Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ballot Proposal Mayhem Part V: No Taxation Without 2/3 or Simple Majority Representation?

We meet again!  And for the second time in just a few hours no less.  That's got to be some kind of record for me :-)  So if you're looking for any of the other Ballot Proposal Posts you can find 12-1 here, 12-2 here, 12-3 here, and 12-4 here

And on this delightfully sunny afternoon as my son watches Baby Einstein and I miss choir practice and some amazing preaching and music by The Galkin Evangelistic Team due to sickness I will inform you about Proposal 12-5.  No offense but I'd rather be at church :-)

This proposal would:
  • Require a 2/3 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. 
  • This section shall in no way be construed to limit or modify tax limitations otherwise created in this Constitution.
Should this proposal be approved?

This proposal is pretty basic and the gist of it is that to create a new tax or to raise a current tax you would need a 2/3 majority of the House of Representatives and a 2/3 majority of the Senate to pass it.  This is what's known as a super majority. 

So on the outside this proposal looks like a pretty little Christmas present all wrapped nicely with a fancy shmancy bow but life and politics aren't always that simple right?!  Unfortunately that's the case with this proposal.   When you look at the terms of this proposal the thought of needing 2/3 of the House and 2/3 of the Senate to pass new taxes or increase current taxes sounds like a great idea.  I don't like having my taxes raised at all to the point where I'm excited that we finally have our own little "tax deduction" this year ;-) Granted I love my little man to pieces for reasons other than that, but it certainly helps! Plus if I could have a say in new taxes through a vote of the people that would be fantastic!

Supporters of this proposal state that often legislators go to the simple solution of raising taxes when there are problems closing a gap in the state budget.  They say that this amendment to the Constitution would help them think more about government reform, fiscal responsibility, and prioritizing spending before raising taxes.

You know what? I like the sound of that, don't you?!

They also say that it will encourage legislators to work across party lines because a narrow party majority won't be able to pass a tax alone.

Bipartisanship is a nice idea too!

They also say that often times legislators ignore the feelings of the people when choosing to raise taxes and this would cause them to be more in tune with what the people want.  Plus there are other places in the Constitution that require a 2/3 supermajority so this isn't unique at all.

Yes!  However I do have a couple concerns with this last statement.  Just because you don't like something doesn't mean it's not in your best interests.  Plus, how often do we, as humans, have a complete understanding of a topic before we are for or against it (hence the reason for these posts!)? And how does "just because someone else is doing it" (i.e. requirement of supermajority in other places in the Constitution) mean it needs to be done again?  That sounds a little bit like the reasoning of a 5 year old doesn't it?

So all of this sounds nice, and well and good, etc but there are several troubling pieces of information that I find hard to ignore.

First of all because this proposal is rather vague it will most likely cause problems by tying the hands of  legislators in unintended ways.   A great example is the Michigan Business Tax.  In 2007 the Michigan Business Tax Act (Public Act 37) was created.  This was behemoth of a tax law that actually hurt Michigan businesses and drove many businesses out of state where business tax laws were more favorable.  After the current governor took office he worked with the legislature to repeal PA 37 and enact Public Act 39 in 2011 (PA 39).  This law has a simplified tax code that is much more fair to businesses and has encouraged some businesses to move back to the state.   Because of the nature of PA 37 of 2007 it had to be completely repealed and a new tax, PA 39 of 2011 was created.  If the proposal to amend the Constitution is approved this new and better business tax most likely never would have been approved and we would be stuck with the business hurting tax.  Because some taxes need to be completely repealed and replaced with new taxes to make them lower some existing taxes that are not very popular will be left on the books by default.

Another interesting thing to note is that for it's lofty goal this proposal does nothing to address the fact that the legislature can still "raise" taxes with a simple majority by ending or decreasing tax credits.  More food for thought:  Opponents of this proposal fear that if taxes can't be raised when it's absolutely necessary fees for things like licenses, assessments, and user fees would be increased which only requires a simple majority vote.

