Referendum Litmus Test

I use the following litmus test to decide how to vote on referendums: Does this proposal, for me personally in light of my community, increase liberty and freedom (vote yes) or does it decrease it (vote no)?

I am a resident of Michigan. The following are the referendums that I will need to vote yes / no on.

I also provide a sentence of two to my Referendum Litmus Test. Comments welcome!

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?
Undecided. This is a complex proposal for the Litmus Test. On its face, this proposal would reduce liberty and freedom because the State would be able to take power away from the locally elected officials. Considering the language of republicanism (act local, increase the common good, limit big government domination) it then seems like a slam dunk: no. However, the reality is that local governments have all too often been in big financial trouble. The bailouts saved the auto industry, and so the State can save the drowning local government. And the State should do its best job–since a bad job would cause the incumbents to be thrown out in the next election. So I will probably vote yes, because reality sometimes matters more than principles. And if it goes horribly wrong–we’ll make another referendum. Maybe it is worth the risk.
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?
Yes. This proposal increases freedom in the social / economic marketplace, creates jobs (union bosses), allows people to legally bargain for better wages–since without a hired hand any employee would not likely “bite the hand that feeds them.” It should be a “free market.” Liberty is increased here because, on its face, banning unions decreases liberty. Banning unions is a closing of the ranks in the marketplace–which only benefits the 1%ers in the marketplace.
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?
Undecided. This proposal is basically forced freedom. A better way to accomplish this goal would be for the State to radically change incentives. For example, the State can lower incentives for dirty energy (you won’t see me walking up to a lake or river and drinking from it–reality) and increase incentives for clean energy. Limiting the rates to less than 1% decreases market freedom. The last “Laws” line feels like protectionism to me, which will increase the cost of goods to the consumer. Trending toward No–even though the evidence shows that we have a long way to go until Michigan is “Pure Michigan.”
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?
Yes. People have rights to hire an entrepreneur to forge a fair contract on their behalf. What would happen if we banned Agents for sports, music and movie stars? That’s really just an individual union–look at their pay! On the other side, what creates more profit for a company is good for the employees. But it’s just as true that what’s good for the employees is good for the company. Freedom in America is often about marketplace freedom (i.e. classic liberalism). This is a vote to increase that freedom.
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?
Yes. Limiting government so that a supermajority (or a referendum) is needed to tax me more is a good thing. 2/3rds allow for emergency situations to move forward.
This proposal would:
·      Require the approval of a majority of voters at a statewide election and in each municipality where “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” are to be located before the State of Michigan may expend state funds or resources for acquiring land, designing, soliciting bids for, constructing, financing, or promoting new international bridges or tunnels. 
·      Create a definition of “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” that means, “any bridge or tunnel which is not open to the public and serving traffic as of January 1, 2012.” 
Should this proposal be approved?
No. I hate sitting on the Ambassador Bridge for an hour or more. According to the plan, as I understand, I don’t even need to pitch in for the new bridge. Really, this Bridge example is an exemplar for understanding a Yes vote on 12-5.

18 thoughts on “Referendum Litmus Test

  1. I don’t believe public employees should be permitted to unionize, which would change the Michigan constitution. Federal employees are not permitted to unionize and it makes sense. Government employees provide a public service which is funded by the taxpayer. The wording in the proposal states “laws MAY be enacted to prohibit strikes.” May be enacted? Public workers should not be allowed to strike for better pay/benefits because many provide for public safety. Can you imagine if the firefighters and police in your city went on strike for more pay/benefits? Further, who would a public employee negotiate with? They should be negotiating with the people that ultimately pay them…..the taxpayers. Studies have shown that for the same type of work, government employees already earn more than those in private industry. I vote NO on 2.

    • (1) Federal employees are in unions. See Crossroads commercial: or see the post:

      (2) This is a State referendum, NOT a national referendum. We don’t have national referendums.
      (3) The proposal says that laws can be made to prohibit strikes. How do you read it differently?
      (4) Negotiating with the taxpayers, what, through referendums? That is impractical.

      Banning unions in any aspect of society is by definition decreasing liberty and freedom.

      • 1) Some federal employees are in unions but others are not. Our soldiers are not in a collective bargaining union, and neither should the police, teachers or firefighters.
        2) “Laws may be made to prohibit strikes.” This means that if the proposal is passed, there is NO provision prohibiting goverment worker strikes, or it would say so. “Laws may be made…..” means nothing.
        3) This proposal invalidates existing laws and severely curtails a govenor, who is elected, to responsibly manage the state’s finances by being held hostage by unions.
        4) I would argue that many times the unions protect terrible employees from losing their job and give no incentive to the good employee to excel. Most of all, unions protect themselves, and not the employees, the state or taxpayers. They vote overwhelmingly Democrat, which is the party pushing this proposal.
        5) What reason is there to change the state Constitution? Is this really about more liberty or about a political party grabbing more control and votes. I suggest it is the latter. Finally, this proposal is not about banning unions, like in a right to work state, this is about mandating unions through our state constitution. I vote a resounding NO on proposal 2. 🙂

  2. Proposal 5. So our children are so well educated, our streets so safe, our prisons so decent, our roads and bridges in such a good repair, our parks so well kept up that we are well advised to make it practically impossible even to finance them at present levels. It’s a much nicer world out there than I had realized.
    And why should one majority in one election feel itself entitled to frustrate the will of majorities in years to come? Upon what meat do the sixth of the legislators empowered by his measure feed that they should run everyone else’s lives?

  3. it’s true, we pay taxes in order to provide public goods–because it’s not in the interest of private individuals to solve those collective problems, or, it’s not in the interest of the people to let it be privatized.

