Published November 6, 2006
The Michigan ballot has five initiatives this year - you've probably heard of one of them, perhaps two. Today the Daily discusses the "forgotten" ballot proposals. Look for Proposal 2 in tomorrow's newspaper.
To protect Parks, vote Yes on 1
Balancing Michigan's budget has required creative financial maneuvering on the part of state legislators, and the state's economic situation gives little indication this will change. But the need for flexibility is not an excuse to reject Proposal 1, which would guarantee the retention of funds collected through user fees. The Department of Natural Resources collects park entrance fees and license fees for the maintenance and improvement of Michigan's parks, but the state has raided some of these funds in the past. Proposal 1 would amend the state constitution to create a Conservation and Recreation Legacy Fund, ensuring that fees collected by the DNR are retained and used within the department. The state Legislature itself placed this initiative on the ballot, asking Michigan voters to protect DNR funding from budget balancing raids. The DNR is responsible for the largest public land base east of the Mississippi and plays an important role in natural resource conservation. To send the message that the Great Lakes and other natural resources are a priority, even in times of economic trouble, Michigan residents should vote YES on Proposal 1.
No reason to hunt doves; no on 3
After the state Legislature repealed a 100-year-old ban on mourning dove hunting, leading to a limited hunting season in the fall of 2004, opponents gathered enough signatures to suspend the next dove hunting season. Proposal 3 will let voters decide whether to re-establish a hunting season for mourning doves. Hunters argue that rejecting the proposal is an assault on their right to hunt other animals and keep guns. But dove hunting and deer hunting are entirely different matters, and Michigan's long tradition of hunting ensures the state Legislature would never undertake any of the doomsday scenarios that worry hunters.
The real issue comes down to whether this specific form of hunting should be permitted. Hunting fast game birds can cause accidents more easily than hunting other game - just ask Dick Cheney. Also, many dove hunters may mistake endangered bird species for doves. But perhaps the best reason to vote against Proposal 3 is simply that unlike other game, doves are little more than target practice, with even hunters admitting that each dove, weighing three to four ounces, yields little meat. There's no good reason to add doves to already lengthy list of game birds; vote NO on Proposal 3.
Prop. 4 an unnecessary burden
The debate over the moral validity of a government's powers of eminent domain has been amplified following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. New London. That ruling upheld the government's ability to take private property and transfer it to another private entity for economic development purposes, an idea that many find antithetical to the American Dream. Proposal 4 is a state constitutional amendment to ban such uses of eminent domain. However, whatever beliefs one holds on the subject are irrelevant, because the Michigan Supreme Court has already ruled that such land takings are illegal. Its ruling in Hathcock v. Wayne County clearly outlawed the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes, and a court reversal is unlikely.
The real impact of Proposal 4 would be felt in the constraints it places on a government's ability to condemn blighted areas. If Proposal 4 passes, governments will have to compensate landowners with 125 percent of their property's fair market value and would be forced to condemn properties through an arduous case-by-case basis. Proposal 4 is an unnecessary measure that would hinder cities' ability to revitalize downtrodden areas at a time when urban renewal is integral to fixing Michigan's struggling economy. On Election Day, vote NO on Proposal 4.
A tough choice, But yes on prop. 5
The ballot proposals voters will face on Tuesday are contentious in two ways: We must decide both on the substantive implications of the proposals and also on whether the proposed mechanisms are the best way to carry out the intended goals. Proposal 5, drafted in response to fears that potential cuts in state funding would undermine education in Michigan, was conceived for the right reasons. Ensuring funding to education - the budget item most essential in catalyzing Michigan's transition to a knowledge-based economy - is a worthy goal. However, the fiscal logic behind the proposal is questionable, making the decision to vote for Proposal 5 difficult.
In recent years, the state Legislature has been no friend of education. State appropriations to public universities were cut by 15 percent between 2000 and 2004. Meanwhile, K-12 funding, especially scarce in some urban districts, remained basically flat over that time period. Certainly the Legislature faces a budget squeeze, but it's time we accept that improved education at all levels is a prerequisite for Michigan's economic rebirth. In this vein, and facing a Legislature that's proven all too willing to throw education in the trunk, Proposal 5 is a vital step.
Opponents of the proposal claim that the ballot language lacks adequate provision for administrative oversight, which could hinder the proposal's impact on the quality of education. Many worry that the discretion given to local school districts in determining how their funds are allocated will empower teachers' unions at the expense of students. The proposal would also cap the contribution districts would have to make to retirement costs, shifting the remaining costs to a fiscally troubled state. Still others predict that a provision in the initiative which stipulates all mandated funds in excess of the state's budget for education must be drawn from the general fund does not bode well for other essential welfare measures. Proposal 5 will cost no less than $565 million in its first year alone, and the struggling state will be left with two methods of generating the additional revenue - increasing taxes or cutting other programs paid for out of the general fund.
Although the data amassed against the proposal seems to provide a clear case against its viability, it is better to have some security for education funding than none at all. If Proposal 5 is defeated now, there's no promise of a more perfect proposal coming before voters anytime soon. On the other hand, if voters pass Proposal 5 now, we can still work to perfect its specifics in the future. (It can be amended or overturned by a three-fourths vote in the state Legislature.) The proposal's provisions will force the Legislature to re-evaluate which of its projects are truly essential for the economic and social well-being of the state, and education must always be near the top of that list. Despite its many imperfections, vote YES on Proposal 5 because the substance of the measure is salvageable and its spirit is both timely and necessary.