2012 Election - Michigan Ballot Edition

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Posted on : 11/01/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

I'm done voting this year.  I think absentee voting will be a big part of my future as the hassle is a whole lot less.

For those not interested in Michigan politics, have a nice day and move on to something pleasant.  'Cause this is gonna get thick.

We have six proposals on the ballot this year.  Most of them seek to amend the Michigan Constitution.  The proposals, and my thoughts follow.




Proposal 1 deals with the Michigan Emergency Manager law.

The Michigan legislature passed the Emergency Manager law back in 1990.  It was signed into law by the Governor. This law was amended by Public Act 4 in 2011.  Again, passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor.

The purpose of the original law was to give the state the authority to intervene when a local unit of government failed in its responsibility to faithfully execute its responsibilities in a fiscally responsible manner.  PA 4 allowed the state to intervene at an earlier stage.  It also set up a method for evaluating local governments so they would know when they were at an increased risk for state intervention.

The cities of Flint, Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Pontiac, and the Detroit Public School system are currently operating under an Emergency Manager.  To the best of my knowledge the Emergency Manager's for each of those units of government has effectively managed to improve their respective performance.  I can't say that any of them are out of the woods yet, but they all seem to be improving.

One of the bitter pills for the public employees involved is that the Emergency Manager has the authority to modify...or cancel...union contracts.  Again, to the best of my knowledge, no union contracts have been cancelled.  Several have been modified.

Relative to the Detroit Public Schools, the Emergency Manager has also been effective at moving the school system towards a more efficient model of operation by consolidating schools and closing excess buildings.  The Emergency Manager also had a role in an event that happened last year where all public school employees had to pick up paper checks at their respective offices/schools.  They found hundreds....HUNDREDS...HUNDREDS ... of employees that had been receiving pay via direct deposit even though they no longer worked for Detroit Public Schools.  Some had been fired.  Some had taken other jobs.  But all were still accepting money from DPS via direct deposit.

The bottom line is that local governments can get in fiscal trouble for a couple of different reasons.  The first is changing demographics.  Populations change over time and if local governments do not change...grow...shrink...as needed to adapt to these changes, then they can find themselves spending a lot of good money for no good purpose.  Than can also find themselves with a declining tax base which can quickly lead towards deficit spending.

The second way local governments can get into trouble is by not holding the line on public employee pay and benefit costs.  The problem is exacerbated by the difficulty of negotiating with employees that are also voters.  It can seem easier to yield to those employees when the rest of the voting population isn't taking part in those same negotiations.

The bottom line here is that Michigan has a law that allows the state to stop fiscal problems before they reach the point of a local government going bankrupt.  The law operates in a neutral manner.  The simplest way to avoid state involvement is to elect people that will act responsibly.

I voted "yes" as that vote affirms the previously passed law.

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Proposal 2 is the so-called "Protect Our Jobs" amendment to the Constitution.

The language reads:


PROPOSAL 12-2
A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTION REGARDING COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
This proposal would:
  • Grant public and private employees the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions.
  • Invalidate existing or future state or local laws that limit the ability to join unions and bargain collectively, and to negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements, including employees’ financial support of their labor unions. Laws may be enacted to prohibit public employees from striking.
  • Override state laws that regulate hours and conditions of employment to the extent that those laws conflict with collective bargaining agreements.
  • Define “employer” as a person or entity employing one or more employees.
Should this proposal be approved?
There are a couple of motivating factors in the state.  One is simply to drive up the union vote in a close Presidential race.  Another is the fairly high profile conflicts that occurred in Wisconsin last year where public employee bargaining "rights" were modestly curtailed.

I hasten to add that these modest changes successfully assisted various units of government in Wisconsin to back away from some pretty significant fiscal problems.

Here in Michigan, no one has moved in the direction of curtailing union bargaining rights.  The threat to bargaining rights is non-existent.

An additional factor for me is the problem with putting overly broad language in the Constitution.  This language would force the courts to view pretty much any claim by a union that some law or regulation hampers union organization or bargaining.  It would eliminate our elected legislature and Governor from performing their legitimate rolls in passing relevant legislation on this issue.

