Michigan voters to decide proposals: emergency managers, collective bargaining

MICHIGAN – Michigan voters are being asked to make decisions about collective bargaining, emergency managers and renewable energy at the Nov. 6 election.

Six statewide proposals will appear on the ballot. If passed, five of the proposals would amend the state constitution and one would reinstate a 2011 law that the Michigan Supreme Court temporarily repealed.

It is not uncommon to propose constitutional amendments, said Bill Ballenger, but the number of proposed amendments is higher than usual for the 2012 election. Ballenger, a former state representative and state senator, is the editor/publisher of “Inside Michigan Politics,” a publication that analyzes Michigan political and policy trends.

“We have more (constitutional amendments) on the ballot this year than we’ve had since 2002,” Ballenger said. “I tend to think it’s not going to happen to this extent (in upcoming years). A lot will depend on what will happen in the election this year. If a lot of them carry, that will encourage people to try it again.”

Below is an explanation of the first three proposals that will be on the ballot. This is the first of two installments.

PROPOSAL 1: Emergency manager law

Since 1990, the governor has had the right to appoint an emergency manager to local government units – including school districts – in a state of financial emergency. Proposal 1 would give those emergency managers more authority.

Legislators originally passed Public Act 4 in 2011, but the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in August to repeal the law. The public will decide how to move forward in implementing the emergency manager law at the November election.

Emergency managers currently are operating in Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac and Ecorse, as well as in school districts in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights.

The biggest difference in the emergency manager laws is that the new proposal would allow managers to amend or scrap collective bargaining agreements in certain circumstances.

Emergency managers must have at least five years of experience and expertise in business, finance or budgetary matters. The local government pays the emergency manager’s salary, under a contract approved by the state treasurer. The salaries of the previous governing body will be eliminated.

Once appointed, the emergency manager is responsible for developing financial and operating plans and has the right to amend the budget, control how assets and funds are used and modify conditions of existing contracts and collective bargaining agreements.

After the financial emergency has been remedied, the previous governing body will regain its authority.

The goal of the proposal is to make emergency managers more effective in protecting the well-being of constituents affected by a struggling governmental body.

PROPOSAL 2: Collective bargaining guidelines

Public and private employees would have more bargaining rights if this proposal – which would amend the state constitution – passes.

Labor unions offer members the ability to bargain collectively with employers to establish the terms of employment. Workers would not gain any rights they do not already have, such as the ability to bargain for hours, wages, benefits and conditions of employment. Laws that prohibit public employees from striking would remain intact.

Protect Our Jobs, a group in support of Proposal 2, advocates that the proposal would level the playing field for employees and ensure workers are fairly compensated.

On the other hand, Protecting Michigan Taxpayers says the proposal would give too much power to governmental union bosses and limit elected legislators’ ability to reform Michigan’s labor laws. The proposal would overturn the teacher tenure reform passed by legislators this year.

PROPOSAL 3: Renewable energy policy

This amendment to the state constitution would require utility companies to increase their focus on renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.

Electric utilities would have to produce at least 25 percent of their annual retail sales from renewable energy sources by 2025. Utility rate increases for consumers will be limited to 1 percent each year as companies try to meet the new renewable energy standard.

Legislators would be responsible for passing laws to encourage the production of Michigan-made renewable energy equipment and the employment of Michigan residents in the industry.

The previous state standard was for companies to have 10 percent of their energy production from renewable sources by 2015.

Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs supports the proposal, saying it will bring a $10 billion investment to Michigan from the clean energy sector. Currently, 3.6 percent of energy used in Michigan is from renewable sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, compared to Iowa, which is at 23 percent renewable energy.

Opponents of the proposal, such as the Michigan Jobs and Energy Coalition, say there is no proof these investments will translate into better energy use in Michigan. The jump to 25 percent renewable energy is too drastic and not a realistic expectation.

PROPOSAL 4: Collective bargaining for in-home care workers

The amendment to the state constitution would create the Michigan Quality Home Care Council that would allow in-home care workers to bargain collectively. About 40,000 individuals work as in-home care employees.

The council would provide training for in-home care workers, create a registry of all workers who pass background checks and provide financial services to patients to help them afford the cost of hiring their workers. The council also would create standardized compensation guidelines, which would be approved by the legislature.

Patients still will have the right to hire, direct or terminate in-home care providers; they also can hire individuals who are not a part of the MQHCC registry.

Citizens for Affordable Quality Home Care supports the proposal because it will offer a standardized quality of health care and make the services more affordable.

Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution does not support the constitutional amendment and does not think in-home care providers need a union. The resulting union will be responsible for about $6 million in annual dues from its members.

PROPOSAL 5: Limit government’s ability to instate new taxes

It would be more difficult for state government to instate new taxes if this proposal passes.

The proposal requires a two-thirds majority vote from the state House and Senate, or a statewide public vote at a November election, in order to impose new taxes or expand the base population being taxed or increase the rate of taxation.

The Michigan Alliance for Prosperity sponsored the proposal, saying taxpayers should have more input on how their money is spent.

Opponents say the proposal will allow special interest groups to stand in the way of lawmakers passing necessary taxes. Currently, lawmakers need a simple majority to pass to modify or add a tax.

PROPOSAL 6: International bridge

Proposal 6 would give voters input in all international bridge projects in Michigan. The proposal is in response to plans to build a New International Trade Crossing bridge from Detroit to Windsor.

Under the proposal, a majority of voters at a statewide election and in each municipality where the international bridges or tunnels would be located would need to give their approval before the state could move forward in plans to spend money on acquiring land, designing the structure and soliciting bids, construction financing or any other promotion of the new bridge. “New” is defined as any structure not already open to the public and serving traffic by Jan. 1, 2012.

The Detroit International Bridge Co. filed for the proposal because it worried that the NITC would compete for traffic with the company’s current Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Canada.

Taxpayers Against Monopolies opposes the proposal, saying the Detroit International Bridge Co. should not have a monopoly on bridge traffic in Detroit. Gov. Rick Snyder has promoted the NITC as a way to create jobs in Michigan. He already has an agreement to move forward on the new bridge with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper; Canada has agreed to pay for the project up front, and Michigan residents will pay back a portion of the costs with bridge toll money. If Proposal 6 passes, it would undo Snyder’s agreement on the bridge and make it more difficult to move forward in the planning and construction process.

This proposal would re-instate the currently repealed Public Act 4 of 2011 to give Michigan’s existing emergency manager law more clout.