Emergency manager referendum headed for November ballot, for now

Jun 14, 2012

The referendum on the state's emergency manager law is headed to the ballot...for now.

The state Court of Appeals has refused to convene a special panel that could have reversed a precedent that says the referendum campaign met the minimum requirements to qualify for the ballot. That could have prevented the proposal from appearing on the November ballot. 

As Rick Pluta reported last Friday:

The court found the referendum campaign was in substantial compliance with state election law. That’s despite a question over whether a portion of its petition was printed in the wrong font size. But the court said it does not agree with the earlier decision that governs the case. So the court delayed enforcement of its decision, and called for a rarely used procedure that’s usually used to reconcile conflicting case law.

A majority of the 28 judges on the state Court of Appeals would have to vote to convene a “super-panel” of seven judges to decide whether the precedent was wrongly decided. That could clear the way for the Court of Appeals to keep the referendum off the ballot.

LaToya Henry is with the coalition that wants to repeal the emergency manager law. She’s thrilled with the court’s decision. She wishes the conservative group that’s challenging the ballot initiative, and the font size on the petition, would just let voters decide if they like the emergency manager law or not.

“If they do their education and express their belief on behalf of PA 4 - I don’t think they should be afraid of it getting on the ballot. We’re not afraid of it getting on the ballot," Henry said.

The conservative group is challenging the ballot initiative on a technicality that the font size on the petition is too small. They say they will appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

“This is a controversy of their own choosing. They chose not to go to the State Board of Canvassers in the beginning," Bob LaBrant said. He's with The Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, the coalition of business groups opposed to the referendum.

“The Michigan Supreme Court doesn’t have to be bound by some previous Court of Appeal precedent. They can basically come up with a new legal standard," LaBrant said. "There are severe consequences if you don't follow the letter of the law."

The state board could have signed off on the ballot initiative before signatures were collected. They didn't have to. But 14 out of 15 ballot initiatives did receive that stamp of approval this year. The one challenging the emergency manager law is the only one that didn’t seek pre-approval.

Henry says they decided against pre-approval because they figured the hyper-partisian board would slow down the process. "We didn't make an error," Henry said. 

LaBrant told me this back in April:

“The bottom line is that we want to defeat this particular proposal. If we can defeat it by it not being placed on the November ballot, we consider that a great victory,” LaBrant said. He says the committee would be prepared to fight the proposal if it made it to the November ballot. "Whether that’s radio, television campaign that’s what this ballot committee is prepared to do," LaBrant said. 

And it would be a cheaper fight if the issue never went to the ballot in November, LaBrant said today. But he says he wouldn't be nervous if the initiative did end up before voters.

"I don't think people want to have municipalities and school districts going bankrupt and then basically having the cost of bailing those districts out hoisted upon the taxpayers of the state of Michigan," LaBrant said.