitution will soon be an unworkable joke. America’s Constitution has survived in large part because it is pretty difficult to amend. If we want our state constitution to have any meaning, we need to fix the amendment process very soon.”

Governor Rick Snyder has urged voters to reject the five constitutional amendments. As much as it hurts me to say this, I have to agree. Monied special interests on both the left and the right are trying to manipulate voters into approving amendments to the Michigan Constitution that will line the pockets of Big Business (including companies invested in alternative energy). It’s bad enough when this happens by buying state politicians with relatively small donations, but trying to buy self-serving amendments to the state’s Constitution is some downright nasty politics.

I part company with Governor Snyder when it comes to the repeal of Public Act 4. In his video, Snyder claims that Emergency Managers go in, get the job done and then return power to elected officials. What planet is Michigan’s Governor living on? Planet Hollywood? EMs have a record of abusing their powers. Arthur Blackwell II, Highland Park’s former emergency financial manager, had to give back more than $250,000 he paid himself. Michael Stampfler outsourced Pontiac’s wastewater treatment to United Water just after the Justice Department indicted the company for violations of the Clean Water Act.

In not one of the cities or school districts to which Governor Snyder has dispatched an Emergency Manager over the past two years has the job gotten done. Currently, emergency managers are in Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint, Pontiac, Allen Park and the Muskegon Heights, Highland Park and Detroit school districts. The threat of the state appointing an emergency manager to the city of Detroit led this spring to a financial stability agreement between Mayor Dave Bing and Snyder.

Michigan’s November ballot is jam packed this time around thanks, in part, to grassroots efforts to bring the Michigan Republican Party to heel. There are a total of six ballot proposals on the state-wide level, and five of them seek to amend the state’s Constitution. Special interest groups on both sides of the questions have spent tens of millions of dollars, and many of these special interest groups (and their donors) would like to tell you exactly how to vote. Special interest groups have been paying for polls, as well.

Lansing-based Marketing Resource Group (MRG) phoned 600 likely voters between September 10-15 to gauge support for proposals that would enshrine collective bargaining in the constitution, raise the renewable energy mandate, provide collective bargaining for home health care workers, attempt to block a proposed bridge between Detroit and Windsor, and require a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature to raise state taxes.

Proponents of the renewable energy, or 25 by 25 proposal, paid for that question in the poll, while the rest of the questions were conducted for Inside Michigan Politics.

The sheer number of special interest groups involved, and the amount of money invested in each of these proposals (and by groups opposing each proposal) makes it difficult to find objective information concerning each of the proposals.

Michigan Forward needed 160,000 signatures to put the question to the state’s voters of whether to repeal Public Act 4 (Emergency Manager law). Brandon Jessup’s group delivered close to 250,000 signatures. Organized labor and their allies, no doubt galvanized by Republican efforts in Wisconsin to curb collective bargaining, came together to propose the “Protect Our Jobs” amendment to the Michigan Constitution. The Protect Our Jobs Coalition, comprised of the Michigan Democratic Party, Progress Michigan, Teamsters, Michigan Education Association and the Michigan UAW, among others, raised over $8 million dollars and collected the necessary 300,000+ signatures to put the question to voters of whether collective bargaining should be protected within Michigan’s Constitution.

In total, on November 6, 2012 Michigan voters will fill out a ballot that includes six such proposals.

Proposal 1: Emergency Manager

Background: Authorizes the Governor to appoint an Emergency Manager to make decision in financially distressed communities or school districts.

What it does: Gives non-elected gubernatorial appointees the power to change laws and contracts passed by locally elected officials that voters have chosen. Undermines democracy by preventing locally elected officials from taking any government action to serve residents.

Polling data: MRG showed 48 percent want to repeal the law and 45 percent want to keep it. EPIC-MRA reported 46 percent support a repeal and 42 percent want to keep the law in place.

Vote Yes to keep Public Act 4 in place

Vote No to repeal Public Act 4 (More info.: http://standup4democracy.com)

Proposal 2: Protect Working Families

Background: Constitutional amendment to establish employees’ right to join unions and bargain collectively with public or private employers regarding wages, hours and other terms of employment.

What it does: Collective bargaining levels the playing field and helps ensure good working conditions and a better quality of life for all Michiganders, whether in unions or not. Allows employees to come together with employers to negotiate a fair deal so CEOs aren’t the only ones benefitting from a company’s success.

Polling Data: The MRG poll found 48 percent support the proposal, while 42 percent are against it. The EPIC-MRA results were similar, showing 48 percent support and 43 percent against.

Vote Yes to amend the Michigan Constitution (More info.: http://protectourjobs.com)

Vote No to keep the Michigan Constitution from being amended (More info.: http://protectingmichigantaxpayers.com)

Proposal 3: Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs

Background: Requires utilities to obtain at least 25% of electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Limits consumer rate increases from renewables-related costs to no more than 1% per year; creates incentives to employ Michigan workers and equipment. Real question: Should energy policy be placed in the Michigan Constitution?

