State ballot proposals create buzz locally

By Pat Maurer

Review Correspondent

 

Voters will decide on six statewide ballot proposals in the General Election next Tuesday. Five of the proposals would amend the Michigan State Constitution.

Proposal 12-1 is a referendum vote on Public Act 4 of 2011. A yes vote would uphold the Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act, which allows the state to intervene in schools and local governments facing financial difficulty in order to avoid bankruptcy.

Proponents of the proposal say repealing the law would put the same people back in charge who may repeat the same mistakes, putting Michigan taxpayers “on the hook for debts and throw some Michigan cities and schools into financial chaos.

Those advocating a no vote say the law undercuts local control by replacing elected representatives with unelected “managers,” overseen by the State. It allows those managers to break and/or renegotiate contracts and suspend collective bargaining, and gives extensive power to an appointed emergency manager with few checks or balances.

Proposal 12-2 on collective bargaining would amend the State Constitution, granting public and private employees the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions, and invalidate existing or future state or local laws that would limit that ability, and allow laws to be enacted to prohibit public employees from striking. It would override state laws that regulate hours and conditions of employment when they conflict with collective bargaining agreements.

Advocates of the Constitutional Amendment say workers need the right to organize, form and join or assist unions and to bargain and negotiate in order to receive a fair contract and a living wage and the amendment would protect workers from devastating cuts to wages, benefits and working conditions.

Those urging a no vote say this amendment would repeal a number of existing laws including those that detail the hiring, firing and discipline process for police, fire fighters and teachers, and would limit the state government’s ability to regulated state workers and would “lock” this proposal into the Constitution and hinder lawmakers from adapting to changing conditions.

Proposal 12-3 establishing a new standard for renewable energy is another Constitutional Amendment, would requiring electric utilities to provide 25 percent of their sales through renewable energy (wind, solar, biomass and hydropower) by the year 2025; and limit utility rate increases to achieve that compliance to no more than 1 percent per year; and allow extensions of the deadline in order to prevent additional rate increases over the 1 percent rate increase limit; and require the legislature to enact laws encouraging Michigan made equipment and employment of Michigan residents.

Those encouraging a yes vote say the proposal would stimulate new investments in Michigan infrastructure; create new jobs in Michigan and help turn the economy around; decrease energy prices; and protect the environment.

Those against the change in the Constitution say it could make energy rates much higher; that Michigan already has a 10 percent renewable target by 2015; that it should not be written into the Constitution; and that the amount of wind turbines needed to meet the 2015 goal would alter Michigan’s landscape.

Proposal 12-4 would establish the Michigan Quality Home Care Council and provide limited collective bargaining for in-home care workers. The proposal, another amendment to the State Constitution, would allow in-home care workers to bargain collectively, require the Michigan Quality Home Care Council (MQHCC) to provide training for in-home care workers, create a registry of workers who have passed background checks and provide financial services to patients to manage their in-home care costs. The Citizens Research Council of Michigan says, “This proposal focuses on the unionization of home health care workers and the establishment of the MQCCC, not on the services available to the disabled and elderly.”

Those supporting a yes vote say the proposal creates a home care registry allowing seniors and those with disabilities to connect with home care providers; would strengthen the Council’s ability to increase current safety standards, provide training and provide access to high quality in home care; and allow home health care workers to negotiate with their employers.

Those advocating a no vote say the proposal would force home care workers, even relatives caring for family members, to join a union and pay union dues; and by creating a Constitutional Amendment, prevent lawmakers from altering the operation of the Council.

Proposal 12-5 would limit the State legislatures to a 2/3 vote or a statewide vote in the November election before taxes could be added or increased. The proposal would amend the constitution and was a citizen initiative. The “supermajority vote in each chamber of the legislature or a statewide vote of Michigan electors would apparently affect only state taxes and not local taxes or state fees or charges. It is not clear if the new law would apply to state laws that authorize local governments to levy specific taxes (such as a city income tax). The wording refers to taxes “imposed” by the state government not taxes “authorized” by the state.

Those urging a yes vote say the proposal would make sure taxes are raised only when absolutely necessary and approved by a large majority of lawmakers or a by a statewide vote, making it more difficult to raise taxes.

Those against the amendment to the State Constitution say the requirement of a 2/3 vote would mean a small minority of legislators would be the ones making decisions  and would make the budget process more difficult and lead to cuts in education or public safety funding, and would prevent lawmakers from eliminating loopholes and protect special interests.

Proposal 12-6, another State Constitutional amendment, would require a majority of voters to approve new international bridges or tunnels.

Those supporting the proposal say the people should have a say in cases that involve taxpayer funded expenses like new tunnels or bridges; that it isn’t clear if the proposed bridge is needed; and that taxpayer dollars should not be used to compete with the existing privately owned bridge connecting Southeast Michigan and Canada.

Opponents say the bridge is needed to improve the transport of goods between Michigan and Canada; that Michigan and Canada already have an agreement in place that ensures no Michigan tax dollars will be used for construction of a new bridge; and that a statewide vote should not be required for the state to move forward with important crossings in the future, just as none were required for existing bridge projects. The process of constructing a new bridge is not an issue that should be included in the Constitution.