Props and disses
Our take on the renewable energy standard, emergency managers and the other state ballot questions
Published: November 1, 2012
Emergency manager referendum
It's difficult to imagine a more undemocratic law than Public Act 4, which seeks to give the state of Michigan authority to appoint emergency managers who assume nearly complete control of financially troubled municipalities and school districts.
Passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder, the act was briefly implemented before being put on hold when this referendum was placed on the ballot.
If approved by a majority of voters statewide, the law would allow emergency managers to assume the powers traditionally held by elected mayors, city councils and school boards — and then adds new powers beyond the scope of those elected officials, such as they authority to void agreements arrived at through collective bargaining with employee unions and cancel contracts with private businesses. Emergency managers can also sell off public assets.
This is simply too much power to place in the hands of someone who hasn't been elected.
There is also legitimate concern about how race plays into this. The specter of a state where only older minority-majority cities and governance units have been stripped of their political rights is, to say the least, deeply disturbing.
Which brings us to a related aspect of Public Act 4: It fails to address the underlying problems plaguing many of Michigan's municipalities and school districts. In the case of Detroit, the daily allegations and revelations of the last administration's corruption trial, terrible as they are, are not the fundamental cause of Detroit's predicament. The budget crises in Detroit and elsewhere are not the fundamentally the result of chronic mismanagement by city officials. In Detroit, the ultimate culprits are crumbling infrastructure, a tax base decimated by the collapse of the housing market and the decline of industry, and drastic reductions in state revenue sharing.
Another core problem with Public Act 4 is that, while forcing taxpayers and employees to suffer the pain of severe cutbacks, it leaves untouched entirely the bondholders who, in at least some cases, helped create the problems the act is supposed to address.
Public Act 4 is both extreme and unfair, a draconian measure that needs to be repealed.
We strongly urge a "no" vote on Prop. 1.
This proposed amendment to the Michigan Constitution is, in part, a result of PA4. With that law seeking to give emergency managers the power to, among other things, void contracts obtained through the collective bargaining process with public employee unions, Proposal 2 aims to guarantee that can't happen by enshrining in the state constitution the right of private and public sector employees to organize and bargain collectively.
Unions have been a primary force in building America's middle class and helping make life better for working people. And they are under assault. As noted recently by the New York Times, there has been a "wave of Republican-backed measures adopted in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and other states in the last two years to curb collective bargaining and weaken unions, especially those representing government workers."
In addition to creating a firewall should the emergency manager law remain in place, Prop. 2 is also an attempt to preemptively kill any attempt by Michigan's Republican-dominated Legislature from enacting so-called "right-to-work laws" that allow employees in both the private and public sectors to reap the benefits of contracts bargained by unions without having to pay union dues or fees. The result is that the financial and political clout of unions is severely diminished. In the long run, it is the workers who lose.
Critics call these "the right to work for less" laws.
As noted by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that has conducted a comprehensive review of all the statewide ballot measures, passage of Prop. 2 would "effectively preclude Michigan from enacting right-to-work legislation."
The ability to establish strong unions and collectively bargain is fundamental.
We urge a yes vote on Prop. 2.
Renewable energy standard
The proposed constitutional amendment would lock into place a commitment to produce 25 percent of the state's electricity from green energy sources by the year 2025.
There are legitimate concerns about enshrining energy policy in the state's constitution. But, as supporters of this proposal have noted, it took 10 years of battling fierce opposition from utilities just to get the Legislature to pass the extremely modest green energy standards now in place. With the state on pace to meet that goal — 10 percent by 2015 — we don't have time to waste another decade fighting the state's powerful electric industry to move things forward.
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