WHY IT MATTERS: Michigan's ballot proposals

Associated Press Modified: November 3, 2012 at 8:16 am •  Published: November 3, 2012
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DETROIT (AP) — Six contentious ballot proposals are before Michigan voters on Nov. 6, including several well-funded measures backed by special interest groups and five that would require amending the Michigan Constitution. Here's a breakdown of each:

PROPOSAL 1:

This labor union-backed referendum asks voters whether to preserve a state law passed last year by the Republican-led Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder that allows the governor to appoint so-called emergency managers to run broke cities and school districts. The emergency managers have sweeping authority to cut spending, sell assets and tear up contracts without the approval of elected officials.

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Where they stand:

Supporters of the law are urging "yes" votes on Proposal 1 because they say the law is a necessary to fix financially struggling communities and schools. Snyder has said he respects the public's right to have a vote but warned that solutions for distressed local governments will be even "more painful" if the law is suspended.

Critics of the law are urging "no" votes on the proposal because they say the law represents a state power grab that usurps local elected officials. A union-backed group called Stand Up for Democracy collected more than 200,000 signatures to get the referendum before voters.

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Why it matters:

The proposal serves as a referendum on what Republicans in Lansing would consider a policy achievement. The law known as Public Act 4 is the third and strongest state law to date designed to let emergency managers take over local governments.

Neither side in the debate wants to see a local school district or municipality fail, but Snyder and others claim that's exactly what could happen without such a law. They present the law as a lifeline, rather than a takeover. But opponents argue the law leads to a loss of control and rights once shared by local leaders and laborers. They also argue that they deserve a seat at the negotiation table and have helped craft contracts that include sacrifices for the greater good.

Emergency managers are operating in Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac and Ecorse, as well as in school districts in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights. The city of Detroit, struggling with record deficits for years, narrowly avoided such a takeover earlier this year but has entered into a so-called consent agreement with the state that's provided for under state law.

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PROPOSAL 2:

This ballot initiative seeks to strengthen collective bargaining in the state. It would amend the constitution to guarantee the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining with public and private employers.

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Where they stand:

Supporters, including a group called Protect Our Jobs, say they want a voice to negotiate for fair wages, benefits and working conditions. Union leaders fear Michigan's GOP lawmakers eventually will make a push for right-to-work legislation, which bars unions from collecting mandatory dues from workers. They also object to further legislation they see as chipping away at union powers affecting benefits and school staffing.

Opponents contend the constitutional measure would make union leaders more powerful than elected officials. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has said it would impose rollbacks of state and local governments' ability to set employment terms and get budgets under control, wiping out some 170 laws and even invalidating other parts of the constitution. Another concern for critics is that it alters the constitution and therefore restricts lawmakers from being able enact any legislation affecting those rights. A pro-business coalition called Hands Off Our Constitution has fought the proposal, contending its wording was too broad.

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Why it matters:

This ballot initiative's backers say it's essential in a state that's served as a longtime bastion for the labor movement. After Wisconsin recently stripped public employees of collective bargaining rights and Indiana approved "right-to-work" legislation, initiative supporters say the best defense is a one-of-a-kind offense. No other state has guaranteed bargaining rights through a statewide ballot initiative, though several did so in their constitutions decades ago.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Citizens Research Council of Michigan says passage of the proposal could increase costs in a time of declining revenue for local and state governments. It also could have the "perverse effect" of increasing pressure on governments to move work to lower cost, private-sector companies, the council concludes.

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PROPOSAL 3:

This measure would require electricity suppliers to generate 25 percent of their power from wind, solar, biomass or hydropower by 2025. If approved, the policy would be added to the state constitution, meaning it could not be overturned by the Legislature.

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Where they stand:

Supporters say it's a bold step that would help Michigan keep pace with competing states in clean energy development and create jobs in a sector with big growth potential. The group Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs lists dozens of business supporters, including manufacturers and installers of photovoltaic collectors, solar thermal collectors and wind energy systems.

Opponents argue it would make energy supplies less reliable, sock consumers with higher electric bills and slash rather than grow jobs. Among the critics are the state's two largest utilities, Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, and numerous chambers of commerce. Opposition group Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan, or CARE, says the policy would force providers to invest $12 billion and customers to pay "thousands of dollars in higher electric bills."

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Why it matters:

The initiative represents a way for the Great Lakes State to play catch-up. A report by the Citizens Research Council says 29 other states have renewable energy usage standards and that Michigan's 10 percent requirement is among the "least aggressive." If the ballot initiative passes, Michigan will be the only state with renewable energy requirements in its constitution.

Lawmakers ordered the state's energy suppliers four years ago to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. Consumers and DTE have invested in wind farms, which probably will account for most of the green power they produce. They say the existing deadline is achievable, but the 25 percent requirement would require 3,100 more wind turbines spread across an area 17 times larger than the city of Grand Rapids.



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