The last concern, and my biggest concern, is that while this is known as a super majority rule, it is actually minority rule.  You're probably wondering what I mean so let me break it down for you.  There are 110 State Representatives and 38 State Senators.  In a normal simple majority situation you would need 50% plus 1 person to pass a bill.  So in the House you would need the support of 56 Representatives and in the Senate you would need the support of  20 Senators.  In a super majority situation you would need the support of 73 Representatives and 25 Senators.  That means that with as few as 37 Representatives and 13 Senators bill after bill after bill could be opposed.  That is a hefty amount of power to be given to such a small group of people.  Furthermore this small group of legislators may not represent the feelings of the majority of their constituents.  In the worst case scenario it's significantly easier to buy the votes of 37 Representatives and 13 Senators than the number needed for a simple majority.

While I think a super majority vote on taxes is a good idea in theory and it sounds really great this proposal could do a lot more damage than people realize.  And, if you're interested, both the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Business Leaders of Michigan oppose this proposal. 

My Opinion on Proposal 12-5: Vote NO

Ballot Proposal Mayhem Part IV: Home Is Where The Unionized In-Home Care Worker Is

So I didn't post yesterday.  It's hard when you have a sick little guy who wants to snuggle and you have a house to clean and then the Tigers were on at the same time as the Wolverines.  So yeah, it didn't get done, but today I'll do two to make up for it! Here are the links to my posts on Proposal 12-1, 12-2, and 12-3

Today we're moving on to Proposal 12-4:

This proposal would:
  • Allow in-home care workers to bargain collectively with the Michigan Quality Home Care Council (MQHCC).  Continue the current exclusive representative of in-home care workers until modified in accordance with labor laws. 
  • Require MQHCC to provide training for in-home care workers, create a registry of workers who pass background checks, and provide financial services to patients to manage the cost of in-home care. 
  • Preserve patients' rights to hire in-home care workers who are not referred from the MQHCC registry who are bargaining unit members. 
  • Authorize the MQHCC to set minimum compensation standards and terms and conditions of employment.
Should this proposal be approved?

First I just want to say that this post is a little bit longer (and a little bit more boring) because I think there is some pertinent background information that people need to know before making a decision about this proposal.

For the purpose of this post the term helper and in-home care worker mean the same thing and reflect both workers who are family/friends of the person needing assistance or workers chosen from the registry available to those needing assistance.

So to get started let me give you the basics and some background information.  There is a  program called the Adult Home Help program that is available for people who qualify for Medicaid and are either elderly or disabled.  This is a good program in that it allows these people who need assistance to stay in their homes rather than go to a nursing home.  This is also nice for taxpayers because it costs less for The Department of Community Health (who funds the program) to pay for the home helper than nursing home care.  Another good thing about this program is that it lets the person needing the assistance decide who their helper will be.  The helper can be a friend or relative.  At this time there is also the Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQC3), which was created through the legislative process, which is a sort of governing board that has a state-wide registry of available home care workers (the helper) that the person in need of assistance can choose from.

If this proposal is approved a new council, called the Michigan Quality Home Care Council (to be called New Council from here on out), would be created.  The New Council would replace MQC3 and would be designated as the public employer of all in-home care workers (the helpers).  The proposal would also require the New Council to create a state-wide registry (which already exists) and would give all in-home care workers (the helpers) collective bargaining rights (hence the Proposal title :-))

The Public Employment Relations Act of 1947 (PERA) gives public employees the right to form unions and details issues concerning collective bargaining.  Under this act  the MQC3 held an "election" in 2005 where they polled the in-home care workers (helpers) to see if they wanted to unionize.  43,000 ballots were sent out with 8,545 being returned.  The result was 81% "yes" (6,949), 12% "no" (1,007), and 7% "spoiled ballots" (589).  This granted the MQC3 and the Department of Community Health (who funds the program) the right to take union dues from the paychecks of in-home care workers despite the fact that they may have voted "no" or not voted at all.  The union created from this is called Local 79.

