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Commentary: Ballot madness

Five million Michigan voters will go to the polls two months from today. When they are handed their ballots and walk into the voting booth, they will face six ticking time bombs.

I’m talking about the ballot proposals. Yesterday, the State Supreme Court ended a legal battle by ordering three more proposed constitutional amendments on to the ballot. They’ve already put two others there, plus a referendum on the emergency manager law.

That means voters are going to be asked to decide six complex proposals on Election Day. One thing is for sure. If every voter pauses in the booth to read and think about these proposals, we’ll never get everyone to vote before the polls close.

Here’s what you are going to be asked. First, to decide the fate of the tough emergency manager law enacted last year. Opponents say it goes too far; supporters say it is a desperately needed tool to fix governments in financial distress.

The rest are all constitutional amendments. Probably the most obscure would give home health care workers the right to organize and create a state registry listing them.

But the rest would have a powerful impact. One would require state utilities to get twenty five percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025. That’s five times as much as now.

Environmentalists love this; the utilities say it could lead to shortages, huge costs and possibly power outages. The final three amendments are the most powerful. One would protect the collective bargaining rights of all workers in both the public and private sectors and enshrine them in the constitution.

The unions love this; the chamber of commerce says it would wreck our economy. The final two amendments both qualified for the ballot after signature-collecting campaigns bankrolled by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. One would require a statewide vote of the people before any new bridge or tunnel could be constructed. The other proposal is potentially the most troubling of all. It would require a statewide vote of the people or a two-thirds majority in both houses of the legislature before any tax increase could be enacted.

That could lead to virtual government paralysis, and severely limit the state’s ability to meet crises. It would mean a mere thirteen senators could block any new revenue, no matter how dire the need.

The four Republican Supreme Court justices did kill another proposed amendment that sought to add eight more casinos to our gambling-happy state. But they ordered the rest of these on the ballot, because those behind them complied with state requirements.

Government by referendum is a highly risky procedure, something like trying to do microsurgery with a butcher knife.

You are going to see vast sums spent to both support and defeat all these in the next few weeks. Two of them, the tax and the bridge amendments, clearly threaten our future prosperity. But voters have been told for years that all taxes are bad, and millions have been spent by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge in an effort to preserve their monopoly.

It is possible that voters will be so overwhelmed that they will, in Nancy Reagan’s famous words, just say no. But we don’t yet know.

What we do know is that no matter how passionate you are about the presidential race, this is potentially even more important.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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