Back in 2008, I went through and analyzed each of the proposals, so I figured I would do that again. And there’s no better place to start than Proposal 1.
To start off, here is the actual ballot language:
A REFERENDUM ON PUBLIC ACT 4 OF 2011 –
THE EMERGENCY MANAGER LAW
Public Act 4 of 2011 would:
- Establish criteria to assess the financial condition of local government units, including school districts.
- Authorize Governor to appoint an emergency manager (EM) upon state finding of a financial emergency, and allow the EM to act in place of local government officials.
- Require EM to develop financial and operating plans, which may include modification or termination of contracts, reorganization of government, and determination of expenditures, services, and use of assets until the emergency is resolved.
- Alternatively, authorize state-appointed review team to enter into a local government approved consent decree.
- Should this law be approved?
Now, in 2008, I analyzed the whole text of the amendment, but since this is a referendum on an already-passed bill, I’m going to skip that, and go straight to my analysis. A copy of the full text can be found here.
Emergency managers are not new to the state. This is actually a bill that amends Public Act 72 of 1990.
There were two major criticisms of the original law:
- Emergency financial managers were put in when it was too late.
- Once they were put in, they could do too little.
So, the Legislature tried to remedy this. They added more triggers for when an emergency could be declared, and they gave the managers more powers.
Two of the powers the managers were given were especially controversial: the ability to remove elected officials from the municipality, and the ability to change or void collective bargaining agreements that the municipality had entered into.
Unions especially hated the latter provision, and they characterized it as a means of union busting. But ultimately, it was a necessary provision, because time and time again, in struggling school districts and municipalities, unions have refused to give concessions, even when keeping their current contracts means the municipality will go bankrupt (and then, ironically, they would not get paid at all). It was the stubbornness of the unions that made the provision necessary.
The second criticism was that it removed citizens democratic rights to elect their municipality leaders. Ultimately, this is not a Constitutional right guaranteed to the people of Michigan. The ability to hold municipal elections is not a Constitutional provision, and the state can take this privilege away if it so chooses.
My criticism was unlike these two and had to do with the expansion of when an “emergency” took place. It included a clause that essentially said that an emergency could be defined as when the state executive branch says it’s occurring, and I viewed this as an overstep by the executive branch (although it did have weak limited checks and balances).
So that was my reason for initially thinking I would vote, “No”. But as I thought about it more, I realized that my opposition was the minority opposition, and if it failed, it would fail because of provisions that I thought were good. And if the law failed, it probably wouldn’t be introduced again. Ultimately, there is more good in the law than bad, and I believe that the Legislature can (and should) fix the law if it passes the referendum. The problems in the law should be fixed in the Legislature, not at the ballot box, and that is why I am supporting Proposal 1.