There is concern however that these results do not represent the feelings of the majority as a) of the 43,000 ballots sent out only 20% were returned which is a very low return rate on which to base a significant change and b) many in-home care workers (helpers) said they never received their ballot/poll and would have voted no.   Because of this, earlier this year Public Act 76 was enacted.  This Act (PA 76) amends the Public Employment Relations Act of 1947 that I mentioned in the previous paragraph by saying (now I'm paraphrasing here...)  just because the pay you receive through a private organization/employer contains a subsidy from the government doesn't mean you are a government/public employee.  This meant that the Department of Community Health (DCH), who pays the helpers, cannot take union dues from their wages.

After PA 76 was signed into law the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who represents the collective bargaining interests of the in-home care workers, filed and was granted a preliminary injunction.  This means that though the legislature enacted PA 76 the SEIU and Department of Community Health can continue to collect dues and give them to the SEUI until the courts decide the matter in full. Attorney General Schuette has appealed the injunction but nothing has been decided yet.

So now that we're done with the history section lets move on.  A recent survey showed that approximately 44% of in-home care workers are related to the people they care for.  Another 20% were either neighbors or friends of the person they were caring for.  In 2010-2011 roughly 57,000 people received in-home care worker services at a cost of $291.7 million.  The formation of the union and collective bargaining unit created wage increases between 5% and 36% depending on what county the services were provided in.  However this was somewhat offset by the 2.75% union dues taken out before taxes.  The SEIU is expected to collect $8 million in union dues this year.

People who support this proposal say that it is necessary to pass it because it would create a registry of in-home care workers for people needing care to choose from.  As was previously mentioned in this post there is already a registry maintained by MQC3.  It could probably use a few improvements but it is already in place. They also argue that by unionizing wages will be increased and will encourage greater involvement by family members as in-care workers and workers that have more skills.

People who do not support this proposal say that union dues would be burdensome to friends and family members who a) aren't getting paid that much anyway and b) are just trying to help out their family.   Furthermore the if the wages are increased significantly by the union the burden on the state to pay for this program becomes larger.  Lastly a survey of family and friends who are in-home care workers supports the fact that many of them do not support forced unionization.

And finally, there is the Constitution issue (again).  Putting a protection like this into the Constitution would make it extremely difficult to change were conditions in the state to switch directions  It also does not fit into the 3 categories that make up the purpose of the Constitution as mentioned in my post about Proposal 12-2.  It could also set a precedent for workers who contract services with the State of Michigan.

A note to think about: a YES or NO outcome of this vote on November 6 will not affect the operation of the Adult Home Help program.  The program will still exist and function regardless of the vote.

In my opinion people should not be forced to unionize which is what would happen if this proposal passes and it should not be part of the Constitution.  The SEIU should lobby the legislature as this is a special interest.

So once again we have a proposal that's a little tricky to understand because at a glance it looks like a great idea.  

My Opinion on Proposal 12-4: Vote NO

And because you persevered to the end I'll reward you with another picture of my little guy!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ballot Proposal Mayhem Part III: It's Electrifying!

So we're almost halfway there, woo hoo!  I don't want to waste any of your time so other than telling you that you can find the post about Proposal 12-1 here and the post about Proposal 12-2 here we'll get going!

This proposal would:
  • Require electric utilities to provide at least 25% of their annual retail sales of electricity from renewable energy sources, which are wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower, by 2025.   
  • Limit to not more than 1% per year electric utility rate increases charged to consumers only to achieve compliance with the renewable energy standard. 
  • Allow annual extensions of the deadline to meet the 25% standard in order to prevent rate increases over the 1% limit.   
  • Require the legislature to enact additional laws to encourage the use of Michigan made equipment and employment of Michigan residents.
Should this proposal be approved?

