“And there’s Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s idiotic proposal to require a statewide vote before any international crossing gets built — not just across the Detroit River, but anywhere. While we’re at it, why don’t we require statewide votes for every public road project? Good luck getting I-75 rebuilt next time it’s crumbling.”
While I have little doubt that the Michigan Supreme Court did the right thing by putting most of this year’s proposed ballot initiatives before voters in November, I’m much more certain that all of them should be rejected.
The state constitution says the people have a right to petition for changes big or small to government, and hundreds of thousands of Michiganders signed documents this year to be able to have their say over a wide range of issues.
But as a policy matter, government by initiative is among the worst implements of democracy, sometimes back-dooring ideas that can’t get traction through the Legislature — or a means for wealthy special interests to force statewide votes on issues of narrow self-interest.
Ballot initiatives offer no chance for reasonable dialogue about serious issues. They’re an up-or-down vote, period, with no chance to tweak or modify a proposal that might have some merit but not necessarily as it’s first crafted.
Even worse, though, most now aspire to muck up the state constitution — which should be a framework for how government operates, not a laundry list of policy imperatives.
This year’s crop of ballot initiatives is among the worst I’ve seen in Michigan, and there are more of them than voters have faced in a long time.
If even a few pass, I fear Michigan will become tougher to govern, less appealing to businesses and residents, and constitutionally locked into extreme positions that we will all regret in years to come.
It will be ugly.
The irony, of course, is that I actually support some of the basic policy ideas contained in the ballot initiatives. I just don’t think they belong in the constitution.
Collective bargaining, for example, is a pretty important tool for labor, one of the only ways for workers to exercise any leverage with management.
But that’s not a constitutional right. And putting it into the constitution will handcuff employers, and specifically government employers, as they try to manage their enterprises. It would prevent the Legislature from keeping control of the kind of overly generous benefits or retirement packages that are now crushing local governments.
And the proposal is worded so broadly (and so badly) that it would have myriad unintended consequences. Public Act 312, for example, which establishes mandatory arbitration when police and firefighters deadlock with cities over their contracts, would likely be gutted.
The ballot initiative called 25×25 is another clunker. The goal sounds wonderful: 25% of the state’s energy consumption by 2025 will be from renewable sources.
But again, a constitutional amendment is an overbearing and ham-handed way to achieve that. Already, the Legislature has a bipartisan deal to get the state to 10% renewables by 2015. That agreement is working just fine and, more important, can be tweaked by lawmakers if, for example, it chases away businesses or if advances in technology change the state’s energy picture altogether.
The smart way to manage this issue would be to let the Legislature deal with it through at least 2015, then negotiate a new goal from there.
The constitutional amendment is an attempt to snatch this issue away from lawmakers, and hammer a precise goal onto everyone who uses electricity in the state. It would be impossible, if this were in the constitution, to adjust its effects. And why would you commit to an unchangeable goal for the year 2025 in 2012? Thirteen years is a very long horizon in energy prediction.
There are other awful proposals that will make the ballot. There’s a bid to require two-thirds of the Legislature to vote for any tax increase — a sure way to prevent any reasonable discussion of revenue and, possibly, an inadvertent barrier to tax decreases as well. And there’s Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel (Matty) Moroun’s idiotic proposal to require a statewide vote before any international crossing gets built — not just across the Detroit River, but anywhere. While we’re at it, why don’t we require statewide votes for every public road project? Good luck getting I-75 rebuilt next time it’s crumbling.
This is just no way to govern the state, or for the people here to govern themselves.
In November, voters really need to turn down all of these proposals.