Ballotopia. Ballotmania. Ballotpalooza: These are all nicknames given to the situation that we’re seeing right now as various groups and organizations try to get Michigan voters, come November, to amend the state's constitution. On Election Day, we could see up to six ballot proposals and a referendum on the state’s controversial Emergency Manager law. If all of these ballot proposals are, indeed, approved this would be the most statewide ballot questions on a single election day since 1982.
Grassroots campaigns? Not so much
It's nice to think that, in our democracy, these ballot campaigns are being led by grassroots groups - regular folks - trying to change their state's law. But, that's not the case in this election cycle. Each of these ballot initiatives have backers - some business groups, some union groups - with deep pockets. It costs a lot of money to organize these campaignsand to get people into the field to gather signatures. In fact, that’s why we saw some ballot campaigns fizzle this summer like the group trying to get a question about marijuana legalization on the ballot.
Just Say "No"
The deadline for these ballot campaigns to submit to the state enough valid signatures - more than 320,000 - was Monday. And, in the midst of the petition filings, we saw some push back against "ballotmania. A "just-say-no" to every ballot question campaign has popped up. It's a coalition of businesses that thinks the easiest way to kill everything they don’t like, especially the ballot questions dealing with unionization – these have to deal with constitutionally protecting collective bargaining rights - and a mandate that the state increase the amount of energy it gets from alternative sources to 25 percent by 2025, is blanket opposition.
Be Careful What You Wish for...
At first glance, it seems like business groups would be in favor of some of these ballot questions, like the amendment that would require super-majorities in both the state House and Senate to raise taxes. Seems simple, right? Businesses tend to not like taxes, but there is some concern in the business community that a super-majority requirement for new taxes could actually make it harder to cut taxes. That's because, typically, when the Legislature cuts or eliminates a tax, it has to come up with some replacement for that lost revenue. Even something that’s considered a net tax cut – like last year's elimination of the Michigan Business Tax or this year's tax on industrial equipment – required the state Legislature and Governor Snyder to replace some of that revenue. If lawmakers had had to meet a higher bar for other revenue – like last year’s controversial tax on pension income – they couldn’t have touched the business or industrial equipment tax.
Also in that category is the labor-supported Protect Our Jobs campaign. If approved, that new amendment to the state Constitution would reverse many Republican-backed limits on union organizing and fundraising. It would also preempt a right-to-work law in Michigan. But, if the Protect Our Jobs amendment is rejected by voters in November that could give Republicans the political cover they’re looking for to introduce and probably be able to pass a right-to-work law.
What's In a Name?
We couldn't help but notice, in this election cycle’s ballot-frenzy, the names of all of these campaigns. It’s as if there’s a formula for coming up with their monikers. Just pick a couple of the following words – jobs, Michigan, coalition, protect, democracy – throw ‘em together, and you’ve got a ballot campaign. For example, the group pushing to allow more casinos in the state, they’re called the Committee for More Michigan Jobs. Pretty hard to be against that, no? Who is really going to be against the idea of more Michigan jobs?
Or, how about the group that is pushing for a super-majority in order to raise taxes? Well, they call themselves the Michigan Alliance for Prosperity. They’re, of course, opposed by the Michigan Alliance Against Prosperity (we joke, we joke).
We should mention however, there was one ballot proposal that did have a pretty specific, up-front name for what it was trying to do: the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan. We're not quite sure what this says about the state of the Michigan voter but, that ballot proposal failed to gather enough signatures.