    I guess you attribute greater liberty and freedom to education, safe streets, infrastructure, and parks…We do need to make a lot of progress there, and in many other places too. Perhaps there is room here for a “No” vote; if, you see this as restricting the ability of lawmakers to radically change the tax system. On the other hand, they can do it with a supermajority vote–and considering the government already shut down many months ago–I assume Lansing is a partisan war, and I don’t want to give whichever partisans are controlling the majority in Lansing the ability to go nuts.

    Prop. 5 certainly is a mess. It says to me: Don’t allow taxes to be raised; however, all the old constitutional rules (which I haven’t read since 1999, when I was an intern in Lansing) apply…sounds to me like–we can’t raise taxes unless it conforms to the constitution–or unless everyone gets on board. So I’m on board.

  4. Come on, John. Every knows that prop. 5 is just an informal way to create a system were it is impossible to ever raise taxes. Consider the 60 vote Senate, what gets done there? Nothing. Now picture the same thing in Michigan. Why is there reason to expect anything different? It might even be worse! Michigan is a very polarized state. The liberals are pretty damn liberal and the conservatives are pretty damn conservative. The only result of this will be legislative gridlock. You ought to go talk with Professor Chalmers more about this. Hopefully he can saw you the light! Or further engage with me on the comments section here.

    While writing this, I had an idea for research. What are the determinants for citizens viewing their state legislatures as legitimate. I wonder if things such as super-majority rules, polarization, and term limits negatively impact the degree to which citizens view their legislatures as legitimate.


  5. Could do this through survey experiments. Tell citizens that they are helping studying possible legislative reform in some state. Give them a prompt describing legislatures. The manipulations could key in on different structures, i.e., the present of super-majority rules, term limits, full time v. part time, etc. Create a factor dependent variable based on the respondent’s replies to questions such as “how efficient do you think this legislature would be?” “how willing are you to support this legislative structure?”, etc.

    Hell of a research proposal. Someone call NSF.

  6. Many Sighs, perhaps I’ll know who you are once you send me a first draft on the former comments and a second paper on the 47% conversation we argued about 🙂
    Great point on prop. 5. It does seems to radically restrict what the people need from government in the future–might restrict the tools of what future representatives would need to put wiser policy in place. But I need more information to push me to the other side.

  7. In practice–no tax increase will be voted, Michigan will go the way of California. (Just look at the number and procliviities of the Republican legislators–the Repubican party has (on standard measures of ideology) reached an unprecedented extreme.) All kinds of foolish expedients will be resorted to, but because of a foolish procedural restriction revenue will be suboptimal. Certainly in terms of satisfying voter preferences, and in substance, too, unless you believe our roads are too smooth, our schools too effective, our prisons too commodious, etc.

    In theory–why should those who favor taxes have to overcome a higher barrier than those who don’t? Whether the government sector is too large or not is about the most contraverted question in politics today and many another day. It’s obviously not fair to in effect weigh the views of opponents of taxation more heavily than those of proponents.

    Prop 5 is an easy call, even easier than Prop 6.

  8. Well, I probably will never write a paper about the 47% comments, although I am still interested in seeing the output to your analysis and would not mind looking around the data.

    The idea presented in this post might be worth while.

  9. A good email I got is worth re-posting here:

    FYI: Michigan Citizens have the chance to collect signatures during the 90 days after a law is passed by the legislature to prevent that law from taking effect. If the right number of signature are gathered (5% of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election), then the law is on hold until citizens have a chance to vote on it. If a majority of citizens vote yes, then the law will take effect. With Prop 1, if we vote no, then the existing emergency manager law remains in effect. (yes we already had an emergency financial manager law on the books) We cannot just have another referendum. When we gather signatures to amend the constitution or to pass a statute it is not a referendum, it is a ballot initiative — different signature requirements – different animal.

    Here’s a link to a credible website that would be of help: MSU Extension office

    Also, on Prop 1, abolishing all elected local officials is a very invasive way to resolve a municipality’s fiscal problems. We have had a law providing for an emergency financial manager for years. The new law is not needed and too extreme in my opinion. Therefore, I will vote no, choosing to keep the existing law and reject the new one that would replace it.

    On proposal 5, increasing the votes needed to pass any taxes would create gridlock in Lansing. 2/3rds is a higher threshold than the 60% needed in the U.S. Senate–an institution noted for its obstructionist influence. If Prop 5 passes, you can forget about road repairs, funding higher education, funding k-12 education, etc. For you personally, one of the first things likely to be cut at the University would be graduate teaching assistants. If you are a “rational self-interested actors,” it would not be in your best interests to tie Lansing in knots. It’s virtually impossible to pass needed taxes as it is. The cost (according to the American Civil Engineering Society) of driving on Michigan’s bad road per driver ranges between $300-$500 per year. The costs arise from car repairs, replacing tires, etc. as our roads tear up our vehicles. So raising taxes would save us money.

  10. With some development it might be a good idea. I do not necessarily see something like that being published, but it might make for a decent enough conference paper.

  11. I believe that private and public employees should have the right to organize and unionize. Like stated above it increases freedom and liberty. I wasn’t really informed about the proposals until now and that one is the best to me.

  12. I agree with proposal 12-5 this would help to prevent one side from taking over, yes that is why we have a system of checks and balances but everyone knows there are loopholes for pretty much everything.

  13. I only see a lot on 6 (let the people vote for a bridge–impractical litmus test needed), 3 (renewable energy; builds jobs and we all want to go green but lots of negative externalities–negative externalities litmus test needed) and 2 (collective bargaining–here we need a Lochner Litmus Test 🙂

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