First of all I want to say that I'm not against green energy at all.  I think it's great if we can move in the direction of using more renewable energy resources in an affordable manner.  We have a finite amount of fossil fuel and someday we may run out so it is our duty as responsible citizens to look for a way to do this better.  
That being said, this proposal is a little tough because there isn't much information out there about the mandate other than "25% by 2025"That is part of the main problem with this proposal.  According to research that I and others have done, the people who are pursuing this mandate give no plan as to how they are going to get to 25% once it's in the Constitution.  It's basically just a mandate with no plan at all.  When someone decides that they are going to build a house and they hire a contractor to do it for them, they expect the contractor to have a blueprint, a plan.  If there is no blueprint then the house either a) gets built incorrectly or more likely b) doesn't get built at all.  How do we expect to get to a place where 25% of the electricity we use is renewable if there is no logical plan.   
Another thing to think about is that in 2008 the state of Michigan passed the Clean, Renewable, and Efficient Energy Act, Act 295.  This is a well thought out and specific law that requires 10% of Michigan's electricity to be from renewable sources.  Various news sources have stated that the "plan" for the Constitutional mandate would be to amend Act 295 and update it to 25% by 2025, but that has not officially been stated anywhere that I could findl.  My husband had a good thought, he said,"let's see how this mandate works first, then decide if we need to go further". I think that's a great idea!
There is also a concern by people who are against this proposal about its source of the funding.  According to financial reports submitted to the Secretary of State's Bureau of Elections, significant amounts of money supporting this proposal have come from outside the state of Michigan (Finance Report).  The main claim is that California companies are behind the monetary contributions, but if you notice, you will see that there are companies from New York, Minnesota, California, Washington DC, and Illinois that have all contributed at least $250,000 and up to $1.8 million to this cause.  It causes one to wonder why companies outside of Michigan would have such a vested interest in this mandate.  There has been much speculation on this fact, the majority of which centers on how these companies stand to benefit handsomely from this mandate.  But because there is no clear plan on how to implement this mandate I'm not sure how that would work, it does make you wonder.
The last two issues are the possible increase of electricity rates and the Constitution.   While there is the bullet point in the proposal that states they will not increase the rates more than 1% per year it appears that is a short term solution and that in the long run rates will have to increase.  This is because currently the technology is not in place to make this happen and there will need to be an increase in rates to finance the creation of the technology.  
And finally (!) there is the concern with the Constitution.  Locking this mandate into the Constitution (especially when we have a perfectly good and potentially better mandate on the books as a law) is not the smartest thing we could do as we all know that technology is constantly changing.  Who knows how conditions might change and what technology may be available to us by the year 2025.  And my very last thought, this mandate in no way meets the purpose of the Constitution that I discussed in my post about Proposal 12-2.  That is all, thank you and good night!
My opinion on 12-3: Vote NO

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ballot Proposal Mayhem Part II: Everyone Likes A Good Bargain Right? Right?

You came back!  That means that either you're new or your head didn't explode yesterday for which I am very happy because I didn't want to be responsible for that...  If you missed yesterday's post I talked about Ballot Proposal 12-1 which deals with the Emergency Financial Manager law, you can find that post here.   Today we're going to talk about Proposal 12-2 so without further ado...

This proposal would:
  • Grant public and private employees the constitutional right to organize and bargain collectively through labor unions. 
  •  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, including employees' financial support of their labor unions.  Laws may be enacted to prohibit public employees from striking. 
  • Override state laws that regulate hours and conditions of employment to the extent that those laws conflict with collective bargaining agreements.   
  • Define "employer" as a person or entity employing one or more employees.
Should this proposal be approved?

My first and foremost problem with this proposal is that it would amend the State Constitution.  The purpose of the Constitution is to explain what the state government can and cannot do, what rights and freedoms individuals have, and it delineates the separation of power within the three branches of government.  I am against amending the constitution for a special interest that isn't directly related to protecting a right of individuals in general.  An idea like this would more appropriately be pushed through the legislature as a bill.  I understand that a bill like that would not likely pass the House or Senate with the current majority but that's why we have elections folks! Moving on...

This amendment protects the rights of a specific group of people rather than individuals as a whole which in and of itself tends towards the discriminatory.  Furthermore if a special interest can get their interest protected in the Constitution that could set a dangerous precedent where anytime someone wants something protected they bypass the legislature and have it put directly into the constitution where it can't be easily changed. That leads me to the next problem.  Amending theconstitution cannot be easily undone.  Say that in 10 or 20 years the climate of the state changes such that collective bargaining is no longer a feasible solution to employment problems, it would take a vote of the people to create an amendment that overrides this amendment. 

