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Proposal 2, a drastic remedy to two years of unnecessary legislative overreach

by: Eric B.

Mon Nov 05, 2012 at 11:40:21 AM EST

First off, I've just finished rereading Proposal 2 (it's at the end here). I mean, the language of the proposal instead of just the language that will appear on the ballot. It does a pretty good job summing up the thing, despite the arguments from the state's worst attorney general ever that it couldn't be done. Really, it comes down to a fairly simple question, summed up by the same Citizens Research Council white paper that everyone's tossed around.

With respect to public sector workers, the fundamental question of this proposal is whether the state legislature should have some say over the ability of public sector workers to organize and the scope of issues that can be bargained, or whether the right of public sector workers to organize and bargain on all issues is fundamental and should be enshrined in the constitution.

The media coverage on this hasn't exactly mirrored this, mind you. There's been lots of talk about undone economic gains, gridlock, and court battles. The same attorney general -- perpetual candidate for office Bill Schuette -- said it would lead to the overturning of up to 170 laws (which also means it could lead to the overturning of three laws, but whatever).

These things are always followed by court battles. The constitutional amendment that banned same sex marriage was followed by a couple of years of legal wrangling over how far that went, and we're right now waiting on the Supreme Court to rule on medical marijuana dispensaries.That's the entire point of our court system, by the way, to settle questions of law.

What we do know is that the sort of upheaval in the business community that we're warned will happen is pretty unlikely, because Proposal 2's impact on private sector unions would be limited to the Legislature from having its hands tied from enacting Right to Work.

According to the CRC analysis, Proposal 2 could possibly have two outcomes: One that public sector workers would like, and one that they wouldn't. The first is that it's apt to strengthen constitutional powers of local government for home rule by prohibiting the state from setting limits on what workers and local governments can negotiate. In fact, the CRC analysis said that doing this was probably pretty close to the original intent of the drafters of the 1963 constitution. The second is that a local government faced with unwieldy labor costs, might be tempted to either curb services or seek lower costs through privatization.

I think both of those would be acceptable outcomes, because they'd be based on decisions made locally instead of in Lansing. As to the former, it strikes me as odd that the same ideology that rails against Socialism is afraid of local labor markets being the chief influencing factor on what happens between labor and management and instead has opted to back what amounts to centralized planning. As to the latter, if a local union is dumb enough to price itself out of existence, then it's rank-and-file have no one but themselves to blame for it.

The fundamental question, however, is whether we want the Legislature involving itself in the outcomes of local bargaining. I can't see how anyone would think this appropriate. We've seen it, however, a number of times over the last couple of years. The state Legislature, driven by partisanship rather than good sense, has increasingly stuck its collective fingers in what local governments -- municipal governments and school districts -- can negotiate with local bargaining units. They've claimed that having so many issues to bargain over is bad. In fact, it's good because most of them are issues that are settled and help create an atmosphere of good faith on both sides. Contentious issues are left until the end. The overreach here is not in the ballot initiative process, but in the legislative. As is the case in Proposals 3 and 4, the Legislature can't be trusted to take care of the people's business, so their ability to manage it has to be increasingly limited. Until such time as people start to realize this, we're going to have need for drastic remedy at the ballot box.

What about that new flood of teachers that will suddenly find themselves protected to earn additional pay by selling drugs to children? Well, again, it's doubtful that any school board would actually approve language that permits teachers who are caught selling drugs to students to remain on the job. The Mackinac Center thought it found one. The Mackinac Center was wrong, mostly because the Mackinac Center doesn't appear to understand the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor. The bottom line is that it comes down to a question of who you trust when it comes to bargaining better contracts ... your school board, or the state Legislature.

Opponents of Proposal 2 have in the past said they need to do this stuff because local governments have to pay too much money for local public sector employees. The fact is that public sector employees, the more education a job requires, are paid less than private sector equivalents; and the only reason why that's true of high school educated workers is because in the private sector those are the folks who've been hit hardest by wage concessions. The problem aren't rising wages and benefits, however. The problem is that revenues have fallen, in part to decling property values but also in part because the Legislature over the last decade and a half has disinvested in local government. Decision making has increasingly consolidated at the state level under the guise of a budgetary emergency. It's a budgetary emergency that's mostly manufactured, and partially the result of a state revenue system based not on the economy of 2012 but of 1972.

So, where does that leave us? With the question of whether collective bargaining should be enshrined in the constitution. In this time and age, I don't think it's unreasonable to more fully enumerate the rights of people in our basic governance frameworks. I don't think enshrining the rights of workers to organize and bargain in the constitution is a bad thing, and I think that the case against is mostly based on fear tactics from people with terrible track records for accuracy (one of the things they appear appalled by is that one employee could be considered a union, but if you reimagine unions from the industrial model to a service provider to non-professional transient employees, that makes a lot of sense).

At one point last week, I was undecided on this and leaning towards a "no" vote (that's why I put Proposal 2 off until the end). The Proposal 2 campaign, as far as I can tell, been run terribly, up to and including Bob King's dalliance with Matty Maroun. But, you have to judge these things not on the competence of the campaigns, but on the merits of the questions. Is it drastic? Not nearly as the continued legislative overreaches from the last two years, and not nearly as the anticipated bill to make Michigan a Right to Work state if it fails.

To sum up the six proposals: Yes on 1, 2, 3, 4. No on 5, 6.

Eric B. :: Proposal 2, a drastic remedy to two years of unnecessary legislative overreach
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