Put bluntly, this is a non-issue that would create huge problems if it were added to the Michigan Constitution.  I voted no.

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Proposal 3 deals with renewable energy.

PROPOSAL 12-3
A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTIONTO ESTABLISH A STANDARD FOR RENEWABLE ENERGY
This proposal would:
  • Require electric utilities to provide at least 25% of their annual retail sales of electricity from renewable energy sources, which are wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower, by 2025.
  • Limit to not more than 1% per year electric utility rate increases charged to consumers only to achieve compliance with the renewable energy standard.
  • Allow annual extensions of the deadline to meet the 25% standard in order to prevent rate increases over the 1% limit.
  • Require the legislature to enact additional laws to encourage the use of Michigan made equipment and employment of Michigan residents.
Should this proposal be approved?
I like renewable power.  I would really prefer that we move to renewable sources of power just as soon as they are capable of providing power at a competitive price.  The primary problem here is that no source of renewable power that functions in Michigan* provide power at a competitive price.

We know this because we passed a law a few years back that required 10% of all of Michigan's power come from renewable resources by 2015.  We aren't even close to meeting that standard.  That suggests to me that 25% may be equally unrealistic.

Wind power receives most of the public graft....erm....I mean subsidies....and attention.  The problem is that wind towers cannot be competitively built without those subsidies.  The minute the public money is turned off, you can count on tower construction being shut down.

Wind power suffers from the additional problem of the vagaries of the wind.  I have read estimates that suggest that wind power requires mainline back up (i.e. coal, natural gas, nuclear, oil, etc.) power of up to over 80% of the installed wind power base.  Put another way, if we put in 100 Mw of wind turbines, we will need over 80 Mw of mainline back up sources to cover for the times when the wind ceases to blow.

There are other issues with wind power.  I really wish there weren't, but there are.

Putting this sort of stuff in the Michigan Constitution makes it really hard to change things in the future when the facts become clearer than they are now.

And so I voted against this proposal as well.

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Proposal 4 deals with home health care.

It reads:

PROPOSAL 12-4
A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTION TO ESTABLISH THE MICHIGAN QUALITY HOME CARE COUNCIL AND PROVIDE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING FOR IN-HOME CARE WORKERS
This proposal would:
  • Allow in-home care workers to bargain collectively with the Michigan Quality Home Care Council (MQHCC). Continue the current exclusive representative of in-home care workers until modified in accordance with labor laws.
  • Require MQHCC to provide training for in-home care workers, create a registry of workers who pass background checks, and provide financial services to patients to manage the cost of in-home care.
  • Preserve patients’ rights to hire in-home care workers who are not referred from the MQHCC registry who are bargaining unit members.
  • Authorize the MQHCC to set minimum compensation standards and terms and conditions of employment.
Should this proposal be approved?
Do you see the bait that surrounds that hook?

In Michigan, as occurs elsewhere, the state pays people to care for the seriously ill.  Frequently the people receiving that money are relatives of the ailing individual.  The theory...and pretty much the reality...is that it is cheaper to pay people to take care of relatives at home instead of paying for care homes to take care of them.  The payments are not huge.

Frequently, home care is supplemented by frequent, sometimes daily or more, visits from traveling nurses.  These nurses are already licensed by the state.

So are we going to get in the business of "licensing" people to take care of their own family members?

So why is this law needed?  To give the SEIU a "taste" of that money that is being paid to those family members.  They want to "organize" those family members and as a result, get to take union dues out of their compensation.

On top of everything else, these changes would be written into the near-granite that is the Michigan Constitution.  It would be difficult..if not impossible with a well funded SEIU involved...to reverse this amendment later on.

Like most of these proposals, I voted against this one.  It seeks to "solve" a problem that simply doesn't exist at the expense of the people currently receiving compensation that is scant enough already.

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Proposal 5 deals with preventing increases to tax rates in Michigan.