What it does: Reduces our state’s dependence on foreign oil and out-of-state energy. Ensures Michigan energy is clean, creating a healthier, safer environment for children. Encourages the production of energy, like wind and solar, here in Michigan, made by Michigan workers. If voters approve this measure, it will be the first time a specific energy requirement would be put into a state constitution.

Polling Data: MRG found 58 percent in support and 31 percent opposed, while EPIC-MRA showed 55 percent for and 34 percent against.

Vote Yes to amend the Michigan Constitution to require utilities to obtain at least 25% of electricity from renewable sources by 2025 (More info.: www.MiEnergyMiJobs.com)

Vote No to keep the Michigan Constitution from being amended (More info: www.michiganjobsandenergy.com)

Proposal 4: Keep Home Care a Safe Choice

Background: Establishes the Michigan Quality Home Care Council to register, background check and provide standards for home care providers.

Back-Background: In 2004, home health care workers receiving federal and state funds were designated public employees by an agreement between state and county officials. This allowed them to organize under Michigan’s Public Employment Relations Act (PERA), and in 2005, home health care workers voted to recognize the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as its bargaining unit.

Just last year, PERA  was amended to exclude home health aides. Subsequently, SEIU sued and a federal judge issued a temporary injunction protecting the workers’ existing contract until its expiration in February 2013.

What it does: Ensures seniors and people with disabilities have an affordable, safe choice of living at home, rather than at more-expensive nursing homes. Links providers with patients, provides for extensive background checks and saves taxpayer dollars since home care is significantly less expensive to taxpayers than nursing homes.

What is REALLY does: Allows home health care workers to continue to be represented by SEIU.

Polling Data: MRG reported 59 percent in support and 31 percent opposed, while EPIC-MRA showed 55 percent for and 27 percent against.

Vote Yes to amend the Michigan Constitution (More info.: www.keephomecaresafe.org)

Vote No to keep the Michigan Constitution from being amended (More info.: www.handsoffourconstitution.com)

Proposal 5: Supermajority Vote

Background: Would amend the Michigan constitution to require a 2/3 majority vote of the legislature, or a statewide vote of the people at a November election to impose new or additional taxes on taxpayers, expand the base of taxation or increase tax rates.

Back-Background: Ambassador Bridge owner, Matty Maroun financed the Proposal 5 effort.

What it does: Gives a small minority of just 13 state senators the power to stop the closure of tax loopholes or increase taxes in an emergency, even if it was supported by the other 135 members of the legislature. Would lead to larger class sizes, closures of hospitals and decreased police and fire protection, while property taxes increase. Would cost jobs by lowering the state’s bond rating, driving up borrowing costs and increasing debt.

Polling Data: MRG polled and found with 64 percent of respondents in favor and 29 percent against. EPIC-MRA showed 53 percent in favor and 37 percent opposed.

Vote Yes to amend the Michigan Constitution (More info.: http://miprosperity.com/)

Vote No to keep the Michigan Constitution from being amended (More info.: http://defendmidemocracy.com/)

Proposal 6: New Bridge to Canada

Background: This proposal would require a public vote for any international bridge project not completed by the end of the year. It’s aimed at blocking construction of a new government-owned bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

Polling Data: MRG, whose president Tom Shields is the spokesman for proposal opponents, found that 52 percent of respondents support the proposal and 38 percent do not. EPIC-MRA showed 47 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed.

Vote Yes to amend the Michigan Constitution (More info.: www.thepeopleshoulddecide.com)

Vote No to keep the Michigan Constitution from being amended (More info.: http://buildthedricnow.com)

  

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1 Comment for “Special Interests Trying to Get What They Want Through Amending Mich Constitution”

  1. In theory I agree that amending the State Constitution is not an appropriate means of achieving one’s legislate goals. In practice, this is the natural consequence of the radical agenda pursued by our “moderate” governor’s party. Proposal 1 is the usual response to extreme legislation – a referendum. After all the work that went into gathering enough signatures to reverse that one piece of legislation, the Republicans cranked out so many laws that harmed the collective bargaining process that it became obvious that it would be impossible to seek referendum on each individual bill. Proposal 2 address the entire scope of the many different attacks on collective bargaining – death by a thousand cuts, so to speak.

    Constitutional amendments allow the voters to demand particular action that is thereafter immune from legislative tinkering. If the legislature could be trusted, we would not need to amend the Constitution. For example, if we merely passed a law through a ballot initiative to address renewable energy, the legislature could later modify that law. Putting Proposal 3 in the Constitution means they need our permission before tinkering with those requirements.

    As radical as they are, the Michigan Republicans are about to be outdone by their own supporters. Proposal 5 is the product of encouraging voters to believe that there are simple answers to their concerns. Proposal 5 will do to Michigan what proposition 13 did to California. That state was once a champion of education. Now they fail to rank anywhere near the top. For us, it will mean not just a crushing blow to education but a guarantee that our state infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. Our legislators cannot muster a simple majority to redesign our transportation funding method. Under a requirement for 2/3 majorities in both houses, we will never address the diminishing funding derived from gas taxes as consumption continues to decrease.

    Please vote no on Proposals 1, 5 and 6. Please also vote yes on Proposals 2, 3, 4.

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