Voting Away An Issue

Michigan loves ballot proposals.  From casinos to bridges to just about any other political issue that’s a bit too toxic for our elected leaders to handle on their own, special interests have long put very complex, very difficult questions to Michiganders when they vote.  With the results that we’ve had thus far, in my ever so humble opinion, it’s yielded results that are pretty substandard.

This year, we’re facing ballot initiatives that involve policy questions from the emergency manager law, collective bargaining, electric generation, home healthcare workers, and taxation and infrastructure projects.  Frankly, that’s a lot.  Conceivably, those questions alone could consume an entire legislative session, which would involve months of hearings, procedural votes, negotiations over draft proposals, and finally, voting on draft legislation.  And, frankly, that’s what should be happening.  My basic premise is that voters do have a right to decide these issues, but not by pulling a lever in a voting booth.  These are questions that are best handled by legislative bodies that engage in a deliberative, collaborative process that consists of negotiations and compromise.  To think that these issues are going to be fixed by a simple up or down vote on a single statement that can encapsulate all of the contingencies that each of these issues generates is wishful thinking that yields pretty mediocre policy.

I would recommend that everyone look at the Citizens Research Council website that discusses each of these issues.  It’s a non-partisan website, so you’re not going to be inundated with either rabid right-wing conservatism, or lefty talking points.  Unless you know about the issues on which you’re voting, the exercise has a tendency to yield results that are usually counter to what everyone wants.

Let’s take the emergency manager law.  There’s a strong chance that Public Act 4, signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI).  The legislation provides a streamlined process whereby financially distressed municipalities can go through an expedited bankruptcy process that is less painful than it would otherwise be.  Nobody likes bankruptcy.  There’s never enough cash to satisfy the creditors and the debtors usually end up losing their shirts.  It’s a crappy process, and it’s an exercise in misery.  But, unfortunately for many Michigan cities, it’s a necessary one if they are to survive with any vestige of services that they owe their residents.

There’s a strong chance that the law will be voted down this coming November.  Because of this, the Michigan state Senate has begun preparations for new legislation that will replace the law, should it be struck down.  Supposing Public Act 4, the technical name of the law, is struck down, then what?  The fiscal shortfalls that plague many cities in Michigan isn’t going to disappear, if anything, because of the removal of the mechanism intended to remedy the problem, the financial crisis will be exacerbated, getting worse before any real fiscal reforms are enacted, ultimately inflicting more pain and running up the tab on an already expensive process.

Ballot proposals are easy.  But they’re not effective.  And for as satisfying as it may be to vote on them, they address issues that are far more complex, and deserve far more attention, than a quick vote in a voting booth on a Tuesday in November.  I’m voting no on all of them, save for the preservation of Public Act 4.  Let the legislature do their job instead of foisting their responsibilities upon the taxpayers and voters of the state.

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