It reads:
PROPOSAL 12-5
A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTION TO LIMIT THE ENACTMENT OF NEW TAXES BY STATE GOVERNMENT
This proposal would:
  • Require a 2/3 majority vote of the State House and the State Senate, or a statewide vote of the people at a November election, in order for the State of Michigan to impose new or additional taxes on taxpayers or expand the base of taxation or increasing the rate of taxation.
  • This section shall in no way be construed to limit or modify tax limitations otherwise created in this Constitution.
Should this proposal be approved?
Let's be honest.  I am not a "let's raise taxes" kind of guy!  I think we need to contain costs to available revenue instead of continually looking for ways to increase taxes.

But I voted against this one.

The fact is that this proposal would prevent any changes to Michigan tax laws that could be construed as increasing rates, creating new taxes, or expanding the tax base.  So could the legislature end our sales tax?  Sure.  Could they increase our income taxes to compensate?  No way, Jose!  If the economy changes so that certain tax deductions are pointless, then those deductions could not be eliminated as that could be construed as "expanding the tax base".

This is just a bad idea waiting to happen.  If you want lower government spending and lower taxes, then vote for representatives that will deliver on those objectives.
 
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Finally....I know...I never thought we'd get here either....we come to Proposal 6 that deals with building bridges between Michigan and Canada.  And we are talking about real, physical bridges here.

The proposal reads:

PROPOSAL 12-6
A PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE STATE CONSTITUTION REGARDING CONSTRUCTION OF
INTERNATIONAL BRIDGES AND TUNNELS
This proposal would:
  • Require the approval of a majority of voters at a statewide election and in each municipality where “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” are to be located before the State of Michigan may expend state funds or resources for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges or tunnels.
  • Create a definition of “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” that means, “any bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012.”
Should this proposal be approved?
Unfortunately, there is plenty of back story on this one as well.  The current Ambassador Bridge is owned and operated by the Detroit International Bridge Company.  Why Michigan and Canada decided to hand over public property to a private company is beyond me.  It is one thing to license it, but it is another to just hand it over.

The DIBC has a pretty sad history of abusing their position by doing things like building a duty free store right where traffic can access it best, thus eliminating competition from similar enterprise.  The DIBC also routed traffic near a gas station that it owned.  This was not a part of the site plan approved by the state of Michigan.

When the state order the DIBC to put the traffic route back according to the approved plan, the DIBC balked.  They had to put the DIBC's owner, Matty Maroun, and one of his corporate officers in jail in order to get compliance with state and court orders to rectify the situation.

Trustworthy?  I think not.

Add to that the fact that the traffic currently traveling across the border in Detroit is enough to jam both the bridge and the tunnel crossings.  We need more capacity across the border so that we can increase economic activity.

In fact, we need this increased economic activity so much, that Canada has offered to pay their portion of the construction costs along with Michigan's portion of the construction costs.  Technically, Canada will loan Michigan the needed funds which will be repaid from revenues generated by people using the bridge.  The US government is tipping in some matching funds as well.  But if Canada is willing to cover our portion of the project, then the economic activity increase must be good.

Our bestest of friends, the Canucks!

And if that wasn't enough, half of the construction contracts will go to companies in Michigan.  The other half, naturally, will go to companies in Canada.  More specifically, Ontario.  And even then, probably in or near Windsor.

And we could use the bump in economic activity in Michigan.  Y'all get the sniffles, we get pneumonia.

The construction of needed/useful infrastructure is one of the primary functions of local governments.

Our Governor, Rick Snyder signed an agreement with Canada that should let the current construction plan move forward.  This law shouldn't stop it, but courts can be weird at times.  This proposal might be used to delay this needed project.

Additionally, this proposal would make it difficult to build any future bridges between Michigan and Canada.  We have three current border crossing locations.  They will need updating in the future.  It is possible...though not likely...that we may need to tear one down and rebuild it at some point.  This proposal would make that process much harder.

Again, like most of the other proposals on the ballot, this proposal places things in the Constitution that simply do not belong there.

Matty Maroun has been spending millions hoping that we are stupid enough to vote for this monstrosity.  The ads say that we don't need a new bridge.  They say that if a bridge is built, then we won't have money for police, fire, or school services.  They also say that we will never see any money from the new bridge as long as we still owe money to Canada.

I think he's just throwing shit at the wall and hoping something sticks.

I voted against this one as well.

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