SIDNEY — With the general election right around the corner on Nov. 6, state legislators used Monday’s one-hour Legislative Luncheon at Montcalm Community College to update and inform those in attendance on six ballot proposals that voters will decide.
Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, discussed all six proposals and said this year’s election is as important as any because five of the six proposals have the potential to amend the state constitution.
Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, who answered questions about the proposals after Outman finished discussing them, said people need to educate themselves before heading to the polls.
“All of your clerks have sample ballots,” Emmons said. “I encourage everyone to get an absentee ballot if they qualify, because this is going to be a very long ballot for folks.”
Emmons added that all information about ballot issues can be found on the Secretary of State’s website at michigan.gov/sos online.
Outman said Proposal 1 is the only one of the six proposals that does not amend the constitution and is a continuation of Public Act 4, which established criteria to assess the financial condition of local government units, including school districts, through use of an emergency financial manager.
“If you vote yes on this, that means that Public Act 4, the public act that we passed in 2011, remains in force as is,” he said. “If you vote no on it, that means we will have to go back to the drawing board on that.”
Outman said Michigan has had an emergency manager law in place since 1990 and it “isn’t something new,” adding that Public Act 2011 “added teeth” to the emergency manager situation.
“What we have felt is, it was like sending a carpenter out to build a house without a tool belt,” he said. “What public act 4 did was put tools in the tool belt. It gave (emergency managers) the ability to do what needed to be done in order to avoid bankruptcy.”
Outman said that Public Act 4 set up a series of trip flags, early warning signals, to inform when something needs change. He added that no one wants to see an emergency financial manger put in place, but said the government will do that “in leu of allowing a municipality or school district from going into bankruptcy.
“If you like the law as is and think it is working, and it is, then you’re going to be a yes vote,” he said. “If you think we’ve overstepped our bounds and think we need to weaken the law, then you’ll be a no vote on it.”
Outman said Proposal 2, which would grant public and private employees the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions, is a proposal that would affect an estimated 170 laws and eight parts of the state constitution.
“You severely hamper the legislative process by enshrining things in the constitution,” he said.
Outman said by amending the constitution, people are limiting the abilities of elected legislators such as himself from being able to do the job he is elected to do.
Proposal 2 would invalidate existing or future state or local laws that limit the ability to join unions and bargain collectively and to negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements.
“Do your homework on this one,” Outman said. “It is going to severely limit the things that school districts can do to keep money in the classrooms.”
Proposal 3 would require electric utilities to provide at least 25 percent of their annual retail sales of electricity from renewable energy sources, which are wind, solar, biomass and hydropower, by 2025.
Outman said he believes those requirements are a bit steep for the state of Michigan.
“Prop 3 sounds good, the wind always blows and the sun always shines, even though we know that isn’t always the case,” he said. “The reliability of the wind in the thumb (of Michigan) is only 30 percent,” he said. “That means that 70 percent of the time, there isn’t enough wind out there to generate power. You can’t flip a switch and tell the wind to blow.”
Outman said he believes the state needs better storage capabilities of renewable energy before an amendment is made to force new requirements.
“We need to have reliable storage capabilities in order to do that, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “Mandating something like this when the technology isn’t there yet is a little tough.”
Outman pointed to other states that have implemented laws involving percentages of retail sales of electricity, but said that they have not implemented them into their constitutions.
“Be very careful,” he said. “The energy companies have said it was difficult to get to the 10 percent mark by 2015. To enshrine something into our constitution is to affectively tie the hands of the legislature.”
Proposal 4 would allow in-home care workers to bargain collectively with the Michigan Quality Home Care Council and continue the current exclusive representative of in-home care workers until modified in accordance with labor laws.
Outman said those wages and benefits are currently set by the legislature believes it should stay that way.
“Wages and benefits for home healthcare givers is set by the legislature,” he said. “It’s medicaid dollars and we appropriate the funds. There is no collective bargaining process when it comes to wages and benefits.”
Outman added that passing Proposal 12-4 would “not allow any more collective bargaining and will also not create any more jobs.”
According to Outman the home help program has been in existence for 31 years and said passing Proposal 12-4 will not increase the scope of that service. He added that what it does do is allow $6 million of medicaid money to continue to flow through “so-called union dues” to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“That’s $6 million medicaid dollars that could be going to the health care providers that are going to be sent in to unions (instead)” he said. “That just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Proposal 5 would require a two-thirds majority vote of the State House and the State Senate or a statewide vote of the people at a November election, in order for the State of Michigan to impose new or additional taxes on taxpayers or expand the base of taxation or increasing the rate of taxation.
“What this does is put the power not in the majority, which is the norm for this country, but into a minority, because all we need is one third of the majority to block something,” Outman said.
The proposal would in no way be construed to limit or modify tax limitations otherwise created in the constitution.
Proposal 6 would require the approval of a majority of voters at a statewide election and in each municipality where new international bridges or tunnels that are to be located before the State of Michigan may expend state funds or resources for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges or tunnels.
According to Outman, this is the defining issue of the six ballot proposals to vote on in November.
“This is the biggie,” he said. “There isn’t one business organization that is opposed to building this new bridge,” he said. “As far as I can tell is, the only people opposed to building this bridge are the people associated with the Moroun family and the Moroun family themselves, the people associated with the Ambassador Bridge.”
Outman said the new International Trade Crossing Bridge, which is to be located just south of Detroit and would connect a new crossing into Canada, would be vital for trade in the future, adding that Canada is Michigan’s largest trading partner.
“We want to increase trade and make it easier to trade,” he said.
According to Outman, Canada is “paying the bill” and will recoup their investments through toll fees.
“I’ve read the legislation backwards and forwards, and it reiterates that in no way shape or form can Michigan tax dollars be used on this bridge — bottom line,” he said.