Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 14, 2012

George Weeks: A dangerous batch of ballot proposals

By George Weeks, Syndicated columnist
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---- — More is on the way, but a whopping $30 million in mostly misleading TV ads has already been spent since August on the most dangerous batch of ballot proposals yet to face Michigan voters.

I say "dangerous" because of the folly of putting in the constitution restrictions such as building a Detroit-Windsor bridge — or possibly other bridges — and other proposals that should best be decided by those in the Legislature elected by folks who can yank their chains under representative democracy if they don't reflect voter wishes.

An example is the "25 by 25" proposal mandating that utilities provide at least 25 percent of their annual retail sales of electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It might be a good goal — but not one to lock into the constitution, especially considering all the current problems of siting windmills.

The nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a valued watchdog in great need these days, said last week that beyond the $30 million weekly ad spending by sponsoring committees "will be at its heaviest yet in the four-week run-up to the election." There are six Nov. 6 ballot proposals, including Prop. 1 that is a referendum, not a constitutional issue, on whether Michigan's emergency manager law should be retained. It should. Detroit and other troubled cities need such managers as wisely sought by Gov. Rick Snyder.

My votes (and those of Snyder who was splashed across a half-page Saturday in the Wall Street Journal that said "Ballot Measures Test" him) are against the other proposals, all of which would be locked into the constitution:

n Proposal 2: Enshrine in the constitution collective bargaining for government and private-sector unions. Supporters spent $6.4 million; opponents $6.6 million.

In the Detroit Free Press Saturday, Snyder said it "would be by far the most devastating to the reinvention of Michigan."

n Proposal 3: Establish a standard for renewable energy. Spending of supporters: $3 million downstate but about to spend in Traverse City and Marquette markets; opponents $5.7 million.

n Proposal 4: Establish a home care unionization system for home-based caregivers. Proponents have spent $3 million so far, in all markets except Marquette, where ads start this week.

n Proposal 5: Mandate a two-thirds thirds vote of the state House and Senate or a statewide vote before new or additional taxes could be imposed. Much of the support comes from the same prime supporter of Proposal 6.

n Proposal 6: Require approval of votes in a statewide election and in each municipality where "new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles are to be located " before the state can expend funds.

The proponents, financed by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun, have spent $5.1 million since the August primary in all markets except Marquette and will start there this week. They spent $3 million earlier this year, and $6 million for similar ads in 2011.

Their ads have many false claims about costs to Michigan taxpayers that would, in fact, be borne by Canada under an agreement that Snyder worked out for the second bridge.

Ex-govs stir assorted pots

Michigan's living former governors have not quietly faded into the sunset. On occasion they do feel-good promotional events, as William G. Milliken, James J. Blanchard and John Engler did earlier this year on Mackinac Island in touting the 125th anniversary of the Grand Hotel.

But of late, some of them have been getting media attention on current politics. Most notably, California-based Jennifer Granholm, who has her own national show on Current TV, was a warm-up act at the Democratic National Convention and periodically is interviewed on networks for reaction to debates and other developments.

Engler, Washington-based president of the national Business Roundtable, made a splash in the Wall Street Journal Friday with an op-ed piece asserting that "America's corporate tax rate is too high and needs to come down." The National Journal has booked him as a featured speaker Tuesday at a conference it called to consider "options still available for the White House and Congress to avert fiscal calamity" in view of "the pending expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, a debt ceiling increase, and mandated spending cuts triggered by the failed negotiations of the Super Committee" designed to end the gridlock.

(In September, the magazine cited the conclusion of experts that "this Congress has been one of the least productive since at least the 1940s." But in its Oct. 6 issue it said that Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Montana Democrat Max Baucus, his counterpoint in the Senate, "have struck up an unlikely friendship within the Congress, and it could help pull the country back from the precipice.") Milliken, who from his Traverse City home speaks out occasionally on environmental and other issues, has endorsed the Proposal 3 ballot proposition on renewable energy. He has met with University of Michigan Law School dean Bridget Mary McCormack, a Democratic nominee for the state Supreme Court, and will endorse her as "an extraordinary candidate."