Petition circulators in Ann Arbor and around the state are seeking signatures to put yet another state Constitutional amendment before voters this November. The Michigan Stop OverSpending Committee wants to rewrite several sections of the state Constitution to restrict more sharply the growth of the state budget. Bundled as a populist, antitax package, the proposed Constitutional changes are modeled off a 1992 Colorado proposal, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Colorado’s TABOR, however, was a disaster, forcing drastic cuts in health and education programs until the state’s voters chose to suspend it in a referendum last fall. Michigan voters on campus and throughout the state should prevent the state from making Colorado’s mistake by refusing to sign this petition,
Tax policy isn’t the sexiest issue around, even for a state constitutional amendment. To sweeten the petition’s appeal, the Michigan Stop OverSpending Committee added a provision to eliminate pensions for state legislators – a seemingly wasteful expense in an era of term limits. Anecdotally, some students report petition circulators cite cutting legislators’ pensions as the petition’s only effect.
The core of the amendment, however, is a set of unrealistically sharp limits on the amount of revenue the state can collect. Increases in state spending above the previous fiscal year’s expenditure would be limited to inflation plus population growth unless voters approved an exemption to the limits. This provision would have a “ratcheting” effect, using the diminished revenue collected during a recession to shape spending limits once the economy has recovered. The proposal would also restrict the amount of money the state could hold in its so-called “rainy-day fund,” requiring rebates of most surplus revenue.
Michigan doesn’t need this proposal to squeeze out wasteful spending – the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis, brought on by a structural budget deficit, has already encouraged that. The state is also required to balance its budget every year. Besides, state voters approved the Headlee Amendment, a Constitutional cap on state revenue backed by fiscal conservatives, back in 1978. State spending is currently far below the Headlee limit –