Throughout the Bible and history we learn of the Kingdom of the Medes and Persians and The Law of Medes and Persians.  This law was an unalterable law set up by King Darius who wanted the legacy of the Medes and Persians to last forever.  If the King declared a law to be a Law of the Medes and Persians it could not be revoked except by a new law issued by the King to override the previous law.  However a 2nd law was rarely created because it would have been an unspoken statement that the King had erred.  Creating a lasting legacy is a noble pursuit but often the unalterable laws were created in haste or drunken stupor and were not carefully thought out, the result being terrible mistakes that were never righted.  Unfortunately for the Medes and Persians their legacy did not live forever.

If we choose to put this amendment into the constitution we are essentially insuring that it will not be changed, even if it is later realized that this amendment was added in error. 

The people who initiated this proposal began their work in response to talk of a Right to Work bill in the Michigan Legislature.  Right to Work is an initiative that would allow workers who work in a unionized organization to opt out of the union.  They would not pay dues and would not have the protection of collective bargaining and the union as a whole.  No such bill has passed the legislature and made it to the desk of the governor (who has said he would not sign it anyway).  However the talk is there as recent studies by the Economic Policy Institute have shown that states with Right to Work laws have a lower cost of living as well as a lower unemployment rate (EPI Briefing Paper 299). This study also shows that states with Right to Work have wages that are 3.2% lower than non Right to Work states.  However it's sort of a wash because the unemployment rate and cost of living are lower.   

If voted into the constitution this amendment would negate all past and future laws, the number of which cannot completely known at this time.  So any laws regulating wages, hours and work conditions could go out the window if the union's collective bargaining unit decided they conflicted with what they want.  That's why the number of laws it would affect is unknown, because it would be determined by the collective bargaining units as they go.  Furthermore collective bargaining and union membership could be extended to all employees whether or not their employer wants their workers to unionize.  This dramatically affects the rights of employers and could do significant damage to the employer/employee relationship.   Basically collective bargaining units would have free reign to enact whatever laws they want.  This gives incredible and unprecedented power to an entity that is not listed as a branch of government in the constitution and has no legal checks or balances.

Lastly, collective bargaining is already protected under a number of laws.  A search of "collective bargaining" on the Michigan Legislative Website reveals a plethora of them so it's not like collective bargaining has no protection.

My opinion on 12-2: NO

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ballot Proposal Mayhem Part I: Emergency (said in the voice of Alan Arkin from "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming)

Please allow me a few posts to wax political.  I don't think I've ever done that on my blog, in fact I don't write as much as I'd like on here in general but as we are nearing the end of this election year (thank goodness!) there are some real issues at hand besides electing officials that could have a great impact on our state that I want you to think about. (My English teachers would cringe at that run-on sentence…sorry!) I want you to know that I have taken time to really think and research what I'm about to write so even if you disagree, and you're welcome to, please do so respectfully! 

Each day for the next 6 days I’m going to discuss one of the state-wide proposals on the ballot.  Initially I was just going to do one blog post but as I got into it I realized that it’s really hard to explain them all in depth in one blog post without causing people’s heads to explode. Obviously I don’t want anyone’s head to explode so we’ll do one at a time. 


And it won’t be that boring. 

I promise(ish)!

You may wonder what qualifies me to talk about and have an opinion on the ballot proposals.  Well, I'm an American citizen and quite frankly that is the only qualification I really need.  It is the duty of all American citizens to vote responsibly.  You should all be out there doing research on the candidates and what the proposals mean because voting is an honor that not everyone has. 

