Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

October 25, 2012

Ballot proposals: Why they matter

DETROIT (AP) — Six contentious ballot proposals are before Michigan voters on Nov. 6, including several well-funded measures backed by special interest groups and five that would require amending the Michigan Constitution. Here's a breakdown of each:

- Proposal 1

This labor union-backed referendum asks voters whether to preserve a state law passed last year by the Republican-led Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder that allows the governor to appoint so-called emergency managers to run broke cities and school districts. The emergency managers have sweeping authority to cut spending, sell assets and tear up contracts without the approval of elected officials.

Why it matters:

The proposal serves as a referendum on what Republicans in Lansing would consider a policy achievement. The law known as Public Act 4 is the third and strongest state law to date designed to let emergency managers take over local governments.

Neither side in the debate wants to see a local school district or municipality fail, but Snyder and others claim that's exactly what could happen without such a law. They present the law as a lifeline, rather than a takeover. But opponents argue the law leads to a loss of control and rights once shared by local leaders and laborers. They also argue that they deserve a seat at the negotiation table and have helped craft contracts that include sacrifices for the greater good.

Emergency managers are operating in Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac and Ecorse, as well as in school districts in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights. The city of Detroit, struggling with record deficits for years, narrowly avoided such a takeover earlier this year but has entered into a so-called consent agreement with the state that's provided for under state law.

- Proposal 2

This ballot initiative seeks to strengthen collective bargaining in the state. It would amend the constitution to guarantee the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining with public and private employers.

Why it matters:

This ballot initiative's backers say it's essential in a state that's served as a longtime bastion for the labor movement. After Wisconsin recently stripped public employees of collective bargaining rights and Indiana approved "right-to-work" legislation, initiative supporters say the best defense is a one-of-a-kind offense. No other state has guaranteed bargaining rights through a statewide ballot initiative, though several did so in their constitutions decades ago.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Citizens Research Council of Michigan says passage of the proposal could increase costs in a time of declining revenue for local and state governments. It also could have the "perverse effect" of increasing pressure on governments to move work to lower cost, private-sector companies, the council concludes.

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