*Steps down from soapbox*

Beyond that basic qualification I'm also very interested in politics in general.  I met my husband Will in 2005 after I had finished my freshman year of college.  At that point in my life I voted (once) but that was about my extent of political involvement.  Will was a Political Science major in college and was very interested in politics and followed elections closely.  After we were married in 2008 he started a job working for a State Representative. Since then we have become very involved in politics and I can say that I truly enjoy it.  I like learning about our government and laws and how people influence government.  Now that I have a son I especially appreciate the ability to participate in politics in an attempt to make my small corner of the world a better place for my child.  This is why my blog about mishaps in the kitchen and day to day life with my little guy has been hijacked.

There are 6 state-wide proposals on the ballot for the state of Michigan.  On the ballot they will be listed as Proposal 12-1, Proposal 12-2, Proposal 12-3, Proposal 12-3, Proposal 12-4, Proposal 12-5, and Proposal 12-6.  In the posts to come I will write the actual title and language of the proposal taken directly from a sample ballot.  After that I'll briefly (hopefully) discuss some pros and cons and my thoughts on it.  My hope is that by reading this you will become a more informed voter regardless of your political stance!

And now to make this post a little more interesting....

Just so you can get a feel for how you should say the word "emergency" when reading this post here's a clip of one of my favorite lines from "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming":

Ok, now that we've gotten that out of the way let's get down to business! And don't forget to say "emergency" in the voice of Alan Arkin every time you see it!

Proposal 12-1 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?

This is a tricky one for a couple of different reasons.  First of all Public Act 4 is already a law passed that was passed in March 2011 (Public Act 4 of 2011).  The fact that it is called a Public Act means that it was a bill that has been approved by the House of Representatives, the Senate, and signed into law by the Governor. 

It’s also a little tricky because a yes means no and a no means yes.  Are you confused yet?  So basically if you would like to keep this law, which has already been passed by the Legislative and Executive branches of government, then you should vote YES.  If you would like this law to be repealed then you should vote NO.

Public Act 4 was signed into law by our governor to strengthen the previously existing Emergency Financial Manager law which had the legal teeth of an 85 year old man nearing the need for dentures.  The Governor signed the bill into law because unfortunately so many cities in our great state were struggling financially and doing so at the expense of taxpayers.

Based on the research I’ve done repealing this law (voting NO) would be detrimental to taxpayers upon whose back this state operates.  It would cause us and the state government to potentially be culpable for bad debt that the cities in crisis have taken on.  This law has already been beneficial to several cities and it is especially helpful in that an emergency financial manager can be appointed or requested before city is in crisis mode (think rioting if police and fire services are cut due to lack of finances). 

If you notice that your friend is walking towards the edge of a cliff and is not completely aware of the danger awaiting them you would warn them ahead of time rather than yell, “Stop!” as they plunge over the edge right?  I sure hope so, otherwise I’m going to have to rethink my friendship with you…

The main argument by people who feel that the emergency financial manager law should be repealed is that too much power is given to the emergency financial managers who are not elected by the people.  This is completely understandable and should give most people pause, including myself.  They also argue that the new law allows the emergency financial manager to bypass existing collective bargaining agreements to get the job done.  I understand that collective bargaining is a hot issue, really I do.  However, when elected officials misuse or mismanage finances (many of which are made possible through taxes) to the point where their city is in crisis they have forfeited some of the trust placed in them by those who elected them as well as the trust of higher government officials.  At that point it may be necessary for someone well versed in financial management to take a look at things and help make some positive, money saving changes.  These are basic Dave Ramsey financial principles people!

One last thought: If a city doesn’t get its act together financially they may have to file for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy.  If a city files for Chapter 9 Bankruptcy you can be sure that the judge will not be interested in maintaining the status quo as it was the status quo that got the city in trouble in the first place which could mean similar changes to those that would have been made by an emergency financial manager.

All that being said….

My opinion on 12-1: Vote YES

There, that wasn’t too painful was it?  Especially if you did what I asked and pronounced “emergency” like Alan Arkin!  Tune in tomorrow for thoughts on Proposal 12-2: A Proposal To Amend The State Constitution Regarding Collective Bargaining!  And for those of you who powered through to the end I'll reward you with a picture of